Is Trifles considered a tragedy or a comedy?

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While a play can be both tragic and comedic, Trifles uses too many tragic literary devices to be merely a comedy.

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For the most part, this play is indeed a tragedy . A woman has lived her married life like a caged bird. She is profoundly lonely and is driven to kill her husband whom, she feels, has imprisoned her in this life. Mrs. Hale notes how Mrs. Wright (nee Minnie...

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Foster) was once happy and social:

I wish you'd seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang.

Mrs. Wright/Minnie Foster is clearly comparable to the bird. Both were once free to sing and then caged. Was her marital imprisonment reason enough to kill her husband? No, but she may have seen no other way out. Still, as bad as he may have been, Mr. Wright's death is also tragic.

When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters essentially cover up the evidence, we have to consider their actions, as well. Are they standing up for feminism in this sense? Are they justified in trying to protect a woman who's been subject to a controlling husband and a bereft life? It's a complicated question. But objectively speaking, in covering up the crime, they do not give their society any opportunity to see the effects of an abusive or controlling marriage. So, while we might understand or even agree with their need to cover it up, it is dishonest and does nothing to help the next victim of an abusive husband, nor does it help the next Mrs. Wright. Though, there is also the possiblity that Mr. Wright's abuse would not have been recognized by law enforcement, anyways, even if the police had been made aware of it.

There is some dark comedy here. The men are totally inept. The County Attorney and Sheriff are supposed to be professionals. Yet, they miss every significant clue. Meanwhile, the women uncover it all.

Although some events are discussed in hindsight, they still occur within the world of the play. So, we can't discount this as a tragedy just because events do not happen in real time. Tragedies are marked by a few aspects. One is the downfall of a major character or protagonist. Mrs. Wright is this character, but one could make an argument that Mr. Wright is also a major character who has a downfall (being a bad husband), even though he is deceased before the play begins. Another mark of a tragedy is the protagonist's tragic flaw (hamartia). This is usually seen as a character flaw, but it can also mean a tragic choice or fate. Mrs. Wright made a tragic choice. One might say she made two tragic choices: marrying Mr. Wright and killing him. (Again, there is some irony or humor in calling him Mr. W"right.") Another trait of tragedies is the catharsis. A catharsis occurs when the audience experiences relief or a purging of emotions, as a result of feeling empathy (pathos) with a character or the resolution of the play. This step is complicated in this case, but some might be relieved that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters try to save their friend. At the very least, the fact that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters understand the motive of this crime elicits some emotion in that some light has been shed on abusive relationships and their history in a patriarchal tradition. Plainly speaking, the audience is relieved to learn that Mrs. Wright had a real reason to do what she did. (Even though this does not resolve whether or not she was justified.)

The play is tragic and uses a number of tragic literary devices. So, this does qualify as a tragedy. But with the dimwitted sheriff and attorney bumbling about as these women dissect the Wrights' marriage, it could also fall in the category of tragicomedy.

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There is really nothing in Trifles that can be considered comedic. The entire play is a suspenseful drama about the effects and consequences of spousal abuse; only the men find humor in the women's apparently inconsequential focus on "trifles." The events and realizations in the play are anything but comedic, though, and it is hard to laugh along with the men when it is obvious that they are gaining humor from misogyny.

However, the play can not really be deemed a tragedy either. The events that are revealed are come from the emotional abuse of Mr. Wright on his wife Minnie, and while that is itself tragic, her eventual response removes moves into revenge and actually resolves her emotional issues. The tragic events all occur long before the play itself; Minnie's creativity is stifled by her husband, and he emotionally abuses her to the point of killing her pet canary. Everything in the play itself is suspenseful, but not tragic; the outcome may be entirely unavoidable considering how badly Minnie was treated. The play therefore should not be classified as either comedy or tragedy, but instead suspense or straight drama (it could also be classified as a dramatic mystery).

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