Trifles: Murder and Mrs. Hale

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Susan Glaspell’s one act play Trifles is a clever tale which highlights the way in which women were dismissed in the early twentieth century and perhaps in some ways still today. Glaspell uses the scene of a terrible crime to engage the audience and then deliver her social message. This play is mostly about the way in which women in her day were ignored. The play takes place in a farm house in the Midwest during the present day, around 1916. Mr. Henderson, a county attorney, and Mr. Peters, a sheriff, have come to the farm to investigate the strangling murder of John Wright. One of John Wright’s neighbors named Mr. Hale discovered the body and found Mrs. Wright sitting downstairs acting in an odd manner. He has come to assist them with his testimony. Two women accompany them, the sheriff’s wife Mrs. Peters and the neighbor’s wife, Mrs. Hale. As the play unfolds, the men remain baffled by the lack of any evidence pointing directly to Ms. Wright as the killer. The case will not be entirely resolved due to an apparent lack of evidence of any motive. The two male investigators see women’s values and motivations in a disrespectful light - as mere trifles - and because of this attitude they fundamentally misunderstand the crime they are investigating and turn the two women into enemies who protect Mrs. Wright by tampering with the evidence. The men fail to see the household disarray as evidence. When entering the home, the poor maintenance in the household is apparent to all four characters in this play. The County Attorney exclaims, “Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say ladies?” (1114). The women defend Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale responds, “Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be” (1114). And after the men are out of earshot, Mrs. Hale is clearly identifying with Mrs. Wright when she complains: “I'd hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing” (1114). Although all four characters recognize that the house is not well kept, but only the women immediately understand that something was terribly wrong. The men go no further with their interpretation of what the women instantly recognize as signs of discord in the home. A central piece of evidence in this play is a quilt that is being made by the suspect, Mrs. Wright, at the time of the murder. Upon inspecting Mrs. Wright’s things, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come across an unfinished quilt. It is Mrs. Hale who notices that the last section of the quilt is different. She points out to Mrs. Peters that the stitching in most of the quilt is well-developed and carefully knitted. This is in sharp contrast to the most recent piece of quilt. This final section has misplaced stitches and the poor workmanship which would happen under a high degree of emotional distress. Mrs. Hale realizes this only moments after the county attorney complains about a missing piece of evidence explaining: “It's all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing. Something to show - something to make a story about - a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it” (1121). Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize that they are, in fact, looking at the exact evidence the county attorney had in mind. Mrs. Hale quietly undoes the stitching. Another critical piece of evidence is the knot stitching in the quilt. Early in the play, the sheriff scoffs at the silliness of women discussing the type of stitching used to construct a quilt in the middle of an important murder scene, exclaiming sarcastically, “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” (1116). The point of view of the sheriff is clearly one in which he belittles female concerns over such a small detail when what he sees as a real concern, such as murder, is in question. The sheriff and county attorney ultimately fail to realize, or even...
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