Susan Glaspells’s Trifles is a little gem of a play. In one short act, the playwright presents the
audience with a complex human drama leaving us with a haunting question. Did an abused Nebraska
farm wife murder her husband? Through the clever use of clues and the incriminating dialogue of the
two main characters, this murder mystery unfolds into a psychological masterpiece of enormous
proportions. Written in 1916, the play deals with the theme of the roles of women in society. This was a
time before women had the right to vote or sit on juries. Shortly after writing the play, Glaspell wrote it
as a short story entitled A Jury of Her Peers.
The scene is set in the cold, gloomy kitchen of a Nebraska farmhouse. The room is quite messy
with signs of uncompleted work everywhere; unwashed pots, a dirty hand towel, and bread left open on
the table. The first characters to enter the stage are two middle-aged men, the county sheriff, Henry
Peters, and Lewis Hale, a local farmer. They are followed by a younger man, George Henderson, the
county attorney. Then, the main characters arrive on stage, the sheriff’s wife and the farmer’s wife, Mrs.
The men have arrived to investigate the murder of the owner of the house, John Wright. The
women have come to gather some clothes and personal belongings for Minnie (Foster) Wright, who now
is in the county jail on charges that she killed her husband. The men are all caught up in the so called
“important” investigation of the case, belittling the women’s concerns as being mere “trifles”, when
actually the women are the ones uncovering the clues which could solve the case and reveal the
The “trifles” uncovered by the two women are intriguing to say the least. They tell the audience a
great deal about the home life and mental state of Mrs. Wright. The house didn’t have a telephone
because when Mr. Hale asked if Mr. Wright would want to join him in paying for a party line, Wright’s
reply was “folks talk too much anyway and all he wanted was peace and quiet.” When Mr. Hale found
Mrs. Wright, she was sitting in her rocking chair “looking queer, as if she didn’t know what she was
going to do next.” Hale then went upstairs and discovered Wright’s body lying in bed, a rope tied
around his neck. Wright had been strangled.
The pieces of evidence found in the kitchen by the women paint a picture of a desperate woman
who had suffered mental and perhaps physical abuse at the hands of her cruel husband for 30 years.
Jars of cherries that Mrs. Wright had preserved were found broken and the women assume it is because
of the cold. A roller towel was found dirty, dirty pots under the sink, and a loaf of bread on the table was
left to go stale. Mrs. Hale doesn’t think Minnie Wright did it because Minnie is still concerned about
the household things. She wondered how a person could be strangled without waking up or wakening
someone in bed with him. The women find a quilt that Mrs. Wright had been working on and the last
stitches are uneven and Mrs. Hale pulls them out. Mrs. Peters finds a birdcage with a broken door hinge
that looked as if someone had been rough with it. They find the dead bird wrapped up in silk in a box in
Mrs. Wright’s sewing basket, it’s neck broken. The climax of the play is when the men return and Mrs.
Hale hides the bird in her coat pocket and Mrs. Peters keeps the secret.
The protagonist of the play is probably Mrs. Hale. She knew Minnie Foster Wright as a happy,
beautiful, talented young girl before the years of toil and abuse by John Wright had turned her into a sad,
lonely and perhaps, battered woman. Mrs. Hale was sympathetic because she also was a farm wife but
at least, she had her children to keep her company. Mrs. Hale felt guilty that she hadn’t taken the time to
visit Minnie Wright but she excused herself saying that their was so much work to do on the farm and
the Wright place never looked cheerful.
The play was filled with symbols, especially the broken cage and the dead bird, which could have
represented Minnie Wright herself, a woman whose zest for life had been squeezed out of her by her
tyrant of a husband. There was suspense as the women hide the evidence, perhaps saving Mrs. Wright’s
life. This leads to a moral dilemma. Did the women have the right to conceal the evidence? Were they
doing it only for Minnie Wright or for all women who could never have a jury of their peers?