Trifles Summary

Susan Glaspell

Trifles

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Trifles Summary

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Trifles by Susan Glaspell is a one-act play that was originally preformed in 1916. It is loosely based on a murder case Glaspell reported on when she worked as a journalist for the Des Moines Daily News, in which a man, John Hossack , was killed and the primary suspect was his wife. Margaret Hossack argued that an intruder entered the house and murdered john with an axe; she was originally convicted for the murder, but the decision was overturned on a later appeal. The plot of Trifles unfolds in much the same way, focusing on the search for clues to the murder of a local farmer Mr. Wright.

The play opens on all five of its speaking characters entering the kitchen of the Wright house.  The county attorney, a Mr. George Henderson, is in charge of an investigation into the events surrounding the discovery of John Wright’s body. On the scene with him are the county sheriff and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and the neighbors of the Wrights, Mr. and Mrs. Hale. The attorney prompts Mr. Hale into his story of entering the Wright home in order to see if John would be interested in splitting the cost of a phone line. He says that inside the house he only found Mrs. Minnie Wright, sitting alone in a rocking chair, and that when he asked to speak to John she told him that he couldn’t because Wright was dead. Upon investigating the house Mr. Hale does indeed find Wright’s dead body hanging in an upstairs bedroom. Following this short synopsis of events before the action of the play, the men comment on the state of the house, specifically with regard to issues of poor housekeeping and exit upstairs to look for clues to the murder.

For the majority of the play Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are left alone on the first floor of the house where they prepare some comforts to bring to Mrs. Wright as she waits in jail. Unlike the men, who see the disarray of the kitchen as a failing on the part of Mrs. Wright, the women express sympathy about the state of the house, and the emotional distress Minnie must be feeling to have a group of strangers pawing through her home. This theme is repeated throughout the play, of the inability of the men to understand or sympathize with the hardships women experience, and is touched on again as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale discuss the depressing turn Minnie’s life had taken after she married John Wright.

While packing items to bring to Minnie the two women discover the body of her pet canary hidden in a sewing box. Though it is never directly spoken about, the significance of this discovery is that it reinforces the implication that Minnie had been abused emotionally or physically by John, and that when he had killed her pet, Minnie had finally killed him in almost the same way. The women conceal this discovery from the men, who only need to find a motive in order to convict Minnie of murder. Once the men exit the scene again, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters share similar accounts of ways in which they had suffered, and how they share some responsibility in Minnie’s isolation. Without discussing it outright, they decide not to share the clue to the death of John Wright with the man, and the play ends without the man having found the clues necessary to prove his wife’s guilt.

The play raises questions about justice for women, and the role women can have in executing that justice. It is essential to the play that the men are meant to be the main investigators of the crime, but are unable to find any clues specifically because they dismiss the “trifles” of women’s activities and therefore look for clues in all of the wrong places. They demonstrate an open contempt for the inner workings of the home, and fail to even consider the kitchen or sewing box as items of interest of the investigation, and it is therefore likely they would not recognize Minnie as the true victim of domestic abuse.