The value of the feminine in Susan Glaspell's "Trifles"

Essay by digitaldivaUniversity, Bachelor's March 2003

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In "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell we are told the story of an early 20th century farm wife who kills her husband after years of neglect and abuse. One theme that emerges appears to be that the time when men have held absolute dominion over their wives is ending. This is obvious not only from the story of Minnie strangling her husband John, but also because of what happens with the wives of the investigators. After accompanying their husbands to the "scene of the crime" and been dismissed as silly and simple, they reveal that they are really quite intelligent, discover the truth of the situation in the little details of Minnie's kitchen but wind up withholding it from the men in the end. A second theme could also be that the aggressive, logical, left-brained, hard line approaches to discovering the truth may not be as effective as a subtle, empathetic inquiring ones that pay quiet attention to details and feelings.

And lastly, this play tells how little the feminine is valued but how effective and powerful it can be.

I think the theme transcends the original setting and addresses the universal issue of male dominance and values that still exists. If this story were to take place today, I know the female characters would not be satisfied to go along playing "second fiddle" without expressing their opinions. I would adapt the play to modern times but still retain the male-female/soft-hard contrast. Perhaps the lead detective or prosecutor could be a female who is constantly battling to make her delicate but razor sharp insights heard and respected over the loud cacophony of her more obvious and direct male counterparts. Since "civilians" don't usually accompany detectives in the 21st century, maybe neighbor-witnesses could take the role of the wives, doling out bits of information about the characters with our heroine putting the pieces together while the men run into dead ends. Or it could be male/female partner detectives that provide the male/female contrast.

Although in the original story, the Wrights were poor, that doesn't have to be the only setting. The Wrights could be poor, living in a trailer park or a tenement. But they could also be wealthy with the abuse hidden behind a veneer of politeness and society. Perhaps a prenuptial agreement would serve the same purpose as poverty, preventing the wife from leaving. This probably would not generate as much sympathy unless there were extenuating circumstances such as children or blackmail.

In the play, the death of a canary at the hand of her husband provided the crisis that pushed Mrs. Wright into action. Today, perhaps it could be the abuse of a child or the symbolic death of a dream or plan. The symbol could be a broken piece of jewelry, some burnt photographs or a child's baby shoe.

I think "Trifles" is a great title. "Small Details", "Little Things", "Little Truths", "Soft Touch", and "Of No Consequence", are similar but I'm don't think they are as ultimately as good. My favorite new titles would be "The Value of the Unimportant" and "Murder & Sympathy".