Student Question

How does the relationship between John and Minnie Wright in Trifles reflect the 1916 history?

Expert Answers

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What you need to remember in studying this play is that the relationship between John and Minnie Wright acts as an example or a symbol even of relationships between men and women at the time of the play. Of course, your study of gender relations as they are presented in this play should not merely focus on the Wrights and their relationship, but also on the interactions and relationships between Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale and the males in the play, and in particular the assumptions that are made by the men about the women.

Focussing on the relationship between John and Minnie Wright, look closely at how Mrs. Hale describes Minnie before her marriage with John:

She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing int he choir. But that - oh, that was thirty years ago.

Then later she says:

She - come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself - real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and - fluttery. How - she - did - change.

Notice how the dashes in the last sentence really emphasises the pity and shock felt at the transformation of Minnie. Mrs. Hale presents a picture of a kind, lovely and sensitive woman who is then oppressed and constricted by her marriage to John Wright, who Mrs. Hale describes as being "close" and says:

But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him. (Shivers) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.

The assumption that John Wright killed the bird, who, as established above, can be said to symbolically represent Minnie, shows us the reality of their marriage. Minnie's personality was crushed and strangled by John Wright - she wasn't allowed to go out at all, and he didn't let her buy any nice clothes. This allows Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to piece together the motive for the crime, that they then hide from the menfolk in a moving act of solidarity with Mrs. Wright. The arrogance of men is therefore represented, as is the very secret and private world of women that men cannot understand.

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