Formalist Criticism on "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell Essay

Formalist Criticism on “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell


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“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell written in 1916 is such an one act play which points out the miniature observing power of women whose careless trifle overservations are always overlooked by the men who think themselves to be more logical and intelligent that women in the male dominated parental society - Formalist Criticism on "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell Essay introduction. The act is plotted in such a fashion that woman characters are shown very casual and they gossip about small matters of daily life to themselves but to the audience they are revealing great mystery of the murder which were overlooked by investigating authority who inspect the matter according to their learned theoretical methods. The women concerned for ‘damaged fruit preserves’, which are of no importance to the authority. ‘The left out bread out of its box’ is observed by the women as the suspicious act. ‘The uncompleted quilt’, ‘the partially clean and partly messy tabletop’, ‘the empty birdcage’ all are overlooked by the male person of the investigating team but these are matter of concerned for Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. These later solve the mystery.

The title of the play “trifle” refers much of thing that are miniature in size but incredibly big in terms of value. The men consider the intellectual observing power of women as trifle and egoistically they do not pay any attention to them that may lead to the discovery of great things. It is also implicit that the victim considers the bird as trifle and he strangle it. The trifle things are overlooked by the important characters, the men, in the play but discovered by the trifle characters, the women, in the play.

The women are not interested, in the play ‘Trifles’ by Susan Glaspell, in forensic evidences to the solve the mystery of the crime as the men are but they find out the clues for illuminating the desolation of Mrs. Wright’s poignant life. They rightly suspect to formulate a theory that Mr. Wright’s frozen, repressive nature necessity has been monotonous to be alive with. Though Mrs. Hale gives a natural and social comment about her being a childless women, “Not having children makes less work – but it makes a quiet house.” (Glaspell). Her comments give indications for the psychological disorder for such persons.

Self-importance is let down by the male characters in the play. Their representation of self as thoughtful, stern -minded detectives authority is ridiculous when we consider the great pin pointing observing powers of female in the matter of practicality. The arrogant nature of man cause great concern for the woman and many a time they act defensively feeling inferior to male. In spite of knowing the nature and crime of Mrs. Wright; Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters show their devotion to femininity by the act of concealing the evidences by thieving the box containing ‘the dead bird’. This shows an act of rebelliousness in opposition to a heartless patriarchal society.

Enormously implacable symbolisms are used in the play with the help of bird with its cage.  While discovering a fancy miniature box with a dead canary enfolded in silk, The women find that the neck of the bird has been mangled which imply that Minnie’s husband did not prefer the attention grabbing songs of canary. This symbolizes the aspiration of his wife for independence and cheerfulness. That was the reason behind the busting the cage door and strangling the bird by Mr. Wright. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters did intentionally not disclose this discovery to the men and they hid the box along with the demised bird into their dress.

They do not wish to tell about the small ‘trifle’, psychologically, to see weather the men are equally intelligent to find out such truth. The bird is symbolized here, as the sprit of Mrs. Wright and the cage is the symbol the oppressiveness of the spirit of Mrs. Wright by him on her. The distressed psychological condition of Mrs. Wright is represented with the uncultured quilt. Rope is the symbol of domination of the male power on female, here, Minnie Wright. Mr. Wright has strangulated the bird, so in retaliation Mrs. Wright has used the method of man to kill her suppressive husband to show the similar power.

The plot construction of the play is incredibly specific; the full story can be seen in mere one scene, as this is one act play. The mentions of the characters that are essential are referred without bringing them on the stage. Mrs. Wright is especially important and vital stature in the act but she is only referred on the stage without appearing on the stage. The play cannot be said as a murder mystery; it is only a study relating to culture and psychology of condition of women in the civilization and their ability to involve themselves in the reality.

The irony is the play is that the pride of Sheriff Peters and County Attorney George Henderson to have great power of detection with eminent logical reasoning is brought down by two women. In spite of having trained and professional detective skills, the men cannot resolve a simple mystery, instead two simple housewives, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale ascertain the evidence and set up an intention in the midst of apparently inoffensive stuff in the Wright home. The trifles of general saying of men that the women only concern themselves is proved wrong with the finding out the key substantiation for which the men are awaiting. The play itself ends in an irony situation of conversation between the men and women.




Glaspell, S. Trifles.  1916. retriv. May 10, 2010.


Glaspell, S. Trifles: a play in one act. Walter H. Baker, 1951.

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