The main characters in Trifles are Minnie Wright, George Henderson, Sheriff Henry Peters, Lewis Hale, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters.
- Minnie Wright is a woman accused of killing her husband, John Wright. The women investigating her home uncover evidence that suggests Minnie was abused.
- George Henderson is the county attorney who will prosecute Minnie for murder.
- Sheriff Henry Peters is leading the investigation into John’s murder.
- Lewis Hale is the neighbor who discovered John Wright’s death.
- Mrs. Hale is Lewis Hale’s wife. She empathizes with Minnie and conceals the evidence of Minnie’s crime.
- Mrs. Peters is the sheriff’s wife, who helps Mrs. Hale hide the evidence.
Last Updated on October 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1056
Minnie Wright is a study in contrasts. While she never appears on stage in this play, her character is well developed because of her central role in the mystery. Mrs. Hale remembers the young Minnie Foster as beautifully dressed and always singing. “[S]he was kind of like a bird herself,” Mrs. Hale remarks, “real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery.” But that was thirty years ago, and Mrs. Hale notes how much Minnie has changed since she married John WRight and became Minnie Wright.
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Minnie is now a shabby, rather nervous woman, lonely and sad. Her marriage was clearly unsatisfying at best and most likely emotionally and mentally abusive. She is now isolated from the world, and her days are filled with the work of a farm wife but without much in the way of companionship.
In fact, her only companion recently has been her canary, a small singing creature that perhaps reminded Minnie of her young self. When John killed the bird, something in Minnie snapped. If she strangled her husband (the play never fully confirms this), the bird’s violent death must have driven her to take violent action. In any case, Minnie’s agitated behavior, as described by Mr. Hale, suggests nervousness but not grief over John’s demise.
John Wright is dead by the time the play opens, but his character is critical to understanding the plot. John was a man who wanted his “peace and quiet” and apparently was willing to do whatever was necessary to maintain them. He was, as Mrs. Hale says, a “hard man,” never cheerful, always taciturn, and thus no companion for the bright, singing Minnie. The play suggests that John was emotionally and mentally abusive toward his wife, isolating her and, as Mr. Hale notes, not caring for her opinion. He seems to have been the kind of man who demanded that life go his ways without thought for the comfort and happiness of another.
Mrs. Hale is arguably the play’s protagonist. She is a practical, no-nonsense farm wife with a sharp perception of reality, and she is quick to defend Minnie Wright when the men scoff at her poor housekeeping. “There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm,” she says stiffly in response to Mr. Henderson’s comment about a dirty towel, and later she figures that the culprit is probably Frank, who came earlier to start the fire.
Mrs. Hale is the kind of person who does not like to see things left undone or imperfect. She notices the poor sewing on Minnie’s quilt and sits down to fix it. Minnie was nervous when she stitched that part, Mrs. Hale infers. She is also quick to figure out what happened to the canary and is horrified by its discovery. In unspoken agreement with Mrs. Peters, she realizes that the dead bird is the key to the murder, but she knows, too, that the men will not take it seriously, and part of her wants to shield Minnie Wright. So she puts the box with the bird in her coat pocket and says nothing about it.
Part of the motive for that action might also be Mrs. Hale’s regret about not visiting Minnie. She has stayed away from the Wright house because it is so gloomy, but she understands now that she should have visited for that very reason and now berates herself about it. Her concealment of the bird and the other “trifles” indicates her desire to support Minnie Wright now to make up for her failure in the past.
Mrs. Peters is the sheriff’s wife, and she seems to be a nervous yet compassionate woman. She is, as Mr. Henderson says, “married to the law,” but this does not stop her from joining with Mrs. Hale to conceal the women’s deductions after she understands Minnie’s situation. In fact, she actually tries to hide the dead bird first but cannot find a big enough place. Mrs. Peters’s initial idea that the “law has got to punish crime” fades quickly over the course of the play. She shows great empathy for Minnie with regard to how difficult the “stillness” of her life has been, for she lost a child once and understands the heartache of being alone. She also remembers how she felt when a boy killed her kitten, and she applies this to how Minnie must have felt about the loss of her canary.
County Attorney George Henderson is intent upon finding evidence to convict Minnie Wright of her husband’s murder. He does not appear to have much regard for women, for he is quick to both criticize and laugh at them. Minnie’s housekeeping is an object of scorn (although Mr. Henderson does not stop to think how that towel might have gotten dirty), and the idea of knotting a quilt is laughable to the lawyer for some reason. He does not realize, of course, that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters have discovered exactly what he is looking for.
Sheriff Henry Peters understands that this is a big case, but he does not seem to have the ability to manage it effectively. He sends Frank to start the fire but fails to have anyone stay at the scene of the crime overnight, as Mr. Henderson would have preferred. He sees nothing in the way of evidence among the “kitchen things,” for he does not think anything could be important there. He cannot understand the thinking of a woman either. Minnie’s worries about her preserves are a mystery to him.
Lewis Hale is the man who found John Wright’s body, and he actually shows some insight into the relationship between John and Minnie Wright. He is deeply disturbed by Minnie’s behavior the morning after the murder, and he clearly describes the scene and her words. While he may not understand the full significance of Minnie’s comments, he is able to provide critical details that help Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and readers grasp Minnie’s state of mind. Mr. Hale goes along with the other men in his dismissal of women, noting that “women are used to worrying over trifles.”