Categorizing “Trifles” as feminist or not feminist depends largely on the critics’ perspective. If we consider the World War I era when Susan Glaspell wrote the play, modernism was coming into vogue in literature. Glaspell and her husband George Cram Cook, founders of the Provincetown Players, also established the Playwrights’ Theater in New York; Eugene O’Neill was one prominent member of their group. They produced important European playwrights as well, including Shaw, Ibsen, and Chekhov.
Women’s rights, including the crusade for suffrage in both England and the United States, along with working conditions and wages for factory workers, were a major subject of political activism in the early 20th-century First Wave Feminism. For example, in 1913, a huge women’s suffrage march had been held in Washington before President Wilson’s inauguration; in 1911, 145 women were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, spurring the growth of the garment workers’ union.
Such topics are not considered in “Trifles,” which in many respects seems more like a 19th-century play. Glaspell, who based the play and related short story on an actual murder case, emphasizes women’s traditional roles in part to highlight that, for many women, campaigning for rights and going out to work did not form a significant part of their daily life. The hidden reality of domestic abuse was as likely to dominate their normal routine. The ironic title, as well as the male police officers’ dismissive behavior, brings home those points. The small details of the domestic world—the so-called private sphere of women—are those that reveal to them what led up to the murder. In its attention to the psychological aspects of the characters and probing the domestic setting, the play is indebted to Chekhov.