Trifles is a one-act play by Susan Glaspell in which several neighbors enter the Wrights’ farmhouse to investigate the murder of John Wright. John’s wife, Minnie, is suspected of the murder.
- Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters accompany their husbands to the Wright house. The men look for evidence to use against Minnie, while the women gather Minnie’s personal affects.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters look around the kitchen. They find a broken bird cage and the corpse of Minnie’s beloved canary with its neck broken.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters sympathize with Minnie, realizing that her husband was abusive. They decide to hide the evidence.
Sheriff Henry Peters and county attorney George Henderson visit the Wright home to investigate the murder of John Wright. His wife, Minnie Wright, has been arrested for the murder, and the two men have come to collect evidence against her. To that end, they have brought Lewis Hale, Minnie Wright’s neighbor, who was the first person other than Minnie to see John’s dead body. Hale will be a witness for the prosecution at the trial. With the three men are Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, and Mrs. Hale, Lewis’s wife, who have come to collect some of Minnie’s personal effects to bring to her in prison. The sheriff is the first to enter the Wrights’ little farmhouse. He and the other two men gather around the hot stove for warmth while the women linger in the doorway. It is clear that the two women are more upset about the murder than their husbands and that they have reservations about entering the house.
Inside, the men begin their investigation. Henderson questions Hale about the events of the previous day. Hale recounts how he was going to town with a sack of potatoes when he stopped at the Wright farm, wondering if the Wrights would like to share a telephone line. He found Minnie in her rocking chair behaving strangely. She told him that John was upstairs, dead, with a rope around his neck. At the time, Minnie claimed that John was strangled in his sleep by an unknown assailant and said she did not hear the strangling, because she “sleeps sound.” Minnie was arrested and is now awaiting trial for the murder of her husband. She has been in jail for a full day at this point and needs a fresh change of clothes, which is why Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale have come—out of kindness.
Henderson suggests that the men have a look around, thinking they might find some clues. The men decide not to search the room where Lewis Hale found Minnie, because, according to Sheriff Peters, there is “nothing here but kitchen things.” These words demonstrate the sheriff’s disdain for women’s work, introducing the theme of sexism that recurs throughout the play. Sheriff Peters decides they are going to focus on the bedroom and the barn, where, they assume, the real clues will be found. When Henderson searches a cupboard, he finds several broken jars of preserves. He dismisses these jars as “trifles,” even though Minnie specifically mentioned the preserves, fearing that the jars would break in the freeze. While the men are upstairs, the women conduct the real investigation. As soon as they are alone, they begin gathering things to bring to Minnie in prison: a change of clothes, a shawl, a pleated apron. This leads them to some important discoveries.
First, the women note how dull and shabby Minnie’s clothes are. Mrs. Hale says, “She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster,” meaning that marrying John changed her. Wright was an abusive, hot-tempered man and forced Minnie to wear boring house clothes instead of the pretty clothes she likes. This is the first indication that Minnie was unhappy with her controlling husband. Then there are the little things: the bread left out to get stale, the table only half-cleaned, a quilt with crooked, erratic stitching that reflects Minnie’s mental state. Things were going downhill, the women realize, long before the murder. Their suspicions are confirmed when they find the final, most important clues: a broken birdcage and a dead canary. It is likely that John broke this birdcage, though it...
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is unclear exactly why, beyond his general cruelty. Minnie has been keeping the canary in a sewing box, wrapped up in silk like a treasure. This bird is symbolic of Minnie herself, who used to sing in the town’s choir before she married.
When the men reappear suddenly, Mrs. Hale instinctively hides the sewing box and makes up a lie about a cat attacking the canary to explain away the presence of the birdcage. Before they leave, the men decide to take one last look upstairs. This gives the women time to discuss what to do. Both of them have come to sympathize with Minnie, understanding why she murdered her abusive husband. Mrs. Peters remembers what it was like when she lived on a farm with her husband. Life was rough then, and she lost her baby on the homestead. She isn’t surprised that Minnie felt pushed beyond her limits. Together, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale decide to hide the evidence they have found as to Minnie’s motive. Unsurprisingly, the men take no notice, thinking of these items as mere “trifles.”