Trifles Analysis

  • Trifles is a one-act play set in a small farmhouse. The action takes place in the course of a single day, satisfying the Aristotelian unity that states that a play should take place within the span of 24 hours.
  • Gender is the central theme of the play. All three of the men are so focused on gathering evidence to use against Minnie in court that they ignore the signs ("trifles") that illuminate her emotional state leading up to the murder. Only the women are able to understand and sympathize with Minnie.
  • Minnie's dead canary is a symbol of lost freedom. Its cage, broken during one of John Wright's rages, is symbolic of Minnie's marriage, which traps her with a man she doesn't love in a farmhouse that's isolated from the community.

Analysis

One-Act Play
The structure of a play affects all of its most important elements—the plot, characters, and themes. An episodic play, such as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, requires many twists and turns of plot, numerous characters and locations, and great stretches of time in order for the story to unfold. A climactic play, such as Sophocles’s famous tragedy Oedipus Rex, typically presents only a handful of characters involved in a single plot, which builds toward a climax—the most important moment in the play.

One of the most restrictive forms is the one-act play, a style favored by Trifles author Susan Glaspell. In every respect the one-act play is more tightly compressed than a full-length climactic Greek tragedy. Because one-acts are typically short, with playing times of fifteen to forty-five minutes, the number of characters introduced must be limited, and their personalities must be developed quickly.

Glaspell takes full advantage of this limitation in Trifles. The men in the play are stereotypical characters. Their actions and words immediately suggest personalities that are condescending, egotistical, and self-important. The women, meanwhile, begin the play timidly, allowing their husbands to blunder about the crime scene. Then, given the chance to be alone, they open up to each other and show a strong sense of female intuition that allows them to solve the play’s mystery very quickly.

Because of the limited time frame, the one-act format also tends to focus on a single location and a tight plot. Each of these aspects holds true for Trifles. There is a...

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