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Trifles by Susan Glaspell: Drama in the Classroom Reviews

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

An analysis of Trifles by Susan Glaspell shows it to be a welcomed addition to the high school curriculum. However, understand the play thoroughly before teaching it; otherwise, the nuances that make it special may go unnoticed.

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    A Short Summary

    Susan Glaspell in action: 

    The sheriff and the county attorney investigate the house of John Wright shortly after his murder. The men are convinced that Mrs. Wright has committed the murder, yet have found no evidence.

    As the two question Mr. Hale, the man who discovers the dead body, they poke fun at the women and their "trifles." When the men head upstairs to look for evidence, their wives examine the kitchen where they find clues pointing to Mrs. Wright's guilt. In other areas of the house, the women discover more clues, clues that the men overlook as mere "trifles."

    The condescending attitude of the investigators toward their wives make them feel like "trifles" and causes them to withhold the evidence.

    Image Source: http://college.hmco.com/english/kalaidjian/understanding_lit/1e/shared/images/glaspell.jpg

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    Literary Merit

    Trifles by Susan Glaspell stands out as an early example of feminist literature. The play deals with the following issues worthy of discussion:

    • The Role of Women: The central issue of the play is the subservient role held by the female characters, a role that left Mrs. Wright no choice but to kill her husband.
    • Domestic Abuse: At the heart of Mrs. Wright's loneliness lay the abusive Mr. Wright, whose tyrannical behavior causes his wife to murder him.
    • The Women's Rights Movement: It is difficult for young men and women to understand the oppressive nature of Mrs. Wright's existence. A discussion of the Women's Rights movement sheds light on the era in question.
    • The Exploitation of Women: Although laws are in place to maintain gender equality in the eyes of the law, the exploitation of women has never been greater.
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    Analysis

    An analysis of Trifles may include the following:

    • Symbols: Trifles offers an easy lesson on symbols. The title of the play is a symbol itself. Many items are referred to as "trifles." Trifles symbolize to the men everything that women think are important. In essence, women are "trifles." The strangled bird symbolizes the miserable life led by Mrs. Wright.
    • Irony: If symbolism constitutes element 1-A of teaching Trifles, Irony would be 1-B. The investigators miss all the evidence because they consider certain things to be beneath them.
    • Suspense: Glaspell creates suspense through foreshadowing and pacing.
    • Conflict: The overarching conflict involves women trying to make their voice heard in a society that considers them inferior.
    • Gender Differences: Men consider politics, money, and business as important. They act as if the work women do is inconsequential.
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    Student Readability and Appropriateness

    The language is straightforward, but the play's meaning is not. Because it lacks action, the play's enjoyment is derived from the ironic ending and an understanding of the play's symbols. Students who do not understand the aforementioned irony and symbolism will consider it a waste of time. A mini-lesson on irony and symbolism before reading will increase your chances of success.