“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (United States Congress, The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription). There is no mention of women in the declaration and the United States as a country took a while to adopt these positions for all individuals. Not until 1920 did women achieve the right to vote legally (United States Congress, The Constitution: The 19th Amendment). Trifles, what does it mean? Where does it come from? Well the English meaning of trifles is something having little importance or value. Upon graduating from Iowa’s Drake University in 1899, Susan Glaspell kicked off her writing career of writing short stories and novels (Ozieblo). Her most memorable one-act play, Trifles (1916) was based on murder trial case that happened in the 1900’s. Glaspell worked as a reporter, where she appointed a report of a murder case. It was about a farmer, John Hossack who was killed while he was asleep in bed one night. His wife claimed that she was asleep next to him when the attack occurred. No one believed in her statement, she was arrested and was charged on first degree murder. In Trifles, the play takes place at an abandon house at a farm where John Wright and his wife, Minnie Wright lived. John was killed with a rope around his neck while his wife was asleep. The neighbor, county attorney and sheriff came to the crime scene for investigation. Along with this the play includes elements of what the women’s suffrage
movement was all about. “Trifles” shows the discriminatory mentality commonly accepted among men towards women in 1916, as well as showcasing the significant role comradery plays for women in equaling out playing field for their selves; portrayed through the plays expositions, dialogue, theme, character, and symbolization.
The characters of the play consist of Mrs. Wright, John Wright, county attorney George Henderson, Henry Peters the sheriff, neighboring farmer and witness Lewis Hale. This leaves the two main protagonists in the story of Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, the respective wives of Henry Peters and Lewis Hale. The murder mystery takes place in the empty farmhouse of John Wright. The men take charge of the investigation and leave the women to pick up a few items for Mrs. Wright’s convenience.
From the start of the murder mystery come early expositions into the perspectives of the males less than equal attitudes towards women. During a routine investigation Mr. Hale` is explaining his encounter to the county attorney and his reasoning for visiting John, mainly being an attempt to convince John, for the second time, to buy a telephone. Also believing his chances would increase for a more desirable answer, he hoped for Johns wife to be present, saying, I though maybe… I said to Harry that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John” (Glaspell 869). This comment throws a hint to the audience about John’s attitude toward his wife, as if John was the type of husband who neglected considering Mrs. Wrights wishes. The County Attorney tells Mr. Hale, “. . . I do not want to talk about that” (Glaspell 869) brushing off the subtle clue promptly. The first note taken by the county attorney was only incriminating to Mrs. Wright, noting a scared look on the face of Mrs. Wright according to further testimony by Mr. Hale who continued to highlight, “. . . maybe it wasn’t
scared” (Glaspell 870). The County Attorney does not care how John may have treated his wife, instead targeting Mr. Hale’s statement regarding the alleged “scared” look on Mr. Wrights face. Limited consideration is also taken for women during this time when spoken to by a man. The men’s bias is often and openly expressed to the women verbally.
According to the dialogue of the play, the men show they do not deem what the women say important or relevant. For instance, Mrs. Peters says one comment on how Mrs. Wright worried about her fruit freezing, which it indeed had due to being left out. With haste, the Sheriff fires back, speaking to his male partners, “Well, can you beat women! Held for murder and worrying’ about her preserves” (Glaspell 871). The men agree in general about the Sheriffs comment, and Mr. Hale made a browed comment, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell 871). The dialogue of the play shows the ignorance and general lack of respect given to women’s comments. Even the Sheriff speaks to his wife openly as if a women’s role in the home was meaningless. For the first words spoken out of the mouth from his wife, the harassment appears irrational for just making conversation. The prejudice from the men is obvious and once a reader or audience starts asking questions about how the men treat the women, a trend is noticed regarding the men’s principles.