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Trifles by Susan Glaspell Summary


About the author: 
Susan Glaspell (1876-1948)
  • American playwright and novelist
  • Her works were dismissed during her lifetime, but she was rediscovered in the 70s
  • Explore the difficulties faced by women in their self-exploration
  • Novels - Fidelity (1913), Norma Ashe (1942), Bernice (1918)
  • Plays - Trifles (1916), The Verge (1921)

Setting:
  • The house of Mr and Mrs Wrights.
  • Mr Wright has been murdered and Mrs Wright has been accused and arrested before the play begins.
  • All characters -both men and women - try to figure out a reason or a motive behind the murder
Characters:
  • George Henderson - County Attorney
  • Henry Peters - Sheriff
  • Mrs Peters
  • Lewis Hale - a neighbouring farmer
  • Mrs Hale
  • John Wright and Mrs Wright
Main Plot:
  • All of them enter the kitchen of the Wrights. Everything looks shabby, dishes lay scattered, signs of uncompleted work
  • Mr Hale explains to Attorney what happened on the previous day morning - that he went to meet Mr Wright, met Mrs Wright as sitting on the rocking chair and rocking, she looked "queer", and she informed him that her husband was dead by hanging.
  • We understand that by now Mrs Wright has been held for the murder of her husband. Then she worries about her vegetables when it turned so cold. Then Hale says: "women are used to worrying about trifles"
  • They conclude that she was not a good housekeeper. Mrs Hale defends her and her work.
  • Mrs Peters and Mrs Hale start a conversation about Mrs Wright. We learn from Mrs Hale that Mrs Wright was a popular singer 30 years ago when she was Minnie Foster.
  • They don't think that Mrs Wright committed the murder.
  • They find that Mrs Wright was weaving a quilt and some of the knots are not well stitched. They infer that she was very nervous.
  • Mrs Peters finds a birdcage in the cupboard. Mrs Hale remembers that there was a man selling canaries around the previous year
  • They also find that the door of the cage is broken by someone.
  • They discuss that Mr Wright was a good man but also a hard man to live with. So Mrs Wright got a bird for a company. They had no children. 
  • Mrs Hale says that she never visited Mrs Wright because that place was "so lonesome" and too far from the road
  • Mrs Hale says Mrs Wright was like a bird before marriage, "real sweet and pretty" and "How-she-did-change"
  • She finds a box there. To our shock, she finds a dead bird inside the box. Somebody had wrung its neck.
  • The men come again and the attorney makes funny comments about the quilt - whether she did "quilt it or knot it". For them, the two women are engaged in frivolous things such as the quilt.
  • When men leave, Mrs Peters recalls her memory of a kitten she had when she was a girl. One boy killed it before her eyes
  • Mrs Hale conclude that Mr Wright wouldn't like a bird, because it sang, a canary.
  • So he must have killed the bird. 
  • Mr Wright got killed in the same way the bird was, as they infer.
  • Mrs Peters talks about her knowledge of "stillness".
  • Mrs Hale regrets that she should have visited Minnie.
  • Mrs Peters says that if the men heard them getting worried by seeing a dead canary, they would laugh.
  • The attorney is sure that Mrs Wright is the murderer. He is about to make a further investigation to know the motive.
  • The women trick the supervision of the men and conceal the box with the dead bird. After some confusion, Mrs Hale puts it in her coat pocket.
  • The play ends with Attorney's ridiculing comment about the quilt and "knotting".
The Title:
  • The male prejudice that women are interested only in silly, superficial things/matters - "trifles".
  • "Trifles" in the play are the quilt and the way she was "piecing it together" - by quilting or knotting.
  • But in the play, the audience knows that only the women can understand the reason behind the murder through their analysis of "trifles" such as the quilt, birdcage and the dead bird.
Themes at a Glance:
  • The male prejudice that women's lives are superficial.
  • Unhappy Marriage.
  • Patriarchy and its forces that prevent women from pursuing their dreams.
  • Women's protest, to the extent of committing murder.
  • The invisible bonds that women share.
  • Their solidarity in opposing male dominance.

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