Susan Glaspell and Trifles
Susan Glaspell wrote the one-act drama Trifles in 1916. The murder of Mr. Wright, a sixty-year-old man whose mysterious death was found by his wife, Mrs. Wright, is the central theme of the play. Three males and two women enter Mr. Wright's abandoned home at the beginning of the play. The disorganized appearance of the home makes it clear to the audience that there is an upcoming business. The dirty dishes and loaf of bread on the kitchen table indicate that someone suddenly left the house. The play's author states, "The kitchen is left without having been put in order," which makes this clear. Glaspell uses numerous symbols to convey different deeper meanings to some of the characters and themes in the play. Some of the key symbols that the paper will cover will include the domestic setting, the cold, and not limited to the birdcage and the dead songbird.
The Importance of the Domestic Setting
Of all the symbols used within the play, the domestic setting dominates from the time the characters enter the house. It is also the same period, when the domain of women is limited to home, and primarily in the kitchen. It is in the kitchen, where women spend the better part of their day doing the household chores. Again, in this play, it is in the same kitchen where the indication for the murder motive is found. Thus, the domestic setting in this play sets the stage for all the characters’ actions (Pollaro 1). Apparently, the writer also captures the setting in the kitchen to accentuate the attitude’s value system towards the genders. The kitchen, being the domestic domain, is where Mrs. Wright most probably spent the better part of her day. Ostensibly, the author was trying to convey the gender roles through the kitchen, where she had the two women stay in the kitchen until the end of the play. The setting in the kitchen also acts as a trap for Mrs. Wright. It is in the kitchen, where her abusive husband allegedly puts her in trap.
The Barren and Cold Setting
Glaspell further uses the barren and cold setting to correlate with the other loneliness that Mrs. Wright had earlier faced in the barrenness of the womb. The house without children was symbolically represented by the cold. From the play, it is clear that Mr. Wright was a very controlling husband who wanted the house to remain quiet without the children playing and making noise. This assertion is justified when Mr. Wright was earlier captured saying “folks talked too much” (Noe 34). Moreover, the cold portrayed the attitude of the neighborhood. According to the writer, the condition was unbearable for Mrs. Wright not only because of her controlling and quiet husband but also because of the companionship that she lacked from her neighbors. The bird in the setting of the play served as a “child-substitute for the solitary Minnie; the canary’s voice was to displace the silence of a coldly authoritarian husband and replace the sounds of the unborn children” (Noe 46). Glaspell also uses the sound of the birds to connect the setting of the play to the attitude shown by the characters to bring out the depth of the play’s meaning.
Glimpse of Gender Negativity
Concisely, the period when the author wrote Trifles was known for gender negativity. It was captured before the movement for the rights of women, when men were still exercising control over the women. The only women role, which is also noticeable in the play, was the domestic roles where women were only expected to be in the kitchen.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Responding to Literature (4th Ed.). Stanford, Judith A.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. 455-67.
Noe, Marsha. “Reconfiguring the Subject/Recuperating Realism: Susan Glaspell’s
Unseen Woman. American Drama 4 (Spring 1995): 36-54.
Pollaro, Cindy. “Susan Glaspell’s Trifles”. 8 Oct. 2003. .