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Trifles by Susan Glaspell Essay

The play “Trifles” emphasizes the culture-bound notions of gender and sex roles, specifically, that women were confined to the home and that their contributions went unnoticed and were underappreciated. “This play is also about how we pursue the truth, interpret and explain it, and how we value it.” As the title of the play suggests, the concerns of women are often considered to be mere trifles, unimportant issues that bear little or no importance, while the “real work” was carried out by the men.

This play questions the value of men and women’s perspectives by going through the crime scene, where a woman is being accused of killing her husband, where the different genders take on opposite views of trying to understand the accused widow’s motives.

The play starts off with the neighbor, Mr. Hale, telling his account of what he knew about the murder of Mr. Wright. Mr. Hale went over to the Wright’s house to try and convince his neighbor to install a telephone so that they all could receive the service. He knew that Mr. Wright would be a tough sale because Mr. Hale had previously approached him to set up one and Mr. Wright right out refused to buy one. So Mr. Hale decided that he would go to the house and try to sell Mr. Wright into going ahead and getting one by propositioning him in front of Mrs. Wright, hoping that in some way she would convince her husband to do it.

But, when Mr. Hale got to the house and knocked on the door, no came. So Mr. Hale continued to knock and finally heard a voice inside that said to come in. When he walked in he saw a disheveled Mrs. Wright sitting in her rocking chair, unphased by the presence of her neighbor she sat there ignoring him until he asked to see Mr. Wright. She said you can’t see him. Confused he asked if he was there and she said yes, and then said he was dead. He asked how and she said by a rope on his neck. Mr. Hale shocked by this asked where and she pointed upstairs, as if it was unimportant.

When he hurried upstairs and discovered the body of Mr. Wright as Mrs. Wright described and called the authorities. When they show the men have their wives with them to look through the crime scene. The men and the women have two very different reasons for being there-the men, to fulfill their obligations as law professionals, the women, to prepare some personal effects to carry to the imprisoned Mrs. Wright.

The man that talked to Mrs. Wright tells the sheriff she is only worried about her preservative jars being broken because of the cold weather. The county attorney goes over to a shelf in a kitchen and announces there is a mess where her fruit had frozen, breaking the jars “well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves” to which Hale replies, “women are used to worrying over trifles” Mrs. Wright was worried about her preservatives because she worked hard for them and that was something she really cared about that was about the only thing that her husband allowed her to do. Her husband already forced her to quit her passion of singing in the choir.

The two women in the room move closer to one another as the county attorney goes around the kitchen, making comments that belittle the women in terms of how they are only concerned with tiny things that relate to their kitchen. The women do stand for her, not necessarily because they were good friends of Mrs. Wright but because they understand the nature of farm life.

It becomes clear at this point that the women notice things that the men don’t, for all their criticisms. They see that Mrs. Wright had bread set, for instance, an important detail that marks what she was doing before the event. They remember when she was Minnie Foster and see how sad her life was, presumably because her husband was an unpleasant man. The women wonder if she did it, but Mrs. Hale says no because she was worried about “trifles” (mocking what the men had said) such as her preserves and apron and they don’t seem to think that the ordinary things she was doing beforehand show any signs of anger or sudden extreme emotion.

The two women are also bothered by the fact that it seems the men are “sneaking” around her house while she’s locked up in town and do not like the way they criticize her housekeeping skills, especially since she didn’t have time to clean up.

The women are standing over Mrs. Wright’s pattern of a log cabin quilting project and wondering if she was going to knot or quilt it and the men laugh at this. However, what the men don’t realize is this “trifle” that they are thinking about, the quilt, reveals a very important piece of evidence. Most of the quilt discussed is very neat and perfect but all of a sudden there is a piece that is “all over the place” proving that Mrs. Wright was not her usual careful self, which proves the point that she was in distress while she was quilting at that place in time.

Mrs. Hale moves the stitching about to make it look better, she is more conservative and assured that the men have the best intentions. As she looks for a piece of string the two women encounter a birdcage that looked as if it had been forcibly opened due to the immense damage to it. The birdcage is an important find in the play because although the women remember someone selling canaries, they don’t remember her having a bird or a cat that might have gotten to it but they do remember that in her younger days, as Minnie Foster, she used to sing like a pretty bird but stopped doing so when she married her husband.

Before more about this is explored the women discuss how they should have come over to Mrs. Wright’s house more often, how without children and with a husband who always worked and was bad company when he was at home, it must have been lonely for her.

The women are getting ready to take the quilt with them and look for scissors and find a box. In it they find the bird with an obvious broken neck, like someone strangled it forcefully showing motive that since her husband killed her bird, about the only thing Mrs. Wright had left that she loved, she couldn’t take the abuse anymore and just snapped killing her husband. The women’s way of knowing leads them not simply to understanding; it also leads to the decision about how to act on that knowledge.

At this point the County Attorney enters and asks (probably mocking them) if they thought Mrs. Wright planned on knotting or quilting it and they reply that “she was going to knot it” an obvious metaphor for the crime. In another metaphor, the Attorney asks about the bird, if a cat got it, which they reply was the case. The cat in this metaphor is Mr. Wright.

Mrs. Peters tells a short beginning of a story about a boy who took a hatchet to her kitten which alludes to the fact that she would understand how Mrs. Wright would feel if Mr. Wright killed her bird. They could understand how still and lonely it would be without the sound of a bird for comfort which prompts Mrs. Hale to say something about her baby that died and how it was the same feeling. A result of understanding, the women are able to gain power ” the wives themselves having been devalued all their lives, for their low status allows them to keep quiet at the play’s end”.

Because the men do not expect the women to make a contribution to the investigation, they are disinterested in the women’s views or about their valuable findings, that solved the murder case, because they are seen unimportant they are able to hide the evidence of Mrs. Wright’s motive.

The wives see themselves as guilty of a crime since they never came to see Minnie and they take the box with the bird and put it in their purse. Then the men enter and say Mrs. Wright was, indeed, planning on knotting it knowing that she did kill her husband but they don’t have the evidence to back it up.

I believe that Mrs. Wright was pushed so far by her emotionally abusive husband that she couldn’t take it anymore and had a nervous breakdown. Once she snapped, she killed her husband the way that he had been slowing killing her all those years through the marriage and also the way that he horribly killed her canary. Mrs. Wright has all the classic signs of having schizophrenia. She was detached from emotion, I believe she didn’t realize what she was actually doing at the time, she gave one word answers, and showed signs of distress.

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