Moral Dilemma in “Trifles” Play by Susan Glaspell

Making the right choices is often a tough decision to take in certain circumstances. As human beings, we are most of the time faced with the dilemma of upholding what seems to be lawful and what is socially agreeable. In the play ‘Trifles’ by Susan Glaspell, a man is found dead in his home, and his wife is the first suspect. The county attorney, the sheriff, and a neighbor arrive at the deceased’s home to investigate the murder. These individuals are accompanied by two of their wives, Mrs. Hales and Mrs. Peters. The gentlemen are concerned with finding the pieces of evidence that link the wife to the murder of her husband. They overlook the finer details that would help them and disregard them as petty and womanly. However, the two women unintentionally stumble into this evidence, and due to the disregard that the men have for women, they decide to withhold these pieces of information. The ill treatment and disenfranchisement of women in this society put these women in a position of moral dilemma.

It would be right to judge these two women and claim that they are withholding justice. They have stumbled upon crucial information that would help the case and should present the information. However, it is essential to understand the circumstances under which they come across the information. The men in the story decide that the kitchen and the property that belongs to Minnie, Wright’s wife, should be handled by the women. They disregarded these spaces as women’s spaces and did not seem to have any crucial importance. The women are therefore faced with the moral dilemma of whether to present the information or not (Grose 40). In the kitchen, the can of fruits shows the mess that had been in the house. Mr. Hale dismisses the kitchen and says that women are used to being “concerned over trifles” (Glaspell 10). These trifles eventually add up to the case, but they could never find that out. Women have been looked down upon by the men and it is during this time that they feel they need to stand with one of their own.

While packing up the clothes for Minnie, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come across a half-made quilt. It is unlike a woman to have her quilt halfway done, and this points to the fact that things were never okay at Wright’s home. The gentlemen were more concerned with finding evidence to criminalize the murder but were not close to finding the motive (Grose 38). The two women realize that Mrs. Wright had been a lonely woman, and she was sad. The unfinished quilt, the messy kitchen, and the poor condition of Mrs. Wright’s closet were all indicators that she was an unhappy woman. Mrs. Hale even regrets not ever taking her time to visit Minnie Wright to keep her company. “But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here” (Glaspell 19). She recalls how Minnie was a cheerful girl and full of life before she married her husband. The two women can relate to the plight of Mrs. Wright and are therefore compelled not to share this information with the men.

The broken birdcage and the dead bird in Minnie’s knitting box were shreds of evidence that provided the motive for the murder. Mr. Wright had rid Minnie of joy and made her life miserable. Mrs. Hale recalls that Minnie used to love to sing before she got married, but all that changed after the wedding. When Minnie was Minnie Foster, her life was good, but she became sad and lonely after marrying Mr. Wright. Mrs. Hale states, “She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself—real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change” (Glaspell 21) He, like many other men, had subjected Minnie to a degraded life and mistreated her. Both Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters can relate to this, and they decide to save one of their own. Women were poorly treated in a male-dominated society, and their roles narrowed to homely duties (Grose 45). The woman belonged to her husband and was his reflection. The two women decide to ignore the lawful duty and do what was socially proper and keep the pieces of evidence from the men.

Holstein writes that the play’s title seems simple, but the play’s story runs deep into the heart of society. The “Trifles” that the men in the space seem to avoid are the main leads in the case, but since the men are in a male-dominated society that looks down upon women, they could not find the evidence (Holstein 282). Holstein also claims that it may seem wrong for the women to withhold the evidence to the case; on the contrary, they were not. Many women suffer silently in violent marriages, and, therefore, it was a silent justice for Minnie that they did not present the shreds of evidence. Grose also notes that the two women protecting a woman in that manner were wrong, but they were moved towards that direction by an unhealthy male-dominated society. Women had been mistreated and not heard at all; the men were driven by logic to find justice for Mr. Wright but did not want to understand why the murder occurred (Grose 40). It seemed like the world was against the woman, and they had to protect her from it. The moral dilemma in this story is brought about by the oppression and mistreatment of one gender by the other.

Work Cited

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Maynard And Company, 1920, pp. 7-29.

Grose, Janet L. “Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and ‘A Jury of Her Peers’: Feminine Reading and Communication.” Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 132, Gale, 2010. Originally published in Tennessee Philological Bulletin, vol. 36, 1999, pp. 37-48.

Holstein, Suzy. “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s Trifles”. The Midwest Quarterly, vol 44, no. 3, 2003, p. 282+.

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