Trifles Sparknotes Essay

Trifles Summary

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The opening scene of the one-act play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell not only introduces the scene, which remains more or less constant throughout the play, but also immediately presents the main characters in “Trifles” who are, the young and arrogant County Attorney named George Henderson, Henry Peters who is the sheriff along with his wife, as well as neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Hale.

At this point in “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, the group stands in the disheveled kitchen of John and Millie Wright with the men looking around and the women looking nervous. They gather around a fire as the sheriff tells Mr. Hale, a neighbor farmer, to tell the County Attorney Mr. Henderson what he witnessed the day before when he came to ask John Wright if he wanted to split the cost of a phone line (called a party telephone in the play, which is set around the early 1900s). When he knocked at the door without answer, he grew more persistent until he thought he heard Mrs. Wright telling him to come inside. He finds her rocking in her chair, pleating an apron and looking “queer” almost “as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of done up.” Mr. Hale says he asked to see her husband and she began to laugh and told him he was dead upstairs and kept rocking in her chair. When asked what he died of she said, “He died of a rope around his neck” without any special emphasis.

At this point in Hale’s statement as a witness, the County Attorney tells him they should go upstairs so he could point to what he was talking about. Hale, however, continues with his story, saying that he went up and thought for a moment about taking off the rope (at which point he twitches) and decides to leave it on. He goes down to Mrs. Wright and asks her what happened. She says she doesn’t know and that she didn’t wake up if someone put a rope around his neck. Hale, disturbed, left and sought a telephone to call the coroner. Hale leaves Mrs. Wright who still seems to be in a strange state until people arrive, including a doctor. The County Attorney stops him and suggests the men go look around.

As the search party is formed and this group of main characters in “Trifles” agree what needs to be done, they begin in the kitchen and the men, especially the Sheriff and Attorney, remark on what a bad housekeeper Mrs. Wright was. This makes the two women pull closer together and they examine her preserves and remark on how upset she’d be if the jars broke. The men find this funny and remark that “women are used to worrying over trifles” and the women huddle closer still and the men continue to condescendingly ask what they would do without women.

The play Trifles was written by Susan Glaspell in 1916. This play takes place in one house, the house of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. The play opens with three men and two women entering the Wright’s abandoned house. There is unfinished business everywhere you look. Dirty dishes and a loaf of bread are setting out on the counter. You can obviously tell someone left in a hurry or was taken unexpectedly. Among the three men are one of Mr. Wright’s neighbors, Mr. Hale, the Sheriff, and the County Attorney. Mr. Hale’s wife is one of the women present, and also the Sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters. These people are at this house to investigate what happened in the murder of Mr. Wright. Mrs. Wright has been taken to prison and is thought to be guilty of the murder. The ladies are here with their husbands in order to gather a few things that Mrs. Wright might want or need, and the men are there to investigate the actual murder and determine who did it. Mr. Hale had come by the previous morning to speak to Mr. Wright, and that is when he found Mrs. Wright sitting in her rocking chair pleating her apron. He thought this was odd and asked to speak to Mr. Wright and then found out that he was dead. Mrs. Wright explained that someone had killed him while they were sleeping. Supposedly she is a very heavy sleeper and didn’t feel or hear anything from her husband as he was being murdered. The Sheriff and the County Attorney know that something isn’t right because it was their own rope that choked him, and it simply isn’t believable that Mrs. Wright didn’t notice her husband being murdered. The men go upstairs to try to figure out what has happened, and the women stay in the kitchen to talk and gather the things Mrs. Wright asked for. They end up finding a bird in a broken cage that has been strangled to death, in the same way Mr. Wright had died. They were amazed and started to speculate that Mrs. Wright actually killed her husband. They suspect that her reasons for killing him were because he had smothered her in their home by not letting her live a happy life. She lived in a cage, just like this bird, and she was being smothered in the same way she smothered the bird and brought it to its death. So, for killing her spirit, she decided to kill him. The men finish investigating upstairs and the women had finished gathering the items Mrs. Wright had asked for. The County Attorney decided to stay for a while and try to do a better job trying to find out what had happened, and Mrs. Peters sneakily takes the dead bird and places the box in her pocket, so that they will not find it as evidence. She knows the men are looking for some sort of firm evidence to make the judge determine that she had a reason for the crime. At this point all the men are convinced that she did kill her husband, but they know that without any sort of firm evidence, she may be let off. The women are aware of this too, and they feel sympathy for the poor woman who was cooped up in this horrible house for all these years with such a boring and smothering life. This is why they do not leave the dead bird as evidence.

Glaspell characterizes the men in this play rather differently. In the beginning of the story the Sheriff seems as though he doesn’t really care about this entire case. He tells the County Attorney when asked about the kitchen “Nothing here but kitchen things”. This makes it seem like he almost didn’t even bother really looking through the kitchen carefully in order to know there is nothing there worth investigating. That was obviously a mistake since the ladies, being meddlesome like normal women, found a very key instrument in the motivation of the murder. The County Attorney is dead set on figuring out exactly what happened. He is probably the most professional and determined one of them all. He knows that “what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger or—sudden feeling”. This shows that he actually cares about solving this problem and truly knowing who is to blame, rather than just accepting that Mrs. Wright is most likely the one to blame, so better to say she just did it without truly knowing. Mr. Hale is the one who originally found the whole mess when he entered the house to try to talk to Mr. Wright. He must have been very amazed to find his acquaintance murdered, and his wife just sitting without emotion in a rocking chair. He was basically only in the story for background on the murder because he was the one to find it. Other than that, he doesn’t play a very important part in the play.

The Sheriff and the County Attorney seem to have a jaded view of women and their importance to society. They sort of push the women aside as if they aren’t able to do this investigation or anything else other than get the woman’s  belongings together, and stay in the kitchen. It is the typical stereotype where the women are meant to stay in the kitchen and do things the men tell them to. Glaspell was ahead of her time by showing how these men were smothering their wives, just as Mr. Wright did. Mrs. Wright was an outgoing woman who became disgusted by her lifestyle and decided to put an end to it. Unfortunately now she might be spending the rest of her life in jail. She made that decision though, to put herself out of the misery of being tied down and unappreciated for what she truly could have been. It says that she used to wear pretty clothes and sing in the chore, until Mr. Wright took her life away. The Sheriff and the County Attorney were not to this extreme like Mr. Wright had been. Their wives are content and have their time to do their own business with each other. These men definitely have a serious attitude towards women that proves that they could soon be on their way to being in the same sort of marriage and household that Mr. and Mrs. Wright were.

In conclusion, this time period when Glaspell wrote this one act play was known for being negative towards women. It was before the women’s rights movement and therefore women hadn’t had the backbone to stand up for themselves.

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