Discussion Topic

The significance and appropriateness of the title Trifles within the context of the play and its relation to the murder investigation

Summary:

The title Trifles is significant and appropriate as it reflects how the male characters dismiss crucial details as unimportant "trifles." These overlooked details, noticed by the women, ultimately unravel the mystery of the murder. The title underscores the theme that what is deemed insignificant by some can be pivotal in understanding the truth.

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What is the significance of the title in Trifles?

The title Trifles refers to the dismissive way the men investigating the case of John Wright's murder treat all the bits of evidence that would have led them to solve the crime had they paid attention to them.

Early on, when Mrs. Peters wonders over Minnie Wright letting the kitchen get cold enough to freeze her preserves so that they later explode, the sheriff says,

Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

Mr. Hale responds,

Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.

The "trifles" or details that the men laugh at are, however, important keys to solving the crime. Ironically, they are not trifles at all. Because Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters know what a woman's life is like, they are able to discern which details are important to reconstructing how and why Mrs. Wright killed her husband.

These "trifles" include the messy state of the kitchen, which the men dismiss as evidence that Mrs. Wright was a poor housekeeper. The women focus, too, on the broken door to the bird cage and then find the body of the dead canary with its neck broken. Even the sudden erratic quality of Mrs. Wright's stitching becomes an important clue to the women, who know how to read the evidence.

The title points to a main theme of the play: that men are blinded by their own arrogance when they refuse to take the details of women's lives seriously.

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Why is the title Trifles appropriate for the play?

The play concerns the small things in life that build up and cause distress and anger. The men, who are not considering the possibility that Minnie murdered her husband because of his abuse, ignore the signs of unhappiness they see in the house, but the women notice and interpret those signs correctly.

SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

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. [The two women move a little closer together.]
(Glaspell, Trifles, etext.virginia.edu)

The men think that the women are only worried about "trifles," or inconsequential things. They assume that the sewing, the preserves, the empty birdcage are all just things, without meaning, and so ignore the evidence that the other women correctly interpret: Minnie was desperately unhappy and wanted to escape, but felt herself unable to escape on her own. The death of her canary was the last straw; the men think nothing of the loss of a canary, but to Minnie, the canary was a vitally important part of her personal identity. A "trifle" to some, to her it was the last thing that made her life worth living.

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How does the ironic title, Trifles, shape the play's meaning?

Trifles explores far more than trivial matters as it attempts to show the serious consequences of dismissing the feelings and troubles of individuals. It is the seemingly minor issues - the trifles - that expose the psychological effects that Minnie's life had on her and the outcome is anything but insignificant. 

The title does indeed contribute to the play's meaning as every person can relate to this issue. Overlooked detail, sometimes the minutest indication, can lead to such tragedies as suicide, murder - as in this case- avoidable incidents and life-changing occurrences. The title Trifles is thus already foreshadowing the events that follow. The fact that the title's reference is so subtle is a very clever way to reinforce the importance of NOT ignoring the apparently negligible detail when establishing fact.

Mrs Wright's husband dismissed her opinions, her insecurities and the damaging effect on her personality - at his peril. Now too the men investigating the murder and whether Minnie did in fact murder her husband are overlooking detail that would render this an open and shut case and, furthermore, there would be no mercy shown to Minnie, no consideration of mitigating circumstances.

The irony in the title and throughout the play thus confims the play's real meaning. The fact that this is a short play also reinforces the fact that it does not take much to form conclusions. Each character's involvement and the very presence of the women - who on the face of it have no contribution to make - cleverly draws this play to its inevitable conclusion. The contribution of the title to this play is crucial to the real irony and depth of meaning which Susan Glaspell wanted to share.        

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How does the title Trifles connect to the dramatic irony in the play?

Dramatic irony is a literary technique in which the audience understands the full implications of something that is said or done in a play, but the character or characters in the play do not have this understanding. The title of the play "Trifles" comes from the seemingly insignificant details that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find in Mrs. Wright's house. Mr. Wright is discovered to be dead, and no one knows whether or why Mrs. Wright killed him.

In looking around Mrs. Wright's farmhouse, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find what Hale, a male neighbor, refers to as "trifles." These include objects such as the broken jars of Mrs. Wright's fruit, which froze when the fire went out (as Mrs. Wright said they would) and Mrs. Wright's dead bird. The irony is that while the men dismiss these details as "trifles," the women are spot-on in their understanding that these situations drove Mrs. Wright to murder her husband.

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How does the title Trifles connect to the dramatic irony in the play?

Dramatic Irony: a state of affairs in which the audience and a few characters know more than most other characters.

Trifles: a thing of little value or importance

In the play Trifles, dramatic irony is achieved when Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and audience/reader begin to uncover the clues in the kitchen, the motives of Mrs. Wright in killing her husband, and the suppression of evidence by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters.  The men in the play remain oblivious, thus achieving dramatic irony throughout the play, with no real epiphany, realization, or downfall on their part.

Actually, the men have access to all the evidence in the kitchen, but since they think of women and women's domestic work as "trifles" or "trifling," they choose to ignore it.  Instead, the men look upstairs in the bedroom and outside in the barn (two areas of male dominion) for clues.  Obviously, they don't find any there.

So, the title is a form of verbal irony, both understatement and sarcasm, for the very important roles and work women play in the home.  As Hale says, sarcastically, regarding the preserves:

Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.

If Hale, the Sheriff, and the Attorney would have understood women's work, the dead bird and the condition of the stitching, they might have found the clues and motive used to convict Mrs. Wright.  But because the women realize Minnie's victimization by her husband and the sexist attitudes of their own husbands, they protect Minnie from going to a literal prison, having been living in a domestic prison for so long.

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What does the title Trifles signify?

When Mrs. Peters remarks to Mrs. Hale that the preserved fruit has frozen in the jars in Minnie Wright's kitchen, the men are condescending in their attitude and Mr. Hale observes that "women are used to worrying over trifles." While the men are searching the house for clues and finding none, the two women are able to make enough deductions from the "trifles" they discover to reconstruct the crime.

The word trifles, therefore, refers to the small but vital matters to which the women are astute enough to pay attention and the men are arrogant enough to ignore. It is rather difficult to see what the men imagine they are seeking, since clues are, by definition, usually trifling. If a criminal were to create a very large and obvious clue, they would presumably notice and remove it. The matters that are easily overlooked are those from which the crime is pieced together.

This point is noted by no less an authority than Sherlock Holmes, who mentions the importance of trifles several times, telling Watson in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" that his whole method is founded on the observation of trifles. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are therefore associated in this story with the greatest detective in fiction, while the sheriff and his friends play the role of Inspector Lestrade and the Scotland Yard bunglers, who often overlook vital evidence.

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What is the meaning of the title Trifles by Glaspell?

Sherlock Holmes remarked several times that his method was founded upon the observation of trifles, from which he was able to deduce matters of great importance. This is a convincing description of how a detective works, since clues are necessarily things that appear trifling. If they were not, the criminal would notice and eliminate them. In Glaspell's play, the women consistently notice details which the men fail to discern or which they dismiss as trifles. Even when the men do notice an important clue, as when the County Attorney remarks upon the empty birdcage, they completely fail to register its importance.

The title also refers to Wright's cruel treatment of his wife which Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters deduce from the details they notice. They are able to sympathize with Mrs. Wright and understand what her state of mind must have been. Strangling a bird or stopping one's wife from singing are small matters so far as the law is concerned, certainly in comparison with the murder of a man. Mrs. Wright would have had no defense if the matter came to trial.

The women, however, appreciate from their own experience just how great an effect such trifles can have. Mrs. Peters still finds it too painful to talk about how a boy hurt her kitten with a hatchet decades ago when she was a child. In understanding personal relationships and human emotions, as well as in deducing physical facts, apparent trifles are of the first importance throughout the play.

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What is the meaning of the title Trifles by Glaspell?

The title Trifles refers to both the clues the women use to solve the case and the things the men miss because they see them as womanly.

The word trifle refers to something "of little value or importance." In the play, the Sheriff Henry Peters, attorney George Henderson, and Lewis Gale go to the home of a married couple, the Wrights, to investigate the death of John Wright. His wife, Minnie, is locked up for his murder.

Because the men dismiss things that they see as feminine—like a sewing box, for example—they aren't able to solve the murder. They even decide to skip doing a thorough search of the kitchen because they don't see how a place with kitchen things could be relevant. When Mrs. Peters sees the preserves that Minnie Wright asked her to check on, Hale says they're just trifles and none of the men see them as relevant to the investigation. Instead, they're amused that she is concerned. Glaspell writes:

MRS PETERS: (to the other woman) Oh, her fruit; it did freeze, (to the LAWYER) She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire'd go out and her jars would break.

SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

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.

The women, on the other hand, notice all the minor clues that the men miss. The state of her clothing, a messy table, and a broken birdcage all paint a picture that reveals to the women that Minnie killed her husband. The trifles the men dismiss reveal the truth, but they aren't willing to consider that evidence. In the end, though, the women decide to hide the evidence from their husbands and the attorney. 

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What is the meaning of the title Trifles by Glaspell?

Trifles or insignificant acts with little or no real meaning is exactly the opposite of what goes on in the play "Trifles."   The author makes a statement about the treatment of women in society.

‘‘Glaspell intended to show that women in the domestic sphere were vulnerable to the brutality of men like John Wright, but she also dramatizes the powerful sense of solidarity women shared and assumes that this solidarity was somehow responsible for superior female morality.’’

The world of women is reduced to the activities of the farmhouse which are trifles or insignificant in the world of men.  The plot revolves around the acute awareness of the women in this play who are much smarter than the men who fail to notice clues that the women pick up because the men don't pay attention to the activities of housework or women's work, they are trifles, not important.

"In simple terms, Trifles suggests that men tend to be aggressive, brash, rough, analytical and self-centered; in contrast, women are more circumspect, deliberative, intuitive, and sensitive to the needs of others. It is these differences that allows Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to find the clues needed to solve the crime, while their husbands miss the same clues."

The title draws attention to women's issues, suggesting that all issues relating to women in this period, 1916, were considered trifles.  Women fought for decades to secure the right to vote, which did not come until 1920. 

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What is the meaning of the title of the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

Written by Susan Glaspell, Trifles was based on an actual murder.  In Iowa, a wife killed her husband with an axe.  The wife argued that she thought he was an intruder.  She was convicted; but, in appeal, her sentence was overturned.  Glaspell, as a reporter, covered the story.  Along with the jury, she went to the scene of the crime, particularly the kitchen. She based her play on this experience. This is an example of an early feminist drama because of the sympathy implied toward the wife of the murder victim. 

The setting of the play is the home of the couple involved in a murder. The kitchen of the home is the primary place of the action of the play. The husband was found dead in his bed with a noose around his neck. He had been choked to death.  The wife says that she was asleep and did not know anything about the murder. The two ladies involved in the majority of the dialogue are the wives of the sheriff and a neighbor’s wife. 

Their men’s minds are clouded by prejudice against women; consequently, they disregard important clues as being mere "trifles" with which women concern themselves. The men tromp around the house without really looking at the scene. They immediately jump to conclusions with no examination of the actual setting or scene. One important line, spoken by the sheriff, says of the kitchen "Nothing here but kitchen things." That included the women who were cleaning and talking in the kitchen. 

The important part of the drama begins when the ladies are in the kitchen trying to clean it for Minnie, the wife. She would have wanted it nice if there were going to be a lot of people walking around in it.  They discuss the relationship between the couple, knowing that the husband was a hard man with little empathy for his wife.  In addition, the couple had no children.  Both women wonder how it would be in the kitchen without the sounds of children.

The women are able to sympathize with the wife.  As they look around the room, one of the ladies discovers a box with a canary wrapped in a cloth with its neck wrung.  The wife loved the bird and its singing.  Minnie at one time sang. The husband had taken the song out of her. Obviously, the canary symbolizes the wife who like the bird lived in a cage.

The women realize that the man was murdered in the same way that the bird had been killed. The husband had killed the one thing that brought joy to the wife; she returned the favor by breaking his neck. The women hide the bird knowing that this might prove that the wife was guilty. 

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.

County Attorney: And yet what would we do without the ladies? Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?

Mrs. Hale: There’s a great deal of work on the farm.

The play’s title refers to the trivialities that the men think that the women concern themselves with as they work in the kitchen.  Despite the fact that they have probably solved the murder, the men feel that what the women concern themselves with are just little insignificant things. 

The two women, having pieced together the murder, faced the moral dilemma of telling the men about the motive or protecting Minnie, whom they now see as a victim. Their choice raises questions about solidarity among women, the meaning of justice, and the role of women in society as a source of justice.

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Why is the title Trifles significant in the context of the play?

Concerning Glaspell's "Trifles," several levels of meaning are revealed by the title of the play. 

First, trifles are what reveal the motivation behind the murder, to the women who really figure out why the wife killed the husband. 

Second, the men assume the women are incapable of serious interests and ideas.  They assume they are only interested in trifles, so to speak.  But, again, it is the women who figure out the crime.

Finally, what was a trifle to the now-deceased husband, was a source of freedom and peace for his wife.  Stuck in a situation of subservience and dependence, a wife in a patriarchal society, her only pleasure, it seems, was a singing bird. 

But the bird was not a trifle to the wife, and when the husband kills it, she kills him. 

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How does the title Trifles relate to the murder investigation in the play?

In regards to the investigation taking place in the play, the so-called "trifles" to which Mr. Hale refers to in the play would be the unimportant details that women presumably love to think about right in the middle of something bigger, more important, and more influential. 

This is the view of the males in the play, anyway. 

SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

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.

The fact that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters were concerned with Minnie Wright's preserves had less to do with the preserves, and more to do with them wanting to help a fellow woman comply with her duties as a housewife, which was her primary role. The men, however, saw it as a two women who were completely unconcerned with what really mattered. 

The play continues in the same fashion, and following the same pattern where the women would divert their attention to a detail that goes unseen by the men only to realize that such detail is vital to the overall timeline of events of the fateful night when Minnie kills her husband. 

There were:

  • the disarrayed stitching- a "trifle" which clearly shows the state of mind of Minnie before the killing
  • the empty canary cage- another "trifle" that entails that her only companion was no longer with her.
  • the box where the dead canary was found- a "trifle" that points at the motive of the crime. John Wright wrung the bird's neck to spite Minnie, and she snapped after years of abuse. 
  • the messy state of the house- another symbol of Minnie's state of mind 

To the men, these things were signs of bad housewifery. To the women, these seemingly small items meant exactly what they did...if one is smart enough to put them in context. 

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