Critical Analysis of Trifles by Susan Keating Glaspell
Susan Keating Glaspell’s background influenced her to write Trifles. One important influence on the drama was the author’s case that she reported when she worked for The Des Moines Daily News. In “Literary Contexts in Plays: Susan Glaspell’s Trifles,” just after Glaspell graduated college in 1899, she started work for The Des Moines Daily news. Bailey McDaniel had said that Glaspell first became aware of the Hossack case and subsequently became interested in not the case itself, but the public’s strong reaction to it. As being a reporter Glaspell worked closely on the case, which she wrote multiple stories about an Iowa woman by the name of Margaret who killed her husband, John Hossack, with an axe. By comparison, Mrs. Wright, who never showed her face in the drama, had killed her husband the same way he had killed her bird. Though this case is about Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale, the neighbor of the Wrights, is seen to be the protagonist. In addition to her upbringing, another influence on the drama was her husband. On April 14, 1913, Glaspell married George Gram Cook, a rebellious son of the prominent Davenport family (“Susan Keating Glaspell”). According to “Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale,” Staci Stone explained that Glaspell had to announce this drama ahead of schedule as to during the time period she was living in, she had to abide by her husband. Glaspell had said, “I didn’t want my marriage to break up so I wrote Trifles”. Perhaps another important influence on the drama was the social impact that was around her. Usually when a person goes on trial, they are evaluated through their peers. This is not the case as it was said that women did not have the ability to serve on juries…female violence towards husbands was prohibitive (McDaniel). Trifles was written in the early part of the twentieth century during World War I and before women had the right to vote in the United States of America. This background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enables Glaspell in Trifles to develop the theme that deals with the female role in society and how justice has a whole different meaning to different people.
To develop this theme, Glaspell creates a believable plot through a social conflict and a determinate ending. Glaspell formulates a believable plot through the protagonist’s social conflict. The protagonist, Mrs. Hale, deals with how the men treats her while in Mr. and Mrs. Wrights’ house. The County Attorney, George Henderson, made a comment that said, “Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (Glaspell 1477). His comment upset Mrs. Hale in such a way that she replies in a sarcastic tone and this sets how she feel throughout the rest of the drama. Suzy C. Holstein mentions in “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s Trifles,” that because the way society had viewed on the women, it shows that they can do a different procedure on things than what the men could do (Holstein 288). Along with the social conflict, Glaspell further creates a believable plot in this drama by using a determinate ending. “We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson” (Glaspell 1484). This simple statement from the protagonist can make the reader look deeper into why she had said this to the County Attorney. Throughout the drama, the protagonist and the Sherriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters, had found all the evidence stating that Mrs. Wright had murdered her husband. At the end, the women had concluded not to tell the men anything for many reasons: the first reason being the men would not listen to them, the second is that they could relate and see why Mrs. Wright did it while seeing how she felt, and lastly that they felt what they did is right even if it went against the law to. Elke Brown had said, “The women thus decide that their humanistic idea of justice outweighs the men’s dogmatic reading of the law.” Mrs. Peters could not fit the box that contained the dead bird in her purse, so the protagonist had hidden it in her coat instead. This is one of the main reasons that Mrs. Hale said the line, that is mentioned before, at the end of the drama. Mrs. Hale’s social conflict leading to a determinate ending wonderfully reinforces the theme, of how women were being treated by society and how justice has a whole different meaning, in Trifles.
In addition to creating the theme with a believable plot, Glaspell also develops the theme of Trifles by convincingly characterizing the protagonist. The protagonist is convincingly characterized because she constantly trying to do what she thinks is right. Mrs. Hale, once seeing how the condition was in the kitchen, started to tidy it up bit knowing that this is not usually how Mrs. Wright does things in her home. “[Mrs. Hale] feels guilty for having abandoned Minnie and partially responsible for Wright’s murder” (Brown), she feels this way as to being neighbors with Mrs. Wright and could have continued to visit to keep Minnie happy. As Mrs. Hale’s tone had already been set throughout the entire drama, it is said that, “[she] expresses discomfort at the men’s violation of Mrs. Wright’s house” (Holstein 289). No matter if the home is a crime scene or not, she feels that the men still need to be more respectful for other people’s home that they enter. Besides being convincing because she behaves consistently, the protagonist is a convincing character because she sees how men treats them motivates her to do the right thing. In the drama, Mrs. Hale made a comment to Mrs. Peters stating “I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing” (Glaspell 1478). When the protagonist said this comment, she continued to do what she can and start to tiding up the kitchen before checking on Mrs. Wrights preservatives. Finally, the protagonist is convincingly characterized because she is plausible. Brown stated, “Mrs. Hale questions the institution of justice as it is pursued by its officials; to her, Minnie’s crime-through gruesome- is justified and the people who should be on trial are John Wright and her as representative of the community that abandoned Minnie” (“Justice in Trifles”). Mrs. Hale feels that she should be the one to be on the jury even if she stopped visiting Mrs. Wright about a year before this horrific murder that has taken place. The protagonist’s consistent behavior, motivation, and plausibility convincingly delivers the message of that justice has a different meaning for different people.
Perhaps the most important way that Glaspell develops the theme of this Trifles is that she uses symbolism and irony. Susan Glaspell also reinforces the theme of this Trifles though symbolism.