Trifles Themes

The main themes in Trifles are the perspectives of women and men, domestic abuse, and loneliness.

  • The perspectives of women and men: Glaspell illustrates the differences between the women and men by contrasting their reactions and observations to the crime scene.
  • Domestic abuse: The play subtly examines the devastating consequences of domestic abuse.
  • Loneliness: The investigation reveals the depths of loneliness to which Minnie Wright has descended.

Themes

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Last Updated on October 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158

The Perspectives of Women and Men

In Trifles, Susan Glaspell explores the differing perspectives of women and men. Mr. Henderson, Sheriff Peters, and Mr. Hale are intent upon gathering evidence in the murder of John Wright. They systematically examine the scene, looking around the kitchen, closely examining the upstairs area where the crime took place, and checking the barn. Mr. Henderson is especially interested in proving that Minnie Wright killed her husband, and he is also looking for a motive. Yet the men do not find what they need, because they are not thinking as a woman does.

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Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, however, see the situation much differently. They notice the details of Minnie’s life. They see her messy kitchen (much unlike a farm woman), her unsteady sewing on the quilt, and her dead canary. These little things, these trifles, have meaning to the women that the men cannot grasp. While the men laugh at them for worrying about such small details, the women use them to discover why Minnie may have strangled her husband. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters can relate to Minnie in a way the men cannot. They can reach into her mind, understand her emotions, grasp her loneliness, and realize what may have happened to drive her to murder.

The difference in perspectives between men and women also accounts for the women’s choice at the end of the play. As the men chuckle about the “not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out,” they do not realize that the observant women have discovered exactly what Mr. Henderson and Sheriff Peters need to make their case against Minnie. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters know that the men would simply laugh at the dead canary and the other evidence. They would not grasp its significance. So they keep their clues to themselves. Mrs. Hale slips the box with the dead bird into her pocket. If the men believe that women are only interested in trifles, then they need not see those trifles. Ironically, the men’s disdain for the women and for the women’s supposedly limited perspective has prevented them from solving the case and has revealed their own limitations.

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Domestic Abuse

Minnie Wright is a victim of domestic abuse. While there is no evidence that John Wright physically harmed his wife, there is plenty of evidence that he emotionally and psychologically abused her. The first piece of evidence is Wright’s character. Mrs. Hale describes him as a “hard man . . . Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.” She would not care to “pass the time of day with him,” and she does not think that a place would be “any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.” Even Mr. Hale notices that John would likely have cared little about what his wife would think about the party telephone or anything else.

The second piece of evidence lies in the change in Minnie Wright. Mrs. Hale mentions several times that the young Minnie Foster was a happy girl, always singing, wearing pretty clothes, and generally spreading cheerfulness about her. Minnie Wright is no longer like this. In fact, according to Mrs. Hale, John Wright put an end to Minnie’s singing and, by extension, her happiness. She is a lonely, shabby woman now, and she rarely socializes. She does not even belong to the Ladies Aid, Mrs. Hale remarks, supposing that “she felt she couldn’t do her part.”

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Latest answer posted February 11, 2018, 9:55 pm (UTC)

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The third piece of evidence is the canary incident. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters easily infer what must have happened. The birdcage’s door is broken, its hinge pulled apart as if someone had “been rough” with it. The canary itself is dead, tucked away in a box and wrapped in silk. Its neck is broken, twisted all the way around by a violent act. The women realize that John Wright must have killed that bird in an outburst of cruelty. He seems to have metaphorically twisted his wife’s heart along with the bird’s neck, for, as the women know, Minnie must have loved that bird and its song. The attack on the bird was an attack on Minnie, too, an act of abuse that was probably just one more in a long chain of misery that seems to have stripped Minnie of her identity and happiness.

Loneliness

The Wright farm is a lonely one. John seemed to prefer it that way. He told Mr. Hale that he would not take the party telephone because it would disturb his “peace and quiet,” and he talked little himself. For Minnie, however, the loneliness must be akin to torture. In her youth, Minnie was a social person, a little bird, Mrs. Hale calls her. She sang in choir and enjoyed the company of the other young people. Now Minnie is alone. Her husband provided little to no companionship. They have no children. The other women do not come around because they, like Mrs. Hale, find the Wright home to lack cheerfulness and warmth. Minnie does not go into town or to gatherings for social interactions either. She is afraid of cats, and no dog is mentioned. Even the canary that provided her with a beautiful song and perhaps some companionship has been cruelly killed by her husband. Minnie is alone and unhappy because of it.

However, in the end, Minnie may not be quite as alone as she thinks. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters have figured out what must have happened to John Wright, but this does not make them turn their backs on Minnie. In fact, they reach out to her. They gather the small items Minnie has asked for and bring her quilting as well to give her something to do. They decide not to tell her about the ruined fruit out of kindness, and most of all, they stand in support of Minnie by choosing not to mention their findings or the dead bird to their husbands.

Regret

The past cannot be changed, but it can fill the present with regret. Minnie Wright clearly regrets marrying John, for her marriage was unhappy and even abusive. Yet there is little evidence that she regrets John’s death. She is nervous and behaves strangely when Mr. Hale arrives, but she announces that her husband is dead with little emotion.

Mrs. Hale has regrets of her own. She knew Minnie Wright as a girl, but they have grown apart over the years. She has not visited Minnie in a long time. “I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful,” she explains to Mrs. Peters. The Wright house is uncomfortable and lonely. Now, though, she knows that this is exactly why she should have visited Minnie. She regrets not supporting her or offering comfort and companionship. In fact, she calls it a crime and wonders who will punish her for it. In truth, she will punish herself with her regrets.

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