Having no experience in the theater, Susan Glaspell created a play at home at her desk, but she came to check the characters’ actions on the theater platform and mercilessly deleted scenes that did not pass the test. The debut of Susan Glaspell has proven to be so successful that the drama is still being staged and included in the anthology of the best American plays. In 2010 an opera based on it was created to the music of composer John G. Bilotta. Susan Glaspell draws attention to the political and social differences between men and women in the early 1900s. “Trifles” may seem like a simple story, but it is rich in symbolism and nuances of gender differences, giving an idea of the insignificance of women in the world of men. This is a one-act drama with themes of irony, gender differences, and oppression, which ultimately played a role in the reinterpretation of the position of women in society. This made it possible to reveal with clarity the unbalanced and unjustified inequality between men and women.
As a plot, the writer took a case that she encountered in her youth while working as a newspaper reporter: the murder of a farmer, allegedly committed by his wife. Presumably, because the woman was arrested and spent a long time in prison, her guilt was never proven; however, the charge was not dropped. The drama “Trifles” opens with the arrival at the house of the murder victim of the district attorney, as well as the sheriff and a neighbor with their spouses (Jawad 28). A young correspondent Glaspell was in place of her characters, entering someone else’s kitchen to collect material for an article (Saei Dibavar and Saei Dibavar 1). Now she came on stage as a neighbor — Mrs. Hale. By itself, the kitchen is a primordial female abode, which appears to visitors in a pitiful, squalid form, and appears to be more eloquent than any court speech. Glaspell’s play’s dull, cold, and disordered kitchen destroys the American myth of the hearth as a symbol of morality, order, comfort, and mutual understanding.
Men come to find evidence that incriminates the motive of the crime, and women come to collect her belongings for the arrested person. From the dialogue, it turns out that John Wright was found strangled with a rope in his bed, and his wife claimed that she had not heard anything while giving the impression of an insane woman (Saei Dibavar and Saei Dibavar 1). This is the beginning of the play, after which the men go to the second floor to study the bedroom carefully. The rest stay to weave the worldly web in which the woman who committed the murder got entangled in the audience’s eyes out of trifles (Saei Dibavar and Saei Dibavar 2). It is worth noting the fact that neither the murderer nor the murdered man will appear on the scene. However, thanks to the findings and conversations of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, viewers will vividly imagine how for many years, Minnie Wright led a lonely and sad life.
Violent death is a common motif of American literature of the 1910s and 1920s. However, in Glaspell’s play, it is not murder that is the source of drama. It happens once before, happens outside of the play, and is only an occasion to reveal a different central theme. It is essential what exactly pushed the character to murder. Maurice Maeterlinck proclaimed this tragedy of everyday life: the daily extinction of vital energy in a woman while her life was going on in an ordinary house next to an ordinary man (Yulistiyanti et al. 240). The tragedy of everyday life looms in the play due to the precisely selected details of the “trifles”. Glaspell created a drama as a prototype of an indispensable performance; after all, it was known in advance where, by whom, and how it would be prepared and played.
Glaspell entered a polemic with the Broadway mainstream, which she was well known aware of. The playwright and director David Belasco played an important role on the New York stage at that time. In his melodramas, the stage was overloaded with many non-semantic objects that were supposed to create a realistic projection of life. As is typical of the authors of a new drama, Susan Glaspell builds inventive mise en scenes in the play with extensive remarks. Thus, instilling fear in women, accidentally touched, the rocking chair in which Minnie Wright sat after her husband was found dead begins to sway (Jawad 30). Specific patterns are observed when applying the semiotic method to the analysis and considering the play as an allegory of the struggle between the old and new lifestyles. It should be noted that the mention of the chair indicates that Minnie was swinging between the past and the future without any progress (Yulistiyanti et al. 241). Women lay the prisoner’s shabby clothes and shoes on the table as if creating a joyless portrait of her life.
Incidentally, it turns out that the Wright house was on the sidelines, and John Wright was a man with a complicated character. A patchwork quilt is found among the suspect’s belongings, the last scraps of which are sewn defiantly crooked and carelessly, which betrays mental turmoil and fatigue (Puspitarini 25). Then there is a birdcage with a broken door, and then a box with a bird with a twisted neck. Obviously, this is the work of John Wright, who was initially annoyed by his wife’s voice, and then the bird’s singing also became unpleasant (Jawad 31). It is worth noting that Minnie’s maiden name (Foster) can be perceived as educating, raising, and caring, while her husband’s surname (Wright) can mean a person who dominates and sets his own rules. On the other hand, a reader can find the consonance of the verb “write” in John’s surname, which may indicate his desire to rewrite the script of Minnie’s life.
Collecting “trifles” (and periodically, men come down from the second floor and laugh at what trifles their wives are busy with), women practically find evidence against Minnie Wright and recreate the circumstances of the murder. However, at the same time, for them, it is indisputable evidence of her suffering, which Minnie completely justifies in their eyes (Guswanto and Lailatul 34). Women decide to hide their findings from their husbands, which manifests itself in some solidarity regarding suffering and despair. The play’s conflict can be defined both as a conflict between the real and the imaginary and as a conflict of male and female. This interpretation is what American researchers are inclined to, for whom the play is an icon of suffragism. Without occurring on the stage, the main antagonists appear through the eyes of outside observers (Yulistiyanti et al. 239). All this becomes the primary motive reflecting the tragedy of a failed fate. The main character’s absence on stage and the freedom of space can symbolize female fragility under the onslaught of difficult circumstances. Consequently, this drama influences the viewer and the reader by focusing on the details.
The drama is filled with many details that allow readers to trace the true meaning of the plot. One of the most important details is the dead canary. The bird serves as a symbol and, at the same time, a motive for the murder, which escapes the attention of the sheriff. In addition, it serves specific purposes in the drama and reflects the reality that Minnie had to face (Puspitarini 27). On the other hand, if readers pay attention, the bird is also the woman herself, placed in a cage by her husband. The motive of an unsuccessful and tragic fate can be traced through the entire component of the play. The desire to overcome failures and disappointments forced the woman to commit murder, which was supposed to be her release. The death of the bird correspondingly becomes a symbol of the death of the spirit of Mrs. Wright, who lost what mattered to her.
Perhaps this alienation is the result of men sharing society’s attachment to the material aspects of life. An important feature that the author seeks to convey is the desire to pay attention to the perception of parallels between people. In this case, the reader and the viewer understand that the sheriff will never find a solution to the murder of Mr. Wright since men never investigate the emotional aspects of the case (Guswanto and Lailatul 30). The only problems they see in the Wright house are dirty dishes. Thus, they look at the situation only from the position of their values and traditional foundations, a deviation from which serves as proof of murder (Puspitarini 28). However, Susan Glaspell demonstrates that only a subtle emotional connection between trifles and reality allows the audience to recreate the picture of what happened.
For women, cheerfulness is an emotional and spiritual thing, while men consider it materialistic in nature and are achieved through attachment to specific objects. Men believe that cheerfulness and happiness have nothing to do with the fundamental relationship between a married couple but are connected exclusively with fulfilling duties that society dictates (Guswanto and Lailatul 32). Mr. Wright probably thought that all his wife needed was to stay in the house and clean up. However, in fact, it is necessary to look at this issue more broadly. Therefore, the true freedom for Mrs. Wright would be the desire for self-expression. Nevertheless, it was censured by the husband, who could not see this correlation.
Thus, summing up, it should be noted that this drama is an example of a work that seeks to rethink the role of women in society. All this is demonstrated in rather non-standard ways that reflect various plot details. An interesting technique is the absence of the characters themselves, whose fate is being narrated, in the staging of the drama. Readers and viewers perceive the fate of husband and wife through the prism of various positions and opinions of others. This approach allows the author to demonstrate the difference in how men and women relate to reality. Trifles are the central core of the narrative, which traces this distinction. Consequently, the ability to see the emotional attachment between things and reality serves as proof of the differences between men and women.
Guswanto, Doni, and Lailatul Husna. “Psychological Conflict Between Men and Women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles”. Jurnal Ilmiah Langue and Parole, Vol. 2, no. 2, 2019, pp. 26-35, doi:10.36057/jilp.v2i2.365.
Jawad, Enas. “The Dilemma of Domestic Violence in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Journal of College of Education for Women, vol. 31, no. 1, 2020, pp. 25–36, doi:10.36231/coedw/vol31no1.19.
Puspitarini, Diana. “The Hidden Meanings Seen from the Symbols, Characters, and Settings in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Sanata Dharma University, English Letters Department, 2019, pp. 1–47.
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, doi:10.1080/0895769x.2022.2047877.
Yulistiyanti, Yulistiyanti, et al. “Double-Voiced Discourse in Susan Glaspell’s ‘Trifles.’” Lensa: Kajian Kebahasaan, Kesusastraan, Dan Budaya, vol. 10, no. 2, 2020, pp. 234–49, doi:10.26714/lensa.10.2.2020.234-249.