Old-fashioned sewing kit.
- Play title: Trifles
- Author: Susan Glaspell
- First performed: 1916
- Page count: 20
Trifles is a one-act play by Susan Glaspell about a murder investigation. All events depicted take place in the setting of an isolated farming community. The playwright’s focus is on the central character of Minnie Foster who married John Wright. John has died in mysterious circumstances and Minnie says that she was asleep when it happened. She is now being held on a preliminary basis at the local prison house. The story is told through the narratives of the couple’s neighbours along with the local sheriff and county attorney. In this short work, Glaspell depicts the scene on the day after the murder when the farmhouse is inspected for clues. The male characters focus on the investigation while the sheriff’s wife and a female neighbour gather some of Minnie’s belongings to bring to her. Through the search for evidence, the playwright exposes clues that allow the reader to piece together what John and Minnie’s married life looked like. One crucial clue holds the reason for the mysterious death.
Ways to access the text: Reading
The text of Trifles is freely available to read online via multiple sources. For example, you can find it on the Internet Archive and it is also available on Project Gutenberg under the title of “Plays by Susan Glaspell.”
Why read Trifles?
A plausible motive.
Glaspell’s play is a feminist work shown by the playwright’s acute awareness of the gender divide combined with sympathy for the female characters. This dualism becomes most evident when we view the men’s and women’s quite separate approaches to the crime under investigation. For example, the county attorney, Mr. Henderson, believes that “what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger, or—sudden feeling” (14). However, this necessarily limits our understanding of motive because it reduces it to a matter of cause and effect played out within an instant of time. The men simply wish to convincingly tie their only suspect, Mrs. Minnie Wright, to her husband’s murder and thereby condemn her. In contrast, the women look at motive as something quite complex that may evolve over an extended period of time and culminate in an act. This second approach takes old grievances into account so anyone could be responsible. Since the search for a plausible motive becomes entangled in gender issues then we witness a battle between the sexes become a battle for justice.
Reading between the lines.
In Trifles, we never hear the voice of Minnie, the accused woman. At best, we learn second-hand of her account of her husband’s death. In this manner, Glaspell underlines our distance from the hidden truth. The picture that one gains of Minnie and John Wright’s life together comes from limited details. We learn of how Minnie changed significantly since she married and we get a general impression of Mr. Wright’s character. Yet, what is surprising is that Mrs. Hale, the neighbour, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, do indeed succeed in imagining a scenario of what life was like for the Wrights in the privacy of their home. It is this act of reading between the lines, of taking some meagre details and constructing a vivid picture that ultimately leads to questions of responsibility in the play. To read between the lines often requires great empathy and Glaspell considers if having first understood a situation, should one then take action?
A Foreseeable Tragedy.
In Trifles, Glaspell presents us with the examination of a crime scene in the form of a dramatic work. The play addresses various themes such as gender roles, marriage, violence, and justice. The story is somewhat simple in its outline because just one vital clue effectively solves the mystery. However, the conclusion of the play highlights who specifically gets to decide what constitutes justice, and why. What is most striking about Glaspell’s play is the way it evokes one’s social conscience because at the heart of the work is a foreseeable tragedy. Minnie Foster is certainly an unlikely perpetrator of murder but this merely serves to focus one’s attention on the set of circumstances that may lead to a violent crime. This essay will examine the character, marriage, and home situation of Minnie Foster in an attempt to piece together a plausible motive for murder that looks beyond the “dead canary” (21). After all, if the men had found the dead bird then it would have supplied the linchpin for a conviction, but the playwright purposely directs us beyond easy answers. The central focus of this essay is the predictability of Minnie’s crime which is an issue that Glaspell herself focuses upon.
As Ronald Mah writes, “Retrospective examination often finds cues and indications of potential violence lurking in the hearts and minds of eventual perpetrators” (5). By reading Trifles for such cues and indications then one follows the playwright’s lead. Even though the play is not particularly complex, therein lies its paradox, because a seemingly opaque situation suddenly becomes clear – but wasn’t it always clear? Is it not the clarity of the situation as long understood by Mrs. Hale that leads to a particular type of justice in the end? It is of note that the accused woman, Minnie, pleads ignorance of the crime by saying she was asleep. As such, there is never a conclusive resolution of the case since no confession is forthcoming. The playwright constructed the play in a way that places emphasis on issues of interpretation and responsibility. Firstly, we witness that one can indeed interpret a domestic situation and predict serious problems even as a third party with scant information. Secondly, when one does ‘crack’ a mystery then the result is an unavoidable sense of responsibility. Therefore the play’s focus is not primarily on who, but rather why and what next? Mrs. Hale interprets the male-led investigation as “trying to get her [Minnie’s] own house to turn against her!” (15). If the house can provide clues to secure a conviction now, then the same house and domestic situation was long providing clues in advance of the murder. This essay scrutinizes Minnie’s situation for evidence that she was a prime candidate to commit a violent crime. The aim of this approach is to emphasize Glaspell’s own key point with the aid of psychological profiling.
To understand the character of Minnie, one may refer to Ronald Mah’s book, How Dangerous is this Person?, in which he outlines a total of seventeen characteristics which a “therapist, professional, or concerned person can use for assessment for violence or danger potential” (43). It is not necessary that a person exhibit every characteristic, but each positive match helps to build a profile. From this full list, the eight characteristics relevant to Minnie’s situation are as follows:
Self-esteem gain or loss
Specific triggering event
Intense emotional arousal
Presence or lack of remorse
Even though it is impossible to predict with one hundred percent accuracy that someone will commit a violent crime, Mah provides a solid framework so that one may identify a potentially dangerous person. Dangerous and bad are not synonymous which is a critical point when looking at the play. The aim is not to negatively portray Minnie Foster but rather to understand her character and actions. The following analysis looks at each characteristic as outlined by Mah and assesses how they apply to Minnie Foster. This reading reflects Glaspell’s sympathetic view of the character of Minnie and reveals insights into the play’s ending.
Isolation, and avoidance behavior.
When someone is isolated then it indicates their physical remoteness and loneliness. Glaspell depicts the Wright’s farmhouse as existing in almost perfect isolation. The play opens with Mr. Hale’s story of visiting the Wright’s farmhouse to enquire if John Wright would “go in with me on a party telephone” (7) only to discover a murder. Isolation is immediately imbued with a sense of danger. Minnie’s situation exhibits several aspects of isolation and this also helps to explain her avoidance behaviour.
As Minnie is in an isolated position, it means that she cannot gain objective distance from her situation through talking with others. Ronald Mah, a psychotherapist by profession, gives the example of one of his patients whose “inability and difficulty in social relationships led to deep isolation and a lack of relationships or community to give him any kind of feedback or reality check or testing of his perceptions” (33). When someone else listens to one’s story then they do not simply provide a reality check in the form of either agreement or disagreement, but may also offer examples of personal experience, support, or even solutions. Minnie seems to be quite detached from her community and as Mah writes, “Lack of opportunities to be social because of isolation or avoidance also precludes gaining feedback about how ones words or behavior affect others” (58). As Minnie’s behaviour has become violent then it exposes her total inability to cope with her current situation.
Mrs. Hale recognizes the risks of Minnie’s isolation as shown when she condemns herself for not having visited her neighbour. She says:
“I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be—for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing” (22).
There is obviously a perceived commonality to women’s experiences described by Mrs. Hale as the ‘same thing.’ If most women did experience a similar lot in life including a subordinate role in marriage and arduous work, then women obviously coped with these situations. Unfortunately, Minnie has become so isolated that she no longer has the benefit of other women’s advice and support. Also, the levels of hardship that women experienced should be seen as existing along a continuum. Glaspell indicates that Minnie’s situation is worse than most through suggestive details like Mrs. Hale’s understated excuse for not having visited her neighbour, saying, “it never seemed a very cheerful place” (10).
It is certainly pertinent to consider Minnie’s physical environment. As John Monahan writes, “behavior is a joint function of characteristics of the person and characteristics of the environment with which he or she interacts” (37). The Wright’s farmhouse and environs are notably unpleasant. In the opening scene, the playwright sets the atmosphere by describing “a gloomy kitchen” (5). After finding the bird cage, Mrs. Peters considers a singing canary in such a drab environment as odd and says, “Seems funny to think of a bird here” (17). Mrs. Hale gives an impression of the physical location and atmosphere of the farmhouse, saying, “it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I dunno what it is, but it’s a lonesome place and always was” (18). The environment is therefore psychologically oppressive in many respects as attested to by the women.
Apart from Minnie having no visitors, she also failed to socialize in the community which added to her predicament. When Mrs. Hale views Minnie’s clothes, she comments that Mr. Wright was mean which suggests the clothes are cheap, visibly old, and possibly mended. Mrs. Hale cites embarrassment as a reason for Minnie not socializing, “I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies Aid” (13). The Ladies Aid organization was closely linked to Methodism and Ronald A. Brunger explains that “The Ladies Aid Society … was strictly a local organization, serving the local church constituency and the community” (31). Mrs. Hale’s comment indicates that most local women would have been members of this organization. Minnie’s avoidance of social interaction is significant because as Mah explains, – “Lack of desire or skills [sociability] both can sometimes result eventually in aggressive or abusive behavior with others” (58). In short, the absence of social interactions can lead to pent up personal frustrations which become dangerous.
Loneliness is a key aspect of isolation. We learn that the Wright’s farmhouse is exceptionally quiet which arguably compounds Minnie’s feelings of being alone. The Wright’s have no children and Mr. Wright is an unusually taciturn man. Mr. Hale recalls how John Wright previously rejected the idea of the telephone connection, “saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet” (7). The silence demanded by the head of the household obviously means that Minnie’s predicament is worse than most. Overall, Minnie’s isolation may be explained by reference to her rural dwelling, the lack of a telephone connection, no visitors, few excursions, and mostly unbroken silence in her home.
Self-esteem gain or loss.
One may judge isolation based on evidence, whereas it is quite difficult to assess Minnie Foster’s level of self-esteem. Yet, it is crucially important to do so because self-esteem links to levels of aggressive behaviour and also the rewards for perpetrators of violence. Therefore, it is worth hypothesizing Minnie’s levels of self-esteem prior to and then after the death of her husband.
In an essay entitled “The Cognitive Regulation of Anger and Stress.” Raymond W. Novaco offers the insight that “Early personality research had shown that high self-esteem subjects respond with less aggression to provocations” (257). The inversion of this fact, namely that low self-esteem subjects respond with more aggression when provoked seems applicable to Minnie’s situation. We know, for example, that the murder scene is so gruesome that Mr. Hale’s face twitches when he recalls looking at the dead body.
Fortunately, we do learn of how Minnie Foster changed over the years and we may logically tie these changes to her confidence levels. Mrs. Hale recounts a formerly quite different woman, saying, “I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress and blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang” (21). This image of a vibrant, socially confident woman has now been replaced by a reclusive homemaker. Minnie may undoubtedly have pride in her household duties such as bread baking and making preserves but the problem is that these are her only sources of self-esteem. In the play, it is noticeable that housework is constantly dismissed as trivial by the men. The erosion of Minnie’s feelings of self-worth may also be linked to issues like lack of personal freedom, self-expression, recreational time, and financial independence. In this scenario, the downtrodden woman with low self-esteem reaches a breaking point and reacts with high levels of aggression.
A separate but relevant question is if Minnie’s self-esteem increases after her husband’s death? Mah explains that, “Aggression and violence are often intended and often succeed in gaining power and control, and therefore self-esteem” (50). Take one minor clue from the text which is Minnie “rockin’ back and forth” (7) in the rocking chair in the kitchen when Mr. Hale first arrives at the farmhouse on the fateful day. When the Hales have learned of the terrible incident and Harry goes to call the coroner, we are told of how Minnie “moved from that [rocking] chair to this one over here [pointing to a small chair in the corner.] and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down” (9). Is the rocking chair in the kitchen Mr. Wright’s chair, and is it symbolic that when Minnie suddenly becomes fearful that she reverts to sitting in a little chair in the corner, possibly her normal seat? Also, is Minnie “kind of done up” (8) as Mr. Hale describes, because she has newfound feminine confidence on that particular morning? These are speculative considerations but they do add piecemeal to one’s understanding of a woman whose confidence has been damaged but is now free of her husband.
In order to view Minnie as a killer, then one needs to understand what possible grievance she could have to motivate such a violent crime. Ronald Mah explains the relevance of resentment in the prediction of violent crimes. He writes that:
“Resentments are grievances against a prior injustice that has not yet been avenged. The intense emotional energy of resentments drives the individual towards seeking satisfaction. This can only be achieved through counterbalancing a prior wrong (that caused harm) with retaliatory harm against the other person. Resentments are bitter discomforts that can continually deepen over time often to the point of motivating extreme retribution. The more the individual is unable to retaliate based on some resentment, the more resentful he or she becomes” (Mah 53).
One may postulate Minnie’s resentments. The dead canary may be excluded because it is too recent an occurrence to qualify as a resentment and should instead be seen as a trigger. One plausible cause of Minnie’s resentment is Mr. Wright’s rejection of the telephone connection. This decision meant that a possible avenue of communication with her neighbours was rejected outright, leaving her alone. The evidence of Minnie’s resentment is shown after the discovery of the dead body when Mr. Hale recounts how – “ I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh” (9). The laugh seems callous under the circumstances but indicates that Mr. Hale’s question was pointless, even had her husband still been alive. Indeed, Mr. Hale had previously said, “I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John” (7) when speaking about the proposed telephone connection. Mr. Wright’s obvious inflexibility and disregard of his wife’s opinions are key factor in the reasons for Minnie’s resentments.
If Minnie had influence over her circumstances then she would most likely have had fewer reasons to be resentful. It appears that Minnie is helpless, and this is a crucial point given how the story ends. Raymond W. Novaco explains the concept of learned helplessness as follows:
“The concept of helplessness is basically the learned expectation that one’s behaviour is non instrumental in achieving desired outcomes . . . Experimentally, helplessness is typically engendered by exposing subjects to an uncontrollable aversive situation that they can neither escape nor solve” (250).
If one cannot leave a problem behind nor solve a problem then there is obviously the consequence of psychological strain. While Minnie’s grievances are not stated outright, it is relatively easy to imagine her situation given the information we amass about her.
Specific triggering event, and intense emotional arousal.
Glaspell withholds from her audience a confirmation that Minnie murdered her husband. Therefore, like Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, we too must assess the clues that are unveiled. Of key importance is the identification of a triggering event that could have provoked Minnie’s actions. As John Monahan writes, “Angry aggression is motivated by a desire to harm someone and is reinforced by the victim’s pain” (26). Even though it is most likely that Mr. Wright killed the canary, it is still surely a weak provocation for murder. However, we need to look at the psychology of a strained marital relationship and how Minnie would have interpreted the death of the bird. Raymond W. Novaco delves into this issue of provocation, writing that:
“Ample research has demonstrated that the appraisal of provocation (the behavior of another person towards oneself or others that is experienced as aversive) influences the magnitude of aggressive behavior. Aggression has been found to increase with antagonistic appraisals and to decrease with syntonic appraisals” (257).
Did Minnie interpret the killing of the bird as the work of a cruel husband who was intent on hurting her? Furthermore, did she witness the killing of the bird or simply find it later? To understand the level of provocation experienced by Minnie we may take multiple approaches. Firstly, one may focus on concepts like expectation and stress. Minnie has been married to her husband for many years so she obviously knows his character very well. Novaco explains that “Expectation, conceived in a variety of ways, has been a widely recognized determinant of behaviour and emotion” (251). Expected behaviour has less chance of inducing an aggressive response due to familiarity and also as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. We must presume that the killing of the bird is therefore an unusual, unforeseen shock to Minnie. Secondly, we may assume that Minnie has experienced significant levels of stress because she has lived with a difficult husband who Mrs. Hale describes as “a hard man … Like a raw wind that gets to the bone” (18). Novaco writes that “Stressful circumstances long have been thought to affect mental and emotional functioning, whether the stress was engendered by discrete traumatic events or by prolonged exposure to adverse psychological conditions” (243). In Minnie’s case, one may say that there is a long history of enduring a stressful home life and that the death of the canary is an individual and additional pressure. Therefore, we begin to sense a stressed individual’s breaking point that was indeed reached by an unexpected and triggering event.
Another approach to gauging Minnie’s interpretation of the dead bird is by reflecting on her own changed personality. In the play, the canary comes to symbolize Minnie with Mrs. Hale saying that “she was kind of like a bird herself—real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery” (18). Yet, over the years, Minnie is reduced to wearing old clothes, becomes reclusive, and loses contact with the outside world. Mrs. Hale contemplates that “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too” (20). If Mrs. Hale’s opinion is correct and Mr. Wright had indeed crushed his wife’s spirit which left her silent then the chirping little bird would certainly hold an unusual significance for Minnie. The canary would be a hopeful symbol of who Minnie once was – joyous and full of song. For Mr. Wright to crush this one symbol of hope in Minnie’s life would indeed provoke an unusually strong response. As Ronald Mah explains, “Intense emotional reactivity surges past inhibitions that would otherwise reduce, restrain, or eliminate acting out, aggression, or violence” (51). Therefore, Minnie suddenly reacts, and it is out of character. The final result is that she commits murder.
In the play, the discovery of clues is complemented by local knowledge to outline a credible picture of what occurred in the Wright’s household. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters ultimately uncover a motive for the unusual murder. The women’s main observations which lead to the unspoken conclusion that Minnie murdered her husband include the mysterious, half completed kitchen tasks, the irregular stitching on a piece of quilt, the bird cage, and finally the bird itself with its neck wrung. The half-finished tasks record someone who stops in their tracks due to a shock, the stitching on the quilt reflects the method of murder with a rope, the cage is representative of Minnie’s restricted, prison-like home life, and the killing of the bird is the triggering event that leads to murder. Mah writes that “Being triggered and being opportunistic are not necessarily exclusive” (44). We have already established the emotional import of the triggering event, but it is also necessary to look at the topic of opportunism. Due to the elaborate method of murder, planning and opportunity were necessary.
“MRS. HALE: Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake when they was slipping that rope under his neck.
MRS. PETERS: No, it’s strange. It must have been done awful crafty and still. They say it was such a—funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that” (14).
If Minnie had wanted to murder her husband then the gun in the house would surely have been the safest method. However, she chose to strangle her husband with a rope. One may only understand this strange act in relation to the bird’s manner of execution with its neck being wrung. As Mah writes, “‘Getting back’ or ‘getting even’ can be hugely satisfying and pleasurable” (53) and Minnie’s method of execution shows just such a desire to punish her husband in a fitting manner. Additionally, Minnie uses an opportunistic moment when her husband is sleeping to carry out the crime. Such an act falls under a specific heading – “Proactive aggression, also referred to as instrumental, premeditated, predatory, planned, and cold-blooded (Ramirez and Andreu 2006), is a goal-directed behavior, in which violence is a means to an end other than simply inflicting harm” (Ross and Babcock, 2009, page 608)” (Mah 42). Minnie has some time to consider her actions because she must wait for her husband to fall sound asleep. Her ultimate goal is not just to punish her husband but to end his life. The premeditated murder is her way of releasing herself from an oppressive marriage.
Presence or lack of remorse.
One must assess if Minnie exhibits genuine remorse at the death of her husband. Mah explains that “Remorse is very related to guilt – the violation of some socially or legally defined boundary” (61). Minnie’s behaviour after her husband’s death is unusual in a few respects but crucially lacks any indication of remorse. According to her own story, she finds her husband dead, yet she does not seek help but sits quietly in the kitchen. She responds in a factual and cold manner to the Hale’s questions. There are no tears, no emotional excitement, instead she laughs in response to two of Mr. Hale’s questions. One may interpret Minnie’s demeanour as defiant, and it is significant that only when her story that she “didn’t wake up” (9) is questioned and actively disbelieved by the Hales does she show signs of fear. Remorse is a complex reaction and as Mah writes, “may be from other consequences, including getting into trouble or being punished for the behavior or lack of behavior” (61). When Minnie realizes that her story lacks credibility then she becomes fearful which is indeed remorse but activated only by a realization of the consequences of committing a murder. Minnie expresses no genuine remorse which solidifies one’s belief that she is indeed the murderer.
Summation of characteristics.
The profile of Minnie Foster created by using Ronald’s Mah’s list of characteristics shared by people likely to commit violent acts is conclusive. This enhances rather than changes our appreciation of Glaspell’s depiction of a predictable tragedy. The assessment of Minnie as someone who is likely to commit a violent act due to the various and interlocking strains on her is simply more credible with the aid of psychological profiling because it does not rely solely on the subjective views of the other characters in the play. The depiction becomes more applicable to real life situations which indeed seems to be in line with Glaspell’s own artistic aims since Trifles was based on the trial of a woman that she covered as a young reporter. In the play, Minnie is neither victim nor murderer but both of these at once, and the author nudges her readers to this realisation.
Glaspell directs her readers to view Minnie as her husband’s only possible murderer. Yet, this is done without a confession from the accused. As readers are provided with emphatic clues as to the identity of the murderer and her motivation then what is Glaspell’s communicative goal in the drama? In this essay, the predictability of Minnie’s crime has been dissected step by step and Glaspell likewise directs us to look behind the particular incident of a man’s death and view the entire history of the domestic situation depicted. A murder mystery that begins with all the outsiders viewing the crime scene as an opaque picture unwilling to reveal its secrets slowly becomes clearer and clearer. However, even before the crucial piece of the puzzle is found, the dead canary, the willingness of Mrs. Hale to unflinchingly look at Minnie’s domestic situation has revealed the truth. She says, “I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—[shakes her head.]” (18). What Mrs. Hale sees is the harshness of the domestic environment combined with an understanding of Mr. Wright’s severe character. The discovery of the bird is the clue that conclusively solves the murder mystery, but what Mrs. Hale has already seen is the makings of a crime, namely the hardship in which Minnie Foster had to live. Therefore, Glaspell’s clever construction of the plot allows one to come to a conclusion ever before the vital clue is found. The tragedy of the story is that no one ever intervened to help Minnie Foster.
There are evidently two crimes depicted in the play. The headline crime is murder yet it obscures our view of the life circumstances of the accused which form a less clearly delineated crime yet one that exists all the same. The menfolk are blind to the concerns of women, for example, Mr. Hale notes that “women are used to worrying over trifles” (10) meaning domestic issues. Of course, all the salient clues are inevitably located in the kitchen which is unsurprising since it is the chief suspect’s main work area. If the men empathized with a woman’s lot in life then they would see that the underlying crime is about abandonment by one’s peers, by the deliberate blind eye of society to all things that happen in the domestic and marital sphere, by a knowing choice of inaction when action is needed. Mrs. Peters comments on the investigation, saying, “The law has got to punish crime” (21) to which Mrs. Hale responds, “Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?” (21). The crux of the revelation is just as Mrs. Hale states, “I might have known she needed help!” (21). Again, this second less distinct ‘crime’ is one that the male investigators ignore and yet it is the foundation for the horrible murder that occurs in the Wright’s farmhouse.
The play concludes with the county attorney’s decision to stay a little longer in the Wright’s farmhouse because no conclusive evidence has been found. The county attorney summarises that there is, “No sign at all of anyone having come from the outside. Their own rope” (20). He later adds, “it’s all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women” (22). They have a suspect, a murder weapon, and no signs of forced entry, yet the county attorney and sheriff are unable to build a case and it seems that when it goes to trial that a jury will fail to convict a woman. What Glaspell is communicating is that the men’s total inability to empathize with a woman renders their investigation ineffectual. After the men have left the room, Mrs. Peter’s first attempts to hide the box containing the dead bird but upon failing to do so, Mrs. Hale takes over and successfully deposits the key piece of evidence in her own pocket. This is the removal of the most vital clue and one that would possibly convict Minnie Foster to long imprisonment or death. When the county attorney returns to the kitchen, he makes a joking enquiry about the type of stitches Minnie Foster was going to use and Mrs. Hale responds, “we call it – knot it, Mr. Henderson” (23). Glaspell uses a homophone here with ‘knot it’ sounding identical to ‘not it.’ Therefore, by her actions and her words, Mrs. Hale is asserting that there is no evidence of murder to be found in the Wright’s farmhouse. Of course, the stitching method links to the manner in which Mr. Wright was strangled with a rope but Mrs. Hale already removed the erratic stitches that Minnie had sewn prior to her husband’s death. The destruction and removal of evidence by the women, clues that they alone had discovered, leave the investigation at a dead end. When Mrs. Hale says, ‘not it,’ we witness the effective collapse of a convincing case against Minnie Foster.
After writing Trifles, Glaspell made additions to the text and created the short story named “A Jury of Her Peers.” The title is quite informative because it refers to the fact that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are effectively Minnie’s jury. Minnie’s female peers, women who understand the backstory to the tragedy are deemed the most appropriate people to decide her fate. In court, Minnie would be faced with a jury of twelve men who represent the law, just as the sheriff and county attorney represent the law during the investigation in the Wright’s home. The divide between the sexes is clear, as is the difference between justice and the law. If the men are unable to understand Minnie Foster and dismiss references to difficulties she had experienced in her marriage then how can they possibly administer justice? The exercise of the law is a blunt instrument which needs just a vital clue to close a case but to have justice, one needs to have empathy. The responsibility that Mrs. Hale feels due to her prior neglect of her neighbour is now atoned for by removing a damning piece of evidence. Glaspell presents her audience with Minnie as a murderer yet one may only see this frightening and indeed frightened figure if one first empathizes with her, otherwise she remains elusive.
Brunger, Ronald A. The Ladies Aid Societies in Michigan Methodism. University of Michigan, 1967.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers. CreateSpace, 2014.
Mah, Ronald. How Dangerous is this Person?: Assessing Danger and Violence Potential Before Tragedy Strikes. Smashwords, 2013.
Monahan, John. The Clinical Prediction of Violent Behavior. Jason Aronson, Inc, 1995. Novaco, Raymond W. “The Cognitive Regulation of Anger and Stress.” Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions, edited by Philip C. Kendall and Steven D. Hollon, Academic Press, 1979, pp. 241-278.
Novaco, Raymond W. “The Cognitive Regulation of Anger and Stress.” Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions, edited by Philip C. Kendall and Steven D. Hollon, Academic Press, 1979, pp. 241-278.