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Symbolism In The Play Trifles

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In the dramatic play “Trifles” written by Susan Glaspell, it goes through without specifically stating the cultural diversity in the 1900’s that women had to face. Although, it presents itself as to how the men back in the day believed that the tasks and job duties their wives and other women did and anything regarding their own thoughts were not necessarily important. In fact, the men basically considered that the women had very little to no meaning and their roles were less important than themselves. It wasn't difficult to perceive how the play mirrored the 1900's, when the typical roles amongst men and women were very different from the lifestyle of men and women in today’s society. The women were seen as inferior, or even sub-par, to the men by “doing so little” versus what the men themselves were doing. Susan Glaspell definitely allows the theme of the play to be supported by the setting with the time and weather, and by the symbolism found within the play.

Throughout “Trifles”, Glaspell writes in a broad way, while still managing to write in a unique and sharp way. This resulted in using strong, vivid clues, while also demonstrating strong implicating conversations within the play. The particular writing style that she decided to write in, allows the obscure murder investigation to evolve into something that is considerably more mental and psychological. The theme is more of a gender role theme that demonstrates the different behaviors of men and women. Glaspell revolves her play around dealing with the roles of women in the society of that time period. According to the article, “19th Century Expectations”, it states that “women were also entirely shut out of political activity. Women were not allowed the vote, and in Great Britain, women were so bound to their husbands that under 19th Century Common Laws, they were barely considered people at all” (Christopher Sailus). This implies that men and women were expected to be and/or do different things, regardless if it was considered to be discriminatory or biased. Women were treated unequally to their fellow men, because they were not able to be involved in any political activity, such as being able to sit on juries in court, nor did they have the right to hold any other public office at this time. “Trifles” deals with feminist criticism as well. This form of criticism is basically the suffering and exploitation to which women were routinely submitted. According to “Critical Theory Today: User-Friendly Guide”, mentions that “feminist criticism determines the ways in which literature (and other productions) reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women” (Lois Tyson). Susan Glaspell wasn’t the exact type of person who’s going to sit down and hold back. She clearly has rebelled against societies rules back then and was determined to try to prove a valid point for the women, who had suffered from the unfair predicaments in the 19th century. The structure of “Trifles” demonstrates and expresses towards the reader how it was harking back to the 1900's for the ladies and the outcome of the perfect groundbreaking encounters of ladies.

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Furthermore, the setting is hugely supported by the theme of “Trifles”. The setting has a major significance and is important to the layout, structure and improvement within the play. In Trifles, the general setting is a married couple living on a farm in a rural area, which occurs during the winter of the 1900’s. Additionally, the place is a frigid cool, cruel and relentless winter season while being closed off, perhaps, in a way this isolation goes to act as a comparison to Mrs. Wright’s hopeless and miserable condition in her farmhouse with the other farmers being physically close-by, but yet so distant. Ms. Hale, a moderately close by neighbor along the homestead, previously mentioned in the play that “[the house] is down in the hollow and you don’t see the road” (Trifles). The audience could envision her home as being in the back cut of the backwoods that you can't generally observe. But Ms. Hale continues to say that the house is a “lonesome place” and it has consistently been that way. Another way the setting is a significant in “Trifles”, is that it forces the audience to dive more inside and out and really break down the circumstance without essentially expressing it. In the article known as “Literature Uncovered”, Janae Pickett expresses how the setting gives that “dynamic look without revealing much of anything into Mrs. Wright’s life.” The setting shows Mrs. Wright as being miserable and unhappy in her marriage, while also as being lonely “down in a hollow” on farm with a lack of social neighbors.

Finally, symbolism is very well supported by the theme of Trifles. The hidden messages behind the personal items throughout the play brings the situation to light whereby you can clearly see it. Susan Glaspell uses personal items in the Wright’s household as hidden clues to help the audience understand and be able to reflect on her life and her actions that ends with her killing Mr. Wright. One symbol was the rocking chair that Mrs. Wright was sitting in. This was utilized to represent her being anxious and tired as it were, due to the fact that her significant other was dead. He died by being strangled with a rope in his sleep. This built up and developed some suspicion for Mrs. Wright. The next symbol would be the rope she used to strangle her husband, the rope was definitely more of a symbol of Mrs. Wright’s vengeance towards him. Her revenge was for her only pet bird that she had to keep busy and accompanied, which he killed, therefore causing Mrs. Wright to take her anger out on him. The bird cage was intended to be represented as Mrs. Wright’s life and how she couldn’t just freely roam, she had limitations or constrained opportunity. The bird itself symbolizes the freedom and spirits of Mrs. Wright. Based off what Ms. Hale said in Trifles, “she- come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and- fluttery” (Susan Glaspell). This shows that Mrs. Wright was “sweet and fluttery” in the beginning, then gradually transforms into being desolate and unhappy after a course of years of her husband’s emotional neglect, disregard and not valuing her work.

Taking everything into account, the predominant norms of the day, that mainly relegated women to second class citizenship, where the reason that Mrs. Wright killed her husband. While everything she suffered was considered to be socially acceptable in that day, her husband still paid the ultimate price for it. While killing her husband may not have been the best answer, Mrs. Wright did what she could to liberate herself from the mental and emotional abuse she suffered. Similarly, women of later eras did many things, hopefully none of which involved killing anyone, to free themselves from a patriarchal and oppressive society. Women’s suffrage, equal rights and many other freedoms have been won by and for women. Maybe in this present social setting, Mr. Wright would still be alive and Mrs. Wright would be free to live the life she wanted.

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Symbolism In The Play Trifles. (2021, August 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“Symbolism In The Play Trifles.” Edubirdie, 13 Aug. 2021,
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Symbolism In The Play Trifles [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 13 [cited 2023 Dec 3]. Available from:
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