Trifles by Susan Glaspell is a play based on a true story set in a farming community somewhere in Iowa. Stories like this are not suitable for children. This story is about a farmer that was brutally murdered with an axe (changed to strangled by a rope in the play) by supposedly his wife. His wife was convicted and sent to jail but in a retrial her sentence was reversed and she was set free.
Trifles is told from Susan Glaspell’s point of view because she was the reporter that researched the original story. Her writings about the murder became very popular at the time and probably contributed to the jury’s indecision about the wife’s case, leading to her freedom.
Glaspell displays the men in the story who are investigating as purposeful and intent on finding evidence to help discover who the murderer is (even though they already are convinced that the wife was the killer). They approach the house quickly and spend little time in other rooms of the house except for the murder scene in the upstairs bedroom. Two women that came along to gather personal items for the wife, were portrayed as there only for that purpose, not looking to find any evidence or desire to search the house.
Without searching for any evidence, the two women start noticing the state that the kitchen was in, how unkempt the pots and towels were, and that the wife’s fruit preserves had gone bad. They wonder why the kitchen is in such disarray when they see an empty bird cage that was broken by force. Later after going through the wife’s quilting materials the stumble upon a decorated box. Inside is a dead bird with its head twisted to one side from being wrung.
Their discovery is never fully explained and who killed the bird is left to the audience’s perception. It would make sense that the husband was a very rough and abusive man and that because he hated the bird singing, he wrung its neck. In retaliation the wife murder’s her husband in a similar way showing that the murder was very personal.
Another observation could be made that perhaps the wife killed the bird as a small release of her pent up emotions finally culminating in her husband’s murder. It was no secret to the community that the man was a good man but also a solemn and sometimes harsh man. Without any children or friends nearby, the man’s frustrations would be taken out on her and she did not have anyone to vent her emotions too. Her held back emotions continued to mount until a small release like killing her bird would suffice and murdering her husband seemed like a way of escape and release.
Cases for both observations and many more can be made but what is interesting is the difference between the men and women in the story. The women seem to be more personal and more open to what evidence might be presented leading them to more evidence than the men found. The men on the other hand were more focused on their duty and seemed to already condemn the wife. An interesting commentary on men and women in Glaspell’s society.