What is the theme of Susan Glaspell's play Trifles?

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One theme of "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell is the unequal treatment of women in society. This is explored through Minnie Wright's husband abusing her and through the male investigators being condescending and dismissive to Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters.

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Out of the many themes that this story expands upon, the most salient is gender inequality. A lot of topics surface under the umbrella of this theme. Among many other subthemes that exist within the theme of gender inequality we can find:

  • spousal abuse (husband to wife)
  • social expectations of females
  • women in patriarchal societies
  • women roles in the family
  • isolation 
  • marital expectations

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are two women who are asked to join their husbands in looking for items to take back to accused husband killer, Minnie Wright. At the time the action begins, Wright is being held at the county jail. This is why she made requests to bring some things back to her that she needs.

There, we can see the first example of differentiation of gender. The accused killer is a female, hence, the men in charge of investigating the scene leave it up to other females, their own wives, to "take care of her." Moreover, Sheriff Peters assumes that his wife would be "scared" of embarking in such a mission, and he requests for her the company of Mrs. Hale, a former friend of Minnie Wright and the wife of the farmer who witnessed the scene of the crime.

We see more instances of gender inequality throughout the story. For example, the title "Trifles" refers to the descriptor that the men investigating the scene use to refer to the different items found around the house, which belonged to Minnie Wright. However, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters unveil that the so-called trifles were actually very important clues that could explain Mrs. Wright's state of mind at the time of the crime. Those "trifles" were in fact very telling.

Had the men been more clever, and less critical of Minnie Wright's lifestyle, they could have used those clues to build a strong case against Mrs. Wright that would have been an easy win for the county attorney, who was likely to work for the prosecution of Mrs. Wright. Instead, they continuously make sarcastic remarks and unfair jokes about things such as Minnie's stitching, her frozen compotes, and the state of her house. 

One important factor about gender inequality in the story is that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters know that Minnie is an abused wife who will still fall through the cracks of the system. They know that, even though John Wright caused tremendous psychological distress to his wife, no jury will care about the causes that led her to snap and kill her husband, especially in a society led mainly by men. This is why they join forces and become accomplices in concealing any evidence that could be used to bring Minnie down. As such, their gender inequality is at least strengthened by their mutual solidarity, and their support of Minnie. They can at least help to save whatever is left of Minnie's life. 

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The two primary themes of "Trifles" are gender differences and isolation.  First, gender differences is important because women were treated differently during the time period in which this story is set.  Women's duties were in the household and their opinions weren't taken seriously many times by men.  Men thought that women were concerned with nothing but "trivial" things like cooking, cleaning, gossip, etc.  Women's intelligence was underestimated by men, so when they had "intelligent" thoughts or expressed their opinions about "serious" subjects, they weren't taken seriously.

Another theme is isolation.  Mrs. Wright led a very isolated life at home.  She wasn't able to "bloom" like she wanted to through her music, for example.  Mr. Wright suppressed the things his wife loved and prevented her from having her own interests, etc.  The fact that Mr. Wright killed her beloved canary was the last straw. This sent Mrs. Wright over the edge:

...Minnie Foster’s whole life changed when she married John. They lived in a gloomy farmhouse ‘‘down in a hollow’’ where Minnie couldn’t even see the road. No one came to visit, and she did not go out. The couple was childless, and John killed the only other life in the house: the canary his wife bought to sing to her and ease her lonely mind.

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How is the theme of sisterhood depicted in Susan Glaspell's play Trifles?

The relationship between Mrs. Hale, a farmer's wife, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff's wife, and their instinctive and tacit readiness to conspire to protect Mrs. Wright from prosecution demonstrates the theme of sisterhood in Susan Glaspell's 1916 play, Trifles.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters instinctively move close to one another when Hale uncharitably observes "women are used to worrying over trifles." Mrs. Hale tells the county attorney that "there's a great deal of work to be done on a farm" when he is openly insulting about the state of the Wrights' home, placing the blame on Mrs. Wright. When the attorney goes on to comment "loyal to your sex, I see... I suppose you were friends, too," Mrs. Hale corrects him, telling him that she hadn't been in the Wright house for over a year. This is a demonstration of the idea of sisterhood among women; Glaspell suggests that there is an unspoken bond between women because of their marginalization at the hands of men.

When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are left alone while the men conduct their investigation, they begin to commiserate almost instinctively, offering up their sympathy and empathy for Mrs. Wright instead of condemning her, as the men have been quick to do. They recognize the work she has done in preserving fruit, preparing bread, and sewing neatly instead of finding fault the way the men have.

Recognizing the emotional cruelty that Wright has inflicted on his wife, the two women don't need to discuss what they will do to hide the evidence that suggests a motive for Wright's murder at the hands of his wife. They quickly and wordlessly cover for her, because as country wives themselves, they understand what she has endured.

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How is the theme of sisterhood depicted in Susan Glaspell's play Trifles?

Trifles is the aptly named play by Susan Glaspell in which it is the seemingly inconsequential and trivial things that hold the most importance in potentially solving the murder of Mr. Wright in his own home. This apparent contradiction supports the theme of sisterhood, as it is the wives who find the almost indisputable evidence to support the men's theory that Mrs. Wright killed her own husband. They decide to conceal this evidence because of their shared solidarity with Mrs. Wright.

The men, however, overlook the women's behavior and the detail that would lead them to the same conclusion that the women have already come to. They readily dismiss the women because, as Mr. Hale, the Wrights' neighbor, comments, "Women are used to worrying over trifles." He is remarking that Mrs. Wright is worrying over her spoiled preserves rather than a looming conviction for murder.

Without realizing what they are effectively doing, the men include even their own wives in the same category as Mrs. Wright, the woman who they are convinced murdered her own husband. Therefore, the men's actions also support the theme of sisterhood. The men in these women's lives force the women to form a bond (a sisterhood) in order to survive the harsh reality of their lives.

Even Mrs. Peters, who is initially reluctant to hide the compelling evidence, is persuaded to do so when she sees the reactions and behavior of the men and their complete disregard for what Mrs. Wright may have suffered at the hands of her husband.

The men do not recognize the potential for any meaningful contribution that Mrs. Hale or Mrs. Peters could make toward proving Mrs. Wright's guilt. How could women with interests in common with Mrs. Wright assist with their investigation? The men find it almost preposterous, making the female characters into "trifles" themselves. The men want to prove Mrs. Wright's guilt and punish her for daring to challenge her husband.

The kitchen with its preserves, the quilt, and sewing kit (crucial in solving the case) are so irrelevant to the men because they belong in a woman's world, and so they have no relevance. Hence, the theme of sisterhood is again reinforced.

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How is the theme of sisterhood depicted in Susan Glaspell's play Trifles?

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters show the sort of sympathy and protective instincts towards Mrs. Wright that a sister would. For example, Mrs. Hale comments indignantly that it was underhanded of the police to arrest Mrs. Wright, incarcerate her, and then come to her house looking for clues with regard to the crime that they allege she has committed.

When the two women come across the remains of Mrs. Wright's pet bird, which has died in a manner similar to John Wright and could, therefore, have been entered into a court of law as evidence that Mrs. Wright was guilty of her husband's murder, one of them hides it in her coat so that the policemen do not find it.

This act of protection plays into the theme of sisterhood, as it is natural for sisters to protect one another—even if this protection is not necessarily justified.

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How is the theme of sisterhood depicted in Susan Glaspell's play Trifles?

By showing the basic differences in how men and women think, act, and relate to others, Glaspell gives the reader a picture of sisterhood. The women are there to get things for the woman accused of killing her husband. As their husbands come in and out of the scene, the differences between the two genders are made obvious.

Overall, Glaspell shows us that men are aggressive, self-centered, and rough. Women are more sensitive, circumspect, and intuitive. These differences enable Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to know exactly what happened in the home of the accused. Their husbands, however, leave the scene feeling there are no clues to be found.

The men look for obvious clues, while the women notice the little things, the "trifles". The women are able to find the dead bird and the damaged birdcage and piece together the events leading to the death of the husband. The men patronizingly dismiss their wives' ideas. The women are sensitive to the isolation and loneliness Mrs. Wright felt because they've been there before themselves. They understand why she would have been driven to murder when John Wright took away the only thing Mrs. Wright had to keep her company. As a gesture of their sisterhood, the two women hide the bird and the birdcage, knowing they would help convict Mrs. Wright. Because of this, she will most likely be found innocent of her husband's murder.

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