The play Trifle describes difficult life of a woman in a family and portrays how her husband stands in her way to freedom and acknowledgement. The play is full of details that show the woman’s suffering in the family where she is denied self-expression. This paper hypothesizes that the play represents a symbolic portrayal of a woman’s life within society, where oppression and violence in relation to women become the ‘norm’ according to the accepted standards of that time.
The wife in the story “Trifle” has no spiritual unity with her husband since the family adheres to norms and standards dictated by social beliefs. These standards presuppose the dominant role of men in marriage who are seen as providers of material benefits necessary for a happy life. The beliefs create problems in the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Wright in the play. Mr. Wright suppresses his wife, who, therefore, “keeps to herself” and cannot take part in social life as she would like (Glaspell 981). The story shows that John Wright has little consideration for his wife’s desires and dreams and sees her as a comfortable addition to his life, who is there to ensure his domestic comfort.
The same attitude to women based on male dominance is seen on the part of the district attorney who arrives to investigate the case. Thus, when the question of Mr. Wright’s shortcomings as a husband is raised by Mrs. Hale, the wife of the man who first arrives at the crime scene, the district attorney avoids speaking on the theme. From his attitude it can be seen that the law considers marital violence by the husband legitimate and justified (Sara Saei Dibavar and Sanaz Saei Dibavar). Men are considered superior to women, who are believed to be stupid and “used to worrying about trifles” (980). Moreover, women fully identify with their role as dutiful housewives, as Mrs. Wright herself shows when she asks to bring her an apron to prison. This apron acts as a symbol of her domestic life, the life she is accustomed to and unwilling to part with (Sara Saei Dibavar and Sanaz Saei Dibavar). Even though accused of killing her husband in a rebellious act for freedom, Mrs. Wright still clings to the ‘accepted norms’. This fact shows that women as yet have no forces for a full-fledged rebellion and consent to the roles imposed on them by male-dominant society.
The story shows men’s attachment to the material aspects of life. Thus, the district attorney and the small-time lawyer do not investigate the emotional aspects of the case, but concentrate on material things (Sara Saei Dibavar and Sanaz Saei Dibavar). They do not see that for a woman to be happy, she should have her share of freedom, social life, and self-expression. Mrs. Wright was denied. In fact, they see Mrs. Wright’s marriage as a reasonably good one, ignoring the fact that there was no mutual attachment, no love and understanding.
The author uses the symbol and the image of a dead canary to point out that Mrs. Wright is not free to lead the life she wants. In fact, the dead bird represents Mrs. Wright, who “looked like a bird herself”, enclosed in a cage made by Mr. Wright (Glaspell, 981). Just as her husband killed her beloved canary, he also killed Mrs. Wright’s spirit, since she could not do what she liked and that made her feel miserable.
The play, through the wide use of symbolism and imagery, portrays male-dominant society where women are denied social life and a right to self-expression. The standards accepted in the society dictate family norms where women’s role is restricted to domestic chores and ensuring their husbands’ comfort. The play aptly portrays what such social norms may lead to and gives readers to think about how the women’s domestic and social situation may be improved.
Glaspell, Susan, and Reuben A. Hornstein. Trifles. Kernerman Publishing Limited, 1992.
Saei Dibavar, Sara, and Sanaz Saei Dibavar. “Privileged Empathy in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 2022, pp. 1-7.