The Literature Trifles of Symbolism
If you haven't read the play before then I suggest reading it before reading this summary on the symbolism of the play, otherwise you may not understand a word I'm typing. This is not an indepth summary of the play, enjoy!
Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles is about two women discovering the real reason why Mrs. Wright killed her husband, they discovered it by just worrying over what the men called trifles. Mrs. Wright lived a lonely life, she was isolated and depressed. Her husband, who obviously was emotionally unavailable to her, pushed her over the edge by killing her precious bird. Between the objects the ladies find and the setting around them; the symbolism is everywhere including the title. Coldness, isolation, oppression, women’s life for the time period, and freedom are all expressed symbolically through a lot of things in this play and they all importantly reflect Mrs. Wright’s life and actions against her husband.
In the beginning of the play we are introduced to the sheriff and his wife, Henry and Mrs. Peters, the county attorney, George Henderson, and a neighboring farmer and his wife, Lewis and Mrs. Hale. They come in to the Wrights home after John is dead and his wife Minnie is in jail for his murder. The first thing they do is go straight to the fire. It’s dreary and cold outside, which seems symbolic later on for when the girls chit chat about Mrs. Wrights life. The cold symbolized the coldness in Minnie Wright’s life a number of different ways: the coldness from her husband, the coldness from her own loneliness, from the neighbors around her (especially the women that don’t visit, though, she probably didn’t want them to see how cold her marriage was), and from the eventual death of her canary. Even how she acts after the murder of her husband seems cold to the others around her, she seemed so natural, but cold telling Mr. Hale that “’Yes,’ says she, ‘he’s home.’ ‘Then why can’t I see him?’… ‘Cause he’s dead,’” . The men also probably see it as cold on Mrs. Wright’s part to be worrying about her fruit freezing and other trifles. Besides for the setting of the coldness outside being symbolic, the other major setting is symbolic too.
The whole play takes place in the farmhouse where Minnie Wright spent her life, day in and day out. Her own home represents her isolation from the rest of the world. It’s what she sees and lives with every day. It represents her loneliness, repetitive housework, married life, and her life in general. It’s perfect to have the whole play take place here because the audience can see the plainness Mrs. Wright went through every day, and how tired she must have been with the same setting her whole life as well.
Solitude, Finding Freedom
Another isolation symbolism takes place in a very small and seemingly unimportant sentence “I’m going to see if I can’t get John Wright to go in with me on a party telephone… he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet— I guess you know about how much he talked himself”. With no telephone in the home Minnie didn’t have contact to the outside world at all.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come across one jar of cherries that did not freeze and break and this one jar symbolizes a couple of things I think. One thing is that Minnie’s worrying over it is a reflection of what women had on their minds back then because that was all they did; housework. She still wanted to make sure all of her hard work didn’t go to waste because the fruit was probably all she had going for her at that time. I believe that it also symbolizes freedom in a way. She survived, just like that jar of cherries, against all the coldness in her life around her. She made it out and freed herself.
The Singing Caged Bird
The major symbolism in Glaspell’s play is the bird. The bird cage is symbolic for Minnie and her life. She’s was caged just like the bird. Mr. Wright caged her from the outside world and since they had no children all she had was him. The bird itself also was symbolic in the way that it sang. It reflected Minnie’s old life from when she was young and sang in the choir. Then of course the death of the bird was symbolic. “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird-a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too”.
Mrs. Wright lost it completely when her bird was killed because that was her only source of love, life, and freedom. Her husband had killed all the joy around her and the last straw for her was when he snapped that bird’s neck, and just as symbolically, he got a taste of his own medicine when she slipped that rope around his neck. This is where the symbol of the repeated “knot it” comes into play. She knotted the rope around his neck just fine.
And the final major symbolism that appeared in this play would have to be the title alone. ‘Trifles’ symbolized the little things in Minnie’s life that grew to bigger things and eventually led to John Wright’s death. Also the fact that what the men think are the silly little things women worried about was actually the evidence. Every trifle the women find is very important. The messy kitchen means that the murder was just a quick instinct, the fruit is all Minnie had left to worry about, the bird cage was for her isolation and oppression, the messed up stiches in her quilt meant Minnie was upset or nervous about something, and finally the dead bird which was the main clue for what had taken place in that house. The title symbolizes how unimportant women’s duties were back then, also that they were thought less of, talked down to, and the duties of Mrs. Wright that was not done or in disarray in the kitchen was completely unobserved as clues and only made Minnie look like a bad housekeeper to the men.
Another key note is that besides for when the women mention Mrs. Wright by first name, Minnie, no other first name is mentioned. The other women are referred to as Mrs. They belong to their husbands, and now that Minnie has killed hers, she no longer belongs to someone. And finally, while we are considering the other woman belonging to someone, maybe that is why they hid the evidence of the dead bird. They sympathized with Minnie, maybe compared her to their own oppression in a way.
Mrs. Wright suffered a lonely, oppressed, depressed, and sad life. She was just going through the motions of her daily life and everything the women find later, all the trifles that the men were laughing at them about, were all the reasons Mrs. Wright did what she did. Her whole married life was as dreary and cold as the weather and as lonely as her secluded farmhouse. She wanted a voice like the songs the bird sang but her husband choked them out like the life of bird he choked out. And Minnie, well, she returned the favor.