Discussion Topic

The representation and significance of 'trifles' in Susan Glaspell's Trifles

Summary:

In Susan Glaspell's Trifles, 'trifles' represent the overlooked and undervalued domestic items and concerns of women. These seemingly insignificant details become crucial evidence in solving the murder mystery, highlighting the importance of women's perspectives and the deep-seated gender inequalities of the time.

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What are the trifles presented in the text of Trifles?

It is interesting how well-titled the play Trifles is because it certainly is rife with them. Yet, ironically these are anything but trifles at the end of the play.

It is arguable that the first trifle is the dirty kitchen towel of which the country attorney complained about. This may be a significant and foreshadowing trifle because of the answer that Mrs. Hale gives him.

Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be.

Since Mrs. Hale has an inkling as to what may have occurred in that house, this may be a clear reference to John Wright.

Aside from this first incident, more trifles show up:

The bread was set out, which may mean that the last fight of the Wrights could have happened near dinner time, prior to bed, and before Minnie snaps and kills John.

That there is only one compote of cherries after doing such hard work is significant of the state of the household, and how little produce was coming out of their farm.

Then comes the stitching which, with its erratic pattern, shows the state of mind of Minnie Wright. Shortly after that, they find the birdcage with the hinge pulled apart. This brings the women closer and closer to the final piece of evidence that would signal the motive of the crime.

When Mrs. Peters opens the cupboard looking for paper and string, they find the carefully wrapped body of a canary inside a box. This bird was Minnie's only companion, and her abusive husband grabbed the bird and wrung its neck. There is the motive of the murder: Minnie must have finally snapped, so she killed her husband in a similar manner.

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Who are the 'trifles' in the play?

Indeed, it is the men in this drama who are trifling [to use the dialectal meaning of worthless]. For, they are the ones who miss the critical evidence which indicates a motive for the strangulation of Mr. Wright. Ironically, the sheriff dismisses the importance of the kitchen, responding to the attorney's query if there is anything that would point to a motive, declaring that there is "nothing here but kitchen things."

However, as the women wait on their husbands, Mrs. Hale, wife of the sheriff, remarks,

"I don't know as there's anything so strange, our takin' up our time with little things while we're waiting for them to get the evidence....I don't see as it's anything to laugh about."

And, it is they who then discover the little canary whose cage door has been bent and its neck rung--the very evidence needed to point to a motive.

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Who are the 'trifles' in the play?

Your question asks who are the true trifles, so the answer to that can only be the men.  They overlook things both because they don't understand or give credence to the ways of women but also because the physical trifles (as mentioned above) are so out of their realm of experience.  They're supposed to be investigators who don't overlook clues--especially obvious ones--but the entire incident and the motivations for it are, frankly, beyond their realm of experience. 

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Who are the 'trifles' in the play?

Woah - bit of a harsh response, isn´t it?! Whilst I agree with amy-lepore here I think the trifles in the play are the clues that the men overlook. The trifles for example regarding the quilt, the jams and loaf of bread that the women are able to use to piece together the picture of the crime and also solve it. The men walk through this female world ignorantly, underestimating the knoweldge and input that the women have.

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Who are the 'trifles' in the play?

The men, of course.  They look down on the women's lives and the menial tasks the women perform.  They do not acknowledge the depth of knowledge and/or skill needed to perform these tasks adequately.  They simply act as if anything which does not require brute strength and force is not worth the time it takes to complete the task.  How wrong and trivial they are.

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What does "trifles" represent in the play Trifles?

Of course, the word trifles means something of little value or importance; however, as the title of Susan Glaspell's play, the word is certainly used ironically as it is, indeed, the seemingly meaningless things, mere "trifles" that women are "used to worrying over," as Mr. Hale remarks, that unlock the secret of Mrs. Wright's motive for killing her husband.

Clearly, then, another significance to the title of Trifles is the marked divide in the psyches of men and women, a major theme in the one-act play. For, George Henderson, the county attorney who looks around the kitchen before searching upstairs, asks the sheriff,

"You're convinced that there was nothing important here--nothing that would point to any motive?"

and the men then ignore that room because it contains, as the sheriff assumes, "Nothing here but kitchen things." And, it is with more irony that Glaspell writes of the men as the county attorney tells the sheriff he would like to see any of the things that Mrs. Peters, who was to do some alterations for Mrs. Wright, takes with her and "keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us." So, here he does consider that a trifle may be something of use. But, the irony of this is the fact that the trifle that is of the most use goes not with Mrs. Peters, but with Mrs. Hale who hides in her pocket--yet another mere "trifle" as it is the simple difference of one woman over the other hiding the "trifling" bird--a difference that "makes all the difference."

The word trifle, then, exceeds its definition in Glaspell's play as it is the trifles and the failure to recognize their significance that prevents the men from solving the case of Mrs. Wright's murder of her husband.

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What are the "trifles" in Glaspell's Trifles?

In Susan Glaspell’s play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters accompany their husbands to the Wright household. They proceed to look for clues that reveal Mrs. Wright's motive for killing her husband. Sheriff Henry Peters, George Henderson, and Lewis Hale are portrayed as arrogant men who dismiss their wives's opinions. The men refrain from closely investigating the kitchen, where Mrs. Wright spent the majority of her time. When George Henderson asks if there is anything important in the kitchen that would point to a motive, Sheriff Henry Peters responds by saying, "Nothing here but kitchen things." Mrs. Peters then notices Mrs. Wright's frozen preserves and sympathizes with her misfortune. The men quickly dismiss her finding and Mr. Hale remarks, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles."

Once the men leave the kitchen, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover small yet significant pieces of evidence which point to Mrs. Wright's motive. The two women notice that Mrs. Wright's bread has been left out. Upon examining her quilt, they notice that her stitching was erratic, which indicates that she was extremely nervous, stressed, or mentally unstable. The women then discover a broken birdcage and a dead canary wrapped inside Mrs. Wright's sewing box.

These seemingly minor trifles paint a picture of Mrs. Wright's abusive, oppressive home life and the women sympathize with her difficult experience. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize that Mrs. Wright was motivated to murder her husband after he strangled her prized canary. At the end of the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters decide to hide the evidence as the men return. They make facetious remarks about their seemingly insignificant observations.

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What are the "trifles" in Glaspell's Trifles?

The trifles are the small things the investigators don't notice but the women do. They are Mrs. Wright's quilt, the cage, and the dead canary.

The quilt showcases Mrs. Wright's mental state; it shows that she was unhappy and on edge. The stitches are sloppy and out of place. Mrs. Hale says, "All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It's all over the place." Then they hide the quilt from the men and fix the parts that are messed up.

Next, they find the broken cage with the broken door and the busted hinge. This shows them that something violent took place.

Finally, they find the dead canary wrapped in silk. This discovery—along with the cage—helps them understand why Mrs. Wright killed her husband. He killed the bird that brought her comfort. The women hide this from the investigators as well.

All of the trifles are dismissed by the investigators as women's matters that are beneath their notice. However, they are actually the clues that would have let them solve the case.

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What are the "trifles" in Glaspell's Trifles?

In Glaspell's play, the "trifles" are the quilt with erratic stitching, the bird cage, and the dead canary in a pretty little box.

Ironically, the "trifles" found in the kitchen are key items to providing the motive for which the men spend their time searching upstairs. They ignore the kitchen since the County attorney has asked the sheriff as they stand in its doorway,

"You're convinced that there was nothing important here--nothing that would point to any motive?"

and the sheriff has replied, "Nothing here but kitchen things."

So, the men go upstairs and leave Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to attend to the broken jars of preserves since "women are used to worrying over trifles." However, the broken jars of preserves are not the only "trifles" that they discover. For, as they straighten the kitchen. Mrs. Peter finds a quilt that Mrs. Wright has worked on; then, Mrs. Hale notices that the sewing is erratic at one point whereas it is neat everywhere else that has been stitched. "Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!" Mrs. Hale exclaims. Then, because bad sewing always makes her "fidgety," she fixes it.

While Mrs. Hales sews, Mrs. Peters gathers the clothing that Mrs. Wright, who is in jail, has requested. Needing a string or something to wrap these items, Mrs. Peters looks in a cupboard and finds a bird cage. This cage has a broken door because a hinge has been pulled apart.

Later, Mrs. Hale suggests that Mrs. Peters take the quilt to Mrs. Wright to finish. Agreeing, Mrs. Peters looks for Mrs. Wright's quilt patches in the sewing basket, but finds none. Then, she sees a pretty red box and, thinking the scissors may be in it, she discovers instead a dead canary wrapped in silk. Its neck has been wrung. Just as they look upon the poor bird in horror, the men descend the stairs.

Facetiously, the county attorney alludes to the wives' remarks about whether Mrs. Wright was going to "quilt or knot" the quilt she was sewing,

"Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?"

Mrs. Peters replies with dramatic irony, "We think she was going to--knot it." Dismissively, the attorney responds,

"Well, that's interesting, I'm sure. (Seeing the bird-cage)  Has the bird flown?"

Mrs. Hale tells him that they think the cat got it. She adds that Mrs. Wright liked the bird and was going to bury it in the pretty box.

When the men start back up the stairs, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters confer with one another about the cruelty of Mr. Wright and her terrible isolation and loneliness without children or friends. Their sympathy for this poor woman waxes as they talk; finally, they make their decision to hide the "trifles" of the bird and the box from the sheriff and county attorney.

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Who are the minor characters in Trifles and what are their roles?

Glaspell's one-act play is tightly structured and has only five characters with on-stage roles, though Minnie Wright and her husband John are important off-stage figures in this drama.

The minor characters in the play are the three men who have come to the Wright farm in an official capacity to investigate Mr. Wright's murder. They are George Henderson, Henry Peters, and Lewis Hale. It is a subversive move from the start to make them the peripheral voices, because men—especially detectives in a crime drama—would normally be center stage.

However, the center of this drama concerns the women, whom the men dismiss as unimportant and concerned only with minor domestic details—trifles—and of no value to a murder case. By focusing on the women, however, Glaspell demonstrates that many aspects of life that patriarchy disregards and belittles as unimportant are central and salient facts motivating female behavior.

The woman have an ability to "see" what the men utterly lack. The males' big, important investigation is shown to have little value against what the women are able to discover through their focus on detail. For example, they find the carefully wrapped dead canary with a broken neck. This leads them to understand that Minnie Wright murdered in response to this killing of a beloved pet, which was the last in a series of abuses that finally made her snap. The women hide this knowledge from the men, knowing that the men lack the empathy to understand Mrs. Wright's point of view. This is dramatic irony: we as an audience are privy to what the men are not.

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Who are the minor characters in Trifles and what are their roles?

There are only five characters in Trifles, and the major characters are clearly Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. The minor characters are the other three: George Henderson, Henry Peters, and Lewis Hale. These three have comparatively little to say and do and are flat, static characters. Their principal role is to provide a foil for the women.

The three men think of themselves as the principal investigators at a crime scene. From their perspective, they go to look for evidence pertaining to John Wright's murder. There isn't any, and they go away again. While they were working, their wives were gossiping and making a fuss about jam and quilts and birdcages.

The center of the play involves the women piecing together the evidence to solve the mystery. The three men essentially work as a framing device to remind us of the values and assumptions of the world. Their obtuseness and condescension help to validate the decision of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to say nothing about their discoveries since it is very likely that the men would not believe them anyway. If they were believed, they would certainly never be able to convey the psychological state of Mrs. Wright, which leads them to sympathize with her, even if she did murder her husband. The minor characters in the play are the major characters in the world, and they are in the play to represent the world outside it.

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Who are the minor characters in Trifles and what are their roles?

In Susan Glaspell's play titled, "Trifles," the minor roles are those of the men. This would include the County Attorney, the Sheriff, and Mr. Hale. Though minor characters, their roles are important for several reasons.

The men create the depth of the conflict in the story. Although we never meet Mrs. Wright, who has been accused of killing her husband as he slept, the men arrive at her home looking for evidence with which to convict her. In this case, the men are present for the simple purpose of feeding the plot. And as the story progresses forward, the women come to resent what the men are trying to do.

The men are also present in that they are the ones that set the mood of the story in terms of the sense of "trifles." Mr. Hale refers to the serious concerns of the housewife as "trifles," meaning trivial, unimportant things.

COUNTY ATTORNEY. I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.

HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.

Others of them are critical that the house is not very clean...

COUNTY ATTORNEY (with the gallantry of a young politician). And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? (...Starts to wipe [his hands] on the roller towel, turns it for a cleaner place.) Dirty towels!...Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?

MRS. HALE (stiffly). There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

and not nicely decorated...

COUNTY ATTORNEY. No--it's not cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the homemaking instinct.

MRS. HALE. Well, I don't know as Wright had, either.

The men also joke about the quilt Mrs. Wright is making, as if they would know anything about it. In fact, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale become defensive and angry at the men for their lack of understanding and their overall insensitivity to the plight of the common housewife, which is what they are.

This is the third most important reason the men are present: they bring to light for Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, and for the audience, how difficult it is for a woman to run a house and make it a home. It shows that men have a great deal to say about things they know nothing about, and appear to have little appreciation for the work that women do that benefits them the most.

By the end of the play, there is a new sense of solidarity between the women, and a desire to help Mrs. Wright in any way they can, not just by taking some of her things to the jail, but also by preventing the men from finding any more evidence that might convict her.

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