What Happened on The Night John Wright Died: Critical Objects and Settings in Trifles

Over the years, women have been expected to manage the household and live up to the old saying that they should be seen but not heard. This is evident in Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles”. The play takes place in an abandoned rural farmhouse, where the reader is exposed to the abusive society that women faced every day. The play’s main characters, including the sheriff, court attorney, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, are presented to the reader. As the sheriff arrives at the farmhouse, the setting has a dark tone that leads to some horrifying discoveries. They soon discovered a dead bird, an unidentified man and a woman with a story to share in the disorganized house. Setting the scene for a rural drama is crucial. It can lead to committing heinous acts of violence against humanity. People who live in isolation from the rest, and feel lonely, can be affected by the solitude of the countryside and their behavior. The reader will then have to determine who is responsible for John Wright’s murder. Susan Glaspell shows her setting by focusing only on Wright’s birdcage, kitchen, and bird. These three objects provide evidence and support the story of John Wright’s night of death.

“Trifles,” the play, has a rich setting. It takes place in early 1900’s. The play centers around the Wright’s farmhouse kitchen. The kitchen is seen as a women’s space in this society. It is difficult to understand the chronology of events, which is the constant problem with “Trifles”. The title’s opening line states that women “are used to worrying about trifles”. The title of the play is a reference to the era when women issues were considered “trifles”.

Glaspell may have chosen the Wright home’s kitchen as the setting for Trifles to hint at the past. This crime is solved by looking back. Because the present seems unfinished and unpleasant. In its first moments, the play sets its themes. This is reflected in the setting, which is a messy kitchen. The women stand together, highlighting not only the way they were pushed together in a male-dominated society, but also their loyalty to one another over their husbands. This topic is explored in the play.

The play opens when John & Minnie Wright arrive at their farmhouse to discover that the kitchen is a mess. The court attorney and the sheriff discuss possible causes of John Wright’s murder. Since the kitchen is a disaster, the kitchen plays an important role in the play. Men are compelled to look for clues and critique the chaos caused by the kitchen’s disarray. The court attorney stated to others that Minnie Wright wasn’t a good housekeeper because the roll towels in her kitchen were dirty and needed to be replaced (637). Men saw the towels as a sign that Minnie Wright was a dirty housewife. Minnie was like many women of her era, who were seen as objects with a purpose. Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters saw her uncleanness as evidence. Because of her preoccupation with the death of her husband, Minnie might not have been aware that the kitchen was in such bad shape. There are other signs of “incompleteness” like the dirty towels, filthy dishes, bread on the counter, or the messy plates. The play’s dismissiveness of the sheriff or court attorney is an important aspect. The sheriff, for example, says that “Nothing here except kitchen items” (636). Ironically, they are actually investigating a female crime. The “kitchen stuff” is not being addressed by the sheriff and court attorney.

The broken birdcage, which represents her marriage, is an important part of the setting. Minnie believed that her home was a cage because of its isolation from the outside world. The birdcage also represents the male-dominated society Minnie and other women had to live in. Leonard Mustazza says that Minnie Foster Wright’s life changed from being a singing bird to becoming a muted caged bird (494). After she married John Wright, Minnie lived a miserable life in a broken birdcage. This helps to show how Minnie was once charming. Minnie became depressed and lonely because of her poor marriage. Mrs. Peters said, “Seems funny that she thinks of a bird there. She must have had one or she wouldn’t have kept her bird in a cage. (641). The farmhouse looks so dark and dreary that it seems a cheerful canary would not fit in. Mrs. Hale starts to look at the cage and cries that “someone must’ve been rough with it” (641). This is due to the fact that the door to the cage was broken. This is the evidence that Minnie Wright was able to escape her cage, which symbolized her marriage.

The dead bird is the last object that can increase the likelihood that Minnie killed her husband. The dead bird is a symbol of how lively and cheerful Minnie was before she married John Wright. As Mrs. Hale was looking for scissors in a sewing box, she found a box containing the dead bird inside wrapped with a piece silk. Mrs. Hale said that the bird was very much her favorite. She wanted to bury the bird in that beautiful box (643). By the way she placed the bird in the box, it can be seen that Minnie considered the bird special. The bird appears to be dead at the beginning. However, when Mrs. Hale examines the bird closer, she says, “But Mrs. Peters, take a look at it!” Its neck! Its neck is amazing! It’s all-other side to” (642). Mrs. Hale admits that Mr. Wright was responsible for the strangling of the canary. He was the only one who detested anything that brought joy. The significance of the bird being strangled leads readers to believe that Minnie Wright was motivated to strangle her husband. It is stated at the beginning of the play that there was a gun in the home. The killer could have shot Mr. Wright, instead of strangling him the same way the canary was.

Three key details provide enough evidence to reveal John Wright’s murderer and what happened the night of his death: the Wrights’ birdcage, kitchen and bird. Since the kitchen was a disaster, the kitchen plays an important role in the play. Minnie was seen as a dirty housewife because of the dishes that were left in the sink and the bread that was left on the counter. These small details were often overlooked, but they actually contained hidden clues. The dead canary and the broken birdcage are two items in the scene that symbolize the joy John Wright caused in Minnie, and the horrible act that followed.

Work Cited

  • Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Backpack Literature: A guide to fiction, poetry, drama, and writing, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Pearson, 2016. pp. 633-645
  • Mustazza, Leonard. “Generic Translation, Thematic Shift and Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”, and “A Jury of Her Peers” Studies In Short Fiction. Vol. 26, no. 4, Fall89, pp. 489-496. EBSCOhost, db05.linccweb.org/login?url=http;//search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7135797&site=ehost-live.