Glaspell & “Trifles”
Those who are oppressed seek expression; those who are trapped seek freedom. The human spirit rebels against dominance, propelling those affected into action. The short dramatic play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, showcases the oppression of American women by a male-dominated society during the late 1800s. As the title of the play suggests, the concerns of women are often considered to be mere trifles, unimportant issues that bear little or no importance to the true work of society, which, of course, is being carried out by men. “Trifles” reminds the audience that women are not to be dismissed as less intelligent or less able and that to unfairly silence them will lead to revolution. Glaspell uses symbolism to expose the prejudices of society and the solidarity that rebellion inspires and highlights important dialogue exchanges to raise how the men and women view the evidence differently.
Glaspell’s abundant use of symbolism throughout the play helps the audience empathize with the women, especially Minnie. Two important symbols, a birdcage and a canary, emerge in the play to represent Minnie and her home life. The birdcage is intact except for a hinge that is pulled apart. Minnie’s life, once carefree and full of happiness has been “caged.” She has become imprisoned within her home. Held captive by her husband, isolated from her “flock” of friends, she is held solitary in the birdcage of her home life. The broken door becomes the “unhinged” mind of Minnie when she finally breaks loose and lets her mind separate from moral restrictions. The canary is representative of Minnie herself. The symbol is recognized and expressed through Mrs. Hale’s character when she states that Minnie “was kind of like a bird herself -- real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery” (Glaspell 781). The bird is trapped, forced into captivity for the pleasure of its owner, dependent upon its caretaker for its survival. Mr. Wright, subjected to his determinations of what she can and can’t have, traps Minnie. He was attracted to her beauty and happiness, but held her captive until her spirit could no longer “fly”. The bird remains a symbol even through its death. As the bird dies, so does Minnie’s spirit. The bird’s ultimate “freedom” through death also parallels with Minnie’s freedom through her husband’s death. Even though she is jailed in the play, her spirit is freed through the revenge she enacts upon Mr. Wright. Just as her husband has silenced the bird by breaking its neck, Minnie has broken his neck to silence the oppression.
Further use of symbols throughout the play reveal the solidarity the women silently acknowledge and, in doing so, help to conceal Minnie’s motive for committing the crime. As the play opens, the audience’s attention is drawn to the disarray of the kitchen. The kitchen is considered the “heart” of the home. A half wiped table, unfinished bread, unwashed pots, and a dirty towel are highlighted to expose the kitchen as a symbol of Minnie Wright’s disturbed state of mind; this home’s heart is no longer beating. An unfinished quilting block with neatly sewn stitches that suddenly become sloppy symbolize Minnie’s break with her orderly routines of running her household. Quilts represent the warmth of a happy home and provide protection from the cold harsh weather. As Minnie’s quilting block stitches deteriorate, so does her home life. “It looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!” exclaims Mrs. Hale as she observes the quilt block (Glaspell 780). The warmth and protection that a happy home provides were ripped away from her, stitch by stitch. The women’s efforts to put the house back in order symbolize their empathy with Minnie’s situation. Mrs. Hale “rips” out the poorly sewn stitch of Minnie’s quilt and begins to repair the quilting block in an effort to repair the guilt she feels over neglecting her friendship with Minnie. The women begin to straighten...
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