Trifles (1916), by Susan Glaspell, is a play that illustrates the disparity between the attitudes of men and women. Trifles highlights what Glaspell believes to be emotional and intellectual superiority of women over men. This superiority is based upon how the men and women react differently to the discoveries of minor details when collecting evidence for the murder of Mr. Wright. Glaspell illustrates female empowerment by showing how the women stick together versus the way that the men treat the women. The women do not initially intend to tamper with evidence in order to protect a fellow woman, Mrs. Wright. Instead, as the story progresses, the women discover relevant evidence simply by their feminine observations. Ironically, the males chastise the women for their female perspective. Glaspell sets out to illustrate that the emotional and intellectual capacity of women are superior to men.
The women discover minor details that the men overlook and dismiss. The women notice things that the men do not notice, such as Mrs. Wright’s bread set. They commiserate with her broken jars of fruit. The women take personal insult when the men criticize Mrs. Wright’s housekeeping. Because of the men’s dismissive treatment of the women, they start to bond. The act progresses with stage directions for the women to move closer together, and to move even closer together (Glaspell). The reason that the women stick together is that they understand the nature of farm life. The women are also bonded because they are both horrified at the idea of men going through their kitchens without any notice.
The women’s deeper understanding of farm life sheds light on the evidence that they come across. The men make fun of the women for discussing the manner that Mrs. Wright quilted her blankets. They find a section of disorganized stitches. The haphazard stitching is recognized as the result of some sort of trauma. The women try to relate what they find with any possible cause for motive for murder. The women find significance in their observations that could help the men in their investigation, but the men are so dismissive of the women that the women start to resent the way that they are treated. Then, they reflect that most likely Mrs. Wright suffered extreme masculine dismissal of all of her needs.
The women discover the empty birdcage, with a broken door, and then the women find the dead bird. They hypothesized internally that the broken door was Mr. Wright breaking through the cage. After finding the dead bird, they are certain that Mr. Wright killed the bird, and Mrs. Wright was saddened to the point of killing him. Mrs. Peters recounts that a similar emotion took ahold of her when she was young: “When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there…If they hadn’t held me back I would have—(catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly)—hurt him” [italics] (Glaspell). Both the women know that Mr. Wright was a mean man, and they know that he killed the bird.
It is the women—not the men—who are in tune with what evidence exists. The men belittle the women for making petty observations, however, it is the women who solve the crime. Because of the men’s dismissive treatment, the women come together to tamper with the evidence and fool the men. The men think that the women are too simple minded to have anything up their sleeves. Therefore, the women are able to solve the crime and protect the victim/murderer by outsmarting the men.
- Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Frank Shay, 1916, www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html. Accessed 05 Sep. 2017.