Trifles

In Susan Glaspell’s turn-of-the-century short fiction turned play, two seemingly innocent and air headed housewives turn murder mystery case crackers, all behind the backs of their law-enforcement husbands. The case? The murder of a man by his wife. The detectives’  wives, in all their knowledge of the inner workings of a woman’s mind as well as the workings of her home, appear as juxtaposition with their husbands lack of attention to significant detail (i.e the dead canary, the murderess’s love for knot tying) in search of more materialistic, simplistic evidence. As stated in Suzy Clarkson Holstein’s article “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s ‘Trifles'”: the play offers an “[exploration of] the fundamental difference between the women’s actions and the mens, a difference grounded in  varying understandings of the home space”. Throughout the play, the women discover clues about the motive of the murderess by analyzing clues left behind that leave hints of her emotional state. The snapped neck of her favorite bird-an act committed by her distant husband- is the motive for the murder, the women decide. The strangling of the bird, as stated in Karen Alkalay-Gut’s criticism ‘A Jury of Her Peers: The Importance of Trifles’: “The fact that Minnie strangled her husband because he strangled the bird indicates to Mrs. Hale that Minnie understood her husband’s action as a symbolic strangling of herself, his wife. It is not just because he killed the bird, but because Minnie herself was a caged bird…and he strangled her by preventing her from communicating with others”.

The significance of the women’s acceptance and concealment of Mrs. Foster’s guilt is capitalized on at the end of the storty. Because the women hide Mrs. Foster’s guilt, it makes it clear that they accept the actiosn that she committed as reasonable, and their hiding the evidence from their husbands goes against the stereotypical “devoted housewife” of the time. Although the men look for materialistic clues (fingerprints on the rope, a sign of a struggle) the women go inside the killers mind, as do many of the great detectives of today. The women demonstrate that they are ahead of their time in their thinking, reversing the roles by putting themselves in the place of power by knowing more than their husbands. But in the end of it all, who really wins? The husbands by continuing their mindset of being the most powerful and intellegent or the wives by discovering the truth and keeping it to themselves?

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