By Susan Glaspell


📚 Welcome to the captivating world of Trifles by Susan Glaspell! 🎭 Published in 1916, this pioneering play is a brilliant exploration of gender roles and the psychology of women, set against the backdrop of a rural American setting in the early 20th century. Susan Glaspell, a journalist and playwright, co-founded the Provincetown Players, a key figure in the American theater movement. She drew from her real-life experiences and observations, embedding deep societal critiques within her works.

Trifles falls into the genre of drama, specifically a one-act play, and is renowned for its brevity and intensity. Through the investigation of a mysterious murder, Glaspell unveils the overlooked details and trifles that women notice, serving as a metaphor for the underappreciated and underestimated roles of women in her society. The play not only captivates with its suspenseful narrative but also resonates through its commentary on the dynamics of marriage, gender inequality, and the pursuit of justice.

🌟 Dive into this literary masterpiece to unravel its secrets and understand the subtle yet powerful messages conveyed through the mundane aspects of everyday life. Trifles is not just a play; it’s a reflection on society, a critique of its values, and a bold statement on the role of women within it. Ready to explore? Let’s delve into the world Susan Glaspell so masterfully created!

Plot Summary

Trifles unfolds in a desolate, rural farmhouse, the scene of a perplexing murder — John Wright has been found strangled in his bed, with his wife, Minnie Wright, asleep beside him. She is swiftly taken into custody as the prime suspect. The play begins as the local sheriff, Henry Peters; the county attorney, George Henderson; and a neighbor, Lewis Hale, arrive at the Wrights’ home to search for evidence, accompanied by Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale.

Exposition — The play sets the stage with the investigation into John Wright’s murder. The men dismiss the kitchen and its contents as irrelevant to the crime, focusing their search on more “important” areas of the house.

Rising Action — As the men go upstairs to inspect the crime scene, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters stay behind in the kitchen. They discuss the Wrights’ isolated life and Minnie’s transformation from a lively girl to a withdrawn woman. Through their conversation and observations, they uncover critical clues: a broken birdcage and a dead canary with a wrung neck, hidden in Mrs. Wright’s sewing box.

Climax — The climax is reached as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters piece together the motive behind the murder. They realize that John Wright’s oppressive nature likely drove Minnie to her breaking point, symbolized by his killing of her beloved canary — a final act of cruelty that mirrors her own feeling of being trapped and silenced.

Falling Action — The women, understanding Minnie’s desperation and empathizing with her plight, decide to conceal the evidence (the dead canary) that could condemn her. This act of solidarity represents a silent rebellion against the men’s authoritative and dismissive attitudes.

Resolution — The play concludes with the men returning from their fruitless search, mocking the women’s concerns over the “trifles” they have found. Unbeknownst to them, these trifles hold the key to understanding the murder. The women’s decision to hide the evidence secures Minnie’s secret and symbolizes a shared bond of female empathy and resilience against a backdrop of male ignorance and oppression.

Trifles by Susan Glaspell thus masterfully wraps a suspenseful murder mystery within a poignant commentary on the societal underestimation of women’s insight and the depths of their inner lives.

Character Analysis

In Trifles, Susan Glaspell presents a small cast of characters, each contributing significantly to the story’s depth and the themes it explores. Through their actions, dialogues, and the dynamics between them, Glaspell paints a vivid picture of early 20th-century rural America and the gender roles within it.

  • Mrs. Hale — A farmer’s wife, Mrs. Hale is practical, observant, and possesses a deep sense of loyalty and empathy towards Minnie Wright. Her insights into Minnie’s life and marriage are critical to understanding the motive behind the crime. She represents the voice of rural women, recognizing and valuing the “trifles” that men overlook.
  • Mrs. Peters — The sheriff’s wife, initially depicted as a more traditional and law-abiding character compared to Mrs. Hale, undergoes significant development. Her transformation from adherence to legal justice to an empathetic understanding of Minnie’s situation illustrates the power of female solidarity. She bridges the gap between the law and empathetic justice.
  • Minnie Wright — Though she never appears onstage, Minnie is the central figure around whom the narrative revolves. Through the other characters’ discussions and discoveries, we learn of her transformation from a vibrant, singing young woman to a lonely, oppressed wife. Minnie’s character arc, revealed through the “trifles” she leaves behind, serves as a critique of the domestic isolation and emotional abuse faced by women.
  • John Wright — The murdered husband of Minnie Wright is depicted through the characters’ descriptions as a hard and oppressive man. His treatment of Minnie, leading to her psychological breakdown, epitomizes the destructive impact of toxic masculinity and emotional neglect within marriage.
  • Sheriff Peters — Representing the law, Peters is focused on the tangible and dismissible of the subtleties of the Wrights’ household. His inability to see beyond surface-level evidence symbolizes the broader societal failure to understand or value women’s experiences.
  • County Attorney George Henderson — Henderson is dismissive of women’s roles and contributions, exemplified by his sarcastic remarks about their concern for Minnie’s quilting. His character highlights the gender biases ingrained in the legal system and society at large.
Mrs. HaleEmpathetic, observant, protective of MinnieGrows more defiant against male ignorance, acts to protect Minnie
Mrs. PetersLaw-abiding, cautious, empatheticMoves from a neutral stance to actively supporting Minnie
Minnie WrightIsolated, oppressed, desperateCentral to the plot’s development though not physically present; her story unfolds through others
John WrightOppressive, cold, controllingRemains a static character; his traits are revealed posthumously
Sheriff PetersDuty-bound, conventional, oblivious to women’s insightsStatic, symbolizes the law’s indifference to women’s perspectives
County Attorney George HendersonCondescending, sarcastic, embodies legal and male privilegeStatic, showcases societal and legal biases against women

Through these characters, Glaspell skillfully exposes the complexities of human relationships, the nuances of empathy and solidarity, and the critical yet often overlooked contributions of women to society.

Themes and Symbols

Trifles by Susan Glaspell is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and impart profound meanings. Here’s an exploration of the major ones:

  • Gender Roles — The play vividly portrays the gender dynamics of early 20th-century society, highlighting the significant divide between men and women’s roles, both in the domestic sphere and beyond. The male characters’ dismissive attitudes towards the women and their concerns underscore the societal undervaluation of women’s work and intelligence. Conversely, the women characters’ insights and actions reveal a nuanced understanding of their world, challenging traditional gender norms.
  • Justice vs. Legalism — Through the unfolding narrative, Glaspell juxtaposes the concepts of legal justice and a deeper, moral sense of justice. While the men seek concrete evidence to solve the crime within the confines of the law, the women, through their understanding and empathy, enact their form of justice by protecting Minnie, suggesting that legal justice does not always equate to moral righteousness.
  • Isolation — The theme of isolation permeates the play, both physically and emotionally. Minnie Wright’s isolation in her marriage and her home reflects the broader condition of women who are physically and psychologically separated from the larger community. This theme is symbolized by the setting of the Wright farmhouse, remote and disconnected, mirroring Minnie’s own detachment.
  • Empathy and Solidarity — The bond that forms between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, rooted in their shared understanding and empathy for Minnie’s situation, symbolizes the strength of female solidarity. Their decision to hide the evidence of Minnie’s motive is a testament to their mutual support and understanding, highlighting the power of empathetic connections over societal divisions.
  • Symbols:
    • The Dead Canary and Broken Birdcage — Symbolize Minnie’s lost freedom and the oppressive nature of her marriage. The canary, once a source of joy and song, reflects Minnie’s own transformation from a cheerful, singing girl to a silenced woman. The bird’s death at the hands of John Wright mirrors Minnie’s emotional and psychological death within her marriage.
    • Quilt — The quilt represents the women’s lives and the careful attention to detail often dismissed by men. The question of whether Minnie was going to “knot it or quilt it” becomes a metaphor for the decisions women must make in their lives, often under the scrutiny or dismissal of patriarchal oversight.
    • Kitchen — The setting of the kitchen, traditionally considered a woman’s domain, becomes the center of the investigation for the women. It symbolizes the overlooked importance and intelligence embedded in domestic spaces, challenging the men’s dismissive attitudes toward anything associated with femininity.

Through these themes and symbols, Trifles offers a critical commentary on the societal norms of its time, revealing the depth and complexity of women’s lives and underscoring the importance of looking beyond the surface to understand the truth.

Style and Tone

Susan Glaspell’s Trifles exhibits a masterful use of writing style and tone, contributing significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the play, as well as reinforcing its themes and character dynamics. Here’s a breakdown of key aspects:

  • Economical Use of Language — Glaspell’s writing is concise and impactful, with every word serving a purpose. This brevity not only adds to the tension and mystery but also mirrors the subtlety of the clues (“trifles”) that reveal the story’s deeper truths.
  • Descriptive Detail — Despite its short length, Trifiles is rich in visual and sensory detail, especially in its depiction of the Wright household. Glaspell uses these details to immerse the reader in the setting, making the environment itself a key element of the narrative.
  • Dramatic Irony — A significant stylistic element is the use of dramatic irony. The audience is made aware of the significance of certain details (like the dead canary) long before the male characters, highlighting the theme of underestimation of women’s insights and the disconnect between genders.
  • Symbolic Language — The dialogue and descriptions are laden with symbolism, from the broken birdcage to the unfinished quilt. These symbols are woven seamlessly into the narrative, enhancing the thematic depth and inviting readers to look beyond the surface.
  • Realistic Dialogue — The dialogue in Trifles is notably realistic, capturing the dialect and speech patterns of early 20th-century rural America. This authenticity adds to the play’s atmosphere and helps develop its characters as believable and relatable individuals.
  • Understated Tone — The tone of Trifles is understated, reflecting the play’s focus on the small, seemingly insignificant details of domestic life. This subtlety amplifies the impact of the play’s climax and themes, as the true significance of these “trifles” is revealed.
  • Atmosphere of Suspense — From the outset, Glaspell establishes an atmosphere of suspense and tension. This is achieved through the mysterious circumstances of the murder, the search for evidence, and the gradual revelation of the characters’ secrets. The tone keeps readers engaged, driving the narrative forward to its powerful conclusion.

Through these stylistic choices, Glaspell crafts a compelling narrative that engages the reader on multiple levels, from the plot’s suspense to the thematic resonance of the characters’ discoveries. The style and tone of Trifles are integral to its status as a classic work of American literature, inviting readers to consider the complexities of human relationships and societal expectations.

Literary Devices used in Trifles

Susan Glaspell’s Trifles utilizes a range of literary devices that enrich the text and deepen its meanings. Here are the top 10 devices employed in the play:

  1. Symbolism — Glaspell uses symbols to represent larger concepts, such as the dead canary symbolizing Minnie Wright’s lost freedom and silenced voice, and the broken birdcage representing her oppressive marriage.
  2. Foreshadowing — Early mentions of seemingly minor details, like the unfinished quilt or the disarray in the kitchen, hint at the play’s climax and themes, subtly guiding the audience’s understanding of the narrative.
  3. Irony — The play is rich in irony, especially dramatic irony, where the audience is aware of the significance of the women’s findings long before the male characters, emphasizing the underestimation of women’s intelligence.
  4. Metaphor — Glaspell uses metaphors to deepen the thematic content, such as comparing the women’s situation to that of the caged bird, to critique gender roles and the treatment of women.
  5. Imagery — Vivid imagery is used to create a tangible sense of the Wright household and the emotional atmosphere, helping to immerse the reader in the setting and the characters’ experiences.
  6. Dialogue — The realistic and nuanced dialogue serves not only to reveal character but also to advance the plot and underscore the play’s themes, particularly through what is left unsaid or subtly implied.
  7. Characterization — Through their actions, dialogue, and reactions, Glaspell develops rich, multidimensional characters that embody the play’s themes and drive its narrative.
  8. Conflict — The central conflict in Trifles is both external (the investigation of the murder) and internal (the characters’ struggles with societal norms and personal morality), driving the narrative and thematic development.
  9. Juxtaposition — Glaspell juxtaposes the perspectives of the men and women to highlight societal gender biases and to underscore the play’s critique of these attitudes.
  10. Motif — Repeated references to domestic tasks and items (quilting, canning fruit, etc.) serve as motifs that underscore the play’s examination of gender roles and the value of women’s work.

These literary devices are skillfully woven into the fabric of Trifles, enhancing its complexity and engaging the reader in a deeper exploration of its themes and characters.

Literary Devices Examples

Here, we’ll provide examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, presented in table format for clarity and ease of understanding.


Dead CanaryRepresents Minnie Wright’s lost freedom and silenced voice, mirroring her own situation in a controlling marriage.
Broken BirdcageSymbolizes Minnie’s oppressive marriage and her desire for escape, reflecting the constraints placed on her by her husband and society.
QuiltServes as a metaphor for Minnie’s life, with the decision to “knot” or “quilt” it representing her unraveling situation and ultimate act of defiance.


Disarray in the KitchenHints at the turmoil in Minnie’s life, suggesting that her domestic perfection is a facade hiding deeper distress.
Mrs. Hale’s HesitationForeshadows the women’s eventual decision to protect Minnie, indicating early on their sympathy and understanding of her plight.
The Unfinished QuiltSuggests something unfinished or disrupted in Minnie’s life, foreshadowing the reveal of her husband’s murder.


Men’s Dismissal of the KitchenThe irony in the men’s dismissal of the kitchen and its contents as irrelevant, while the women discover the key evidence there, highlights the theme of underestimation of women’s insights.
Title: TriflesThe title itself is ironic, as the “trifles” the men dismiss are precisely what lead to the understanding of the crime, underscoring the play’s critique of gender roles.


The Birdcage as a Metaphor for MarriageThe broken birdcage metaphorically represents Minnie’s marriage, illustrating how it has become a prison to her, restricting her freedom and happiness.


Description of the Cold, Lonely FarmhouseThe imagery used to describe the Wrights’ home sets a bleak and isolating atmosphere, reflecting Minnie’s emotional state and the oppressive nature of her marriage.


The Women’s Conversations About MinnieThrough their dialogue, the women reveal their insights and the evidence of Minnie’s motive, showcasing Glaspell’s use of dialogue to advance the plot and develop themes.


Mrs. Hale’s and Mrs. Peters’s DevelopmentTheir evolution from cautious observers to protectors of Minnie through their actions and dialogue showcases Glaspell’s nuanced characterization.


Investigation vs. UnderstandingThe external conflict of the murder investigation contrasts with the internal conflict of the women’s moral dilemma, driving the narrative forward.


Men’s vs. Women’s PerspectivesGlaspell juxtaposes these perspectives to highlight societal gender biases and the value of women’s insights and intelligence.


Domestic TasksThe repeated references to domestic tasks underscore the play’s examination of gender roles and the undervaluation of women’s work in society.

These examples demonstrate how Susan Glaspell uses literary devices in Trifles to enhance the play’s thematic depth and character development, engaging readers in a deeper exploration of its underlying issues.

Trifles – FAQs

What is the main theme of Trifles by Susan Glaspell?
The main theme of Trifles is the gender dynamics and the underestimation of women’s intelligence and their roles in society. It highlights how the concerns and insights of women, often dismissed as “trifles” by men, can hold significant value and insight.

Who is the main character in Trifles, and what role do they play?
While Trifles does not have a single main character, Minnie Wright is central to the play’s plot. She is the accused murderer of her husband, John Wright, and her story unfolds through the discoveries and discussions of the other characters, particularly Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters.

What literary devices are used in Trifles?
Trifles employs several literary devices, including symbolism (e.g., the dead canary representing Minnie’s silenced voice), irony (the men’s dismissal of crucial evidence as mere “trifles”), and foreshadowing (hints at the story’s developments through seemingly insignificant details).

How does the setting of Trifles contribute to the story?
The setting, a rural farmhouse, reflects the isolation and confinement experienced by Minnie Wright in her marriage. It also serves as a physical representation of the gender divide, with the men searching upstairs for “serious” clues while the women discover crucial evidence in the kitchen, a traditionally female space.

What is the significance of the title Trifles?
The title refers to the small, seemingly unimportant details that the male characters overlook but which the female characters recognize as evidence of Minnie Wright’s motive for murder. It underscores the play’s critique of how women’s perspectives and contributions are undervalued.

How does Trifles address the issue of gender roles?
Trifles critiques early 20th-century gender roles by showcasing the intelligence and perceptiveness of its female characters, who solve the mystery of John Wright’s murder through their attention to domestic “trifles.” The play contrasts this with the male characters’ focus on conventional forms of evidence, highlighting societal biases against women.

What does the quilt in Trifles symbolize?
The quilt symbolizes the domestic life and the creativity of women, which are overlooked and undervalued by the male characters. It also reflects the choices and dilemmas faced by Minnie Wright, with the decision to “knot” or “quilt” serving as a metaphor for her own life decisions.

What message does Trifles convey about justice?
Trifles suggests that legal justice does not always align with moral justice. The play portrays the women’s decision to protect Minnie Wright as an act of empathy and solidarity, challenging the notion that justice can be purely objective and highlighting the importance of understanding individual circumstances.


What does the broken birdcage symbolize in Trifles?Minnie’s desire to care for animalsThe isolation of rural lifeMinnie’s oppressive marriageThe sheriff’s investigative methods
Why do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters decide to hide the evidence of the dead canary?They fear the legal consequencesThey empathize with Minnie’s situationThey believe it is irrelevant to the caseThey want to solve the case themselves
What is the main theme of Trifles?The complexity of rural crimeThe importance of friendshipThe challenges of farm lifeThe underestimation of women’s roles and intelligence
How do the men in Trifles view the women’s findings in the kitchen?As crucial evidenceAs a distractionAs irrelevant ‘trifles’As groundbreaking discoveries
What literary device is primarily used to reveal Minnie Wright’s character?MetaphorSymbolismIronyHyperbole
What does the quilt in Trifles represent?The warmth of the farmhouseWomen’s domestic and creative livesThe disorganization of the Wright householdA gift for Minnie Wright
How does the setting of Trifles contribute to the overall message of the play?It reflects the isolation and constraints experienced by women.It showcases the beauty of rural America.It emphasizes the efficiency of the legal system.It underscores the importance of community events.

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and understanding of the key elements, themes, and symbols in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.


Spot the Literary Devices Used

Read the following paragraph from Trifles and identify the literary devices used:

“In her hands, she holds the unfinished quilt, pondering whether to knot or quilt it — a decision seemingly as trivial as the choice between tea and coffee, yet laden with meaning. Around her, the kitchen stands silent, bearing witness to a life punctuated by the mundane, yet screaming of untold stories. The broken birdcage lies discarded, its door swinging lightly as if breathing a sigh of relief or perhaps a cry for freedom long denied.”


  1. Metaphor: The unfinished quilt represents Minnie Wright’s unfinished life and her choices.
  2. Imagery: Descriptions of the silent kitchen and the broken birdcage vividly paint the scene and Minnie’s emotional state.
  3. Symbolism: The broken birdcage symbolizes Minnie’s desire for freedom and her oppressive marriage.
  4. Personification: The birdcage “breathing a sigh of relief” personifies the cage, adding depth to its symbolic meaning.

This exercise encourages students to delve deeper into the text, recognizing and understanding the literary devices that enrich the narrative and themes of Trifles.