Discussion Topic

The role of the setting in understanding Mrs. Wright's actions and position in "Trifles."

Summary:

The setting in "Trifles" plays a crucial role in understanding Mrs. Wright's actions and position. The isolated, gloomy farmhouse reflects her loneliness and oppression, which contribute to her actions. The setting underscores the gender roles and societal expectations that trap her, emphasizing the themes of isolation and domestic strife that lead to her extreme response.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the setting of Trifles help understand Mrs. Wright's actions?

In the beginning of the play Trifles the reader gets a description of the murder scene which also serves as the setting of the story.

The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, a gloomy kitchen, and left without having been put in order--unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the breadbox, a dish towel on the table--other signs of incomplete work.

This gives the reader a window into the mind of those who inhabited such an untidy and ugly place: Things were undone, incomplete, chaotic, and dingy.  Certainly is not the place one would picture a happy homemaker living in harmony with her husband.

Other clues come up that help us understand the situation of Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale described her the following way.

She didn't even belong to the Ladies' Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn't do her part, and then you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that--oh, that was thirty years ago.

These are clear indicators that there had been a major change in the personality of Mrs. Wright after she got married. Considering the state of her kitchen (a woman's domain), and the state of her own appearance, we can conclude that Mrs. Wright was a woman too depressed, or oppressed, to take the time to care about aesthetics.

Finally, the scene of the dead bird which had its neck broken leads us to realize that Mr. Wright must have been an abusive husband, that he killed the bird (Mrs. Wright's only companion), and that Mrs. Wright must have snapped and killed her husband.

Therefore, the setting is a mirror of the state of affairs in the Wright household: One that is depressive, abusive, and in complete chaos.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Susan Glaspell's one-act play Trifles, how does the setting of this play help us understand Mrs. Wright's deed?

The setting is tri-partite as it involves time of the year, place in the home, and time in history. Although Trifles was published in 1916, the setting is placed at the second half of the 1800's which is a time in which men dominated society and women were treated nearly as second class citizens.

The time of the year is important because it was in the winter, and the coldness was such that Minnie's compotes in the kitchen burst open, and the kitchen was in complete disarray. The place of the woman as manager of the family's nurturing was the kitchen- imagine the shock of finding a woman's kitchen unattended and made into a mess!

Finally, the situation with the open and messed birdcage and the subsequent finding of the dead canary shows that the situation in the home was chaotic, that this woman had snapped, and that regardless of her crime, her husband was the source, and the cause, of the entire chaos.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the setting of Trifles help understand Mrs. Wright's actions?

The setting of Trifles, in Minnie Wright's kitchen, allows us to understand how domestic her existence was—and how she must have snapped. As the wives examine the kitchen, they absorb many details overlooked by the men. For example, as Mrs. Peters notes to Mrs. Hale, Minnie was a careful and frugal housewife who did her part responsibly: the men observe but see nothing in the frozen and exploded preserves, but Mrs. Peters remembers a woman who, in jail, was worried about them being ruined. At home, Minnie would keep the fire in the kitchen stove stoked to prevent the preserves from freezing and exploding. Mrs. Hale says,

She'll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.

The women also note that Minnie wanted them to bring her her apron in prison, showing her domestic nature. The men criticize Minnie as a poor housewife for not having clean towels, and the women note that Minnie left her bread out of the breadbox and a mess on the kitchen table. They, however, attribute all of this to Minnie's murder of her husband coming from her "snapping." After they find her dead canary wrapped carefully in a handkerchief, they realize that she spontaneously killed her husband for his abuse. They know that Minnie is a good housewife, so the messy details suggest a crime of sudden, unpremeditated passion.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the setting of Trifles help us understand Minnie Wright's position?

The setting of Trifles is crucial to helping the audience understand Minnie Wright’s life and the reason she behaved as she did. In general terms, the characters state that the Wright farm was in an isolated location, distant from the road; this physical distancing contributed to Minnie’s limited social interactions off the farm. The clues to the murder that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale decipher are items present in the kitchen of the Wright house, where the play’s action takes place. Both women notice items that their husbands overlook; the men’s offstage action is mentioned in the dialogue, providing information about the bedroom, where Mr. Wright’s body was found. While the kitchen is a place of physical warmth because of the stove, it also shows how Minnie had become detached from human warmth. Her declining pride and self-image are also reflected in the unkempt state of the kitchen, the uneven stitching of her quilt, and her old, worn clothes. The most telling clue they identify is the broken bird cage, symbolizing her husband’s tyranny.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the setting of Trifles help us understand Minnie Wright's position?

Although Minnie is never seen on stage, the setting represents her and her marriage to John. The kitchen is cold, like their marriage. Her preserve jars are broken, suggesting barren feelings and lack of hope for the future. Her sewing basket, which should be a center of creativity, is instead used to hold the dead canary's body, which in turn symbolizes her happiness and singing spirit—shoved lifeless into a basket and covered in darkness.

When the men belittle the kitchen as just holding "kitchen things" they are, at the same, relegating Minnie to just being a "kitchen thing" of her own. In doing so, they overlook critical evidence pointing to the murderer. They disrespect the kitchen, as well as the things and people within it, which says a lot about many men's consideration of women at the time the play was set. Considering this, the fact that all of the action happens in the kitchen becomes even more meaningful. The murder happened in the bedroom. The men search everything in the house except the kitchen looking for evidence. A critical viewer would look at this and question the playwright's intent.

The setting contributes to the reader's or viewer's understanding by focusing our attention on "kitchen things" and what it means to be a woman. The women who stay in the kitchen and reveal the clues to the identity of the murderer use the setting to explore who Minnie is. They mention that they didn't visit as much as they should have, and as they analyze her housekeeping (or lack thereof), the reader or viewer gains insight into Minnie's plight.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is the setting of Trifles symbolic of Minnie Wright?

The setting of the story is the Wright farmhouse, where the murder of Mr. Wright took place. The house is very plain, without much ornamentation, and shows how much Minnie's creativity was stifled by her marriage. She did quilt, but the quilt showed signs of mental exhaustion, going from neat stitching to messy stitching. The glass jars of jam in the cupboard have shattered from the cold, symbolizing the destruction of everything colorful or sweet in Minnie's life as she lived in the cold house with an uncaring husband.

MRS. HALE: I could've come. I stayed away because it weren't cheerful -- and that's why I ought to have come. I -- I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road. I dunno what it is, but it's a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now -- [Shakes her head.]
(Glaspell, Trifles, etext.virginia.edu)

The house is "lonesome" because there is no love and joy there. Minnie's life was changed from outgoing and cheerful to lonely and sad when she married; the house, which the men comment is not very neat, is a symbol of her misery. Without the ability to vent her frustrations and express herself, and without a social understanding of her personal issues, Minnie became much like the house: lonely, not cheerful, and without any direct friends to help her through the hard times.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is the setting of Trifles symbolic of Minnie Wright?

The setting of the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell is symbolic of Mrs. Wright.

The stage is set in a small, dark kitchen in a small house. It does not have any decoration: it is without color and without warmth. The room is a mess: there are dirty dishes at the sink, bread is sitting out, and a towel lies on the table rather than being hung. The house is physically cold. The feel of this place is more a building than a home. It is rather lifeless, but one expects it would have been that way even had the owners been present.

Minnie Wright is very similar. Whereas she used to be a pretty young thing that sang in the church choir, with a beautiful voice, she has been robbed of the glow of life. She has been beaten down by the circumstances in which she lives: her heart is cold. Things are out of order: she has killed her husband. And like the house, she, too, is lifeless: no smile, no spark in her eyes. When the men come into the house looking for her husband, she is quietly rocking in a chair. She answers when spoken to, but she has no energy or animation.

The house and the woman are dark and cold. Both are joyless and empty of warmth or life.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on