Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Mystery of the Bird

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Susan Glaspell was born July 1, 1876 to Elmer S. Glaspell and Alice Keating. She lived in Davenport Iowa, and attended public school there. in 1899 she went on to graduate from Drake University with a bachelor’s degree. After college Glaspell worked as a reporter for a Des Moines paper. While working as a reporter, she was appointed to report on the murder trial of John Hossack in 1900. This murder sparked Glaspell’s interest, and became the basis of two of her most famous works, a short story,  “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917) and the one-act-play Trifles (1916).

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The one-act-play Trifles is the story of a wife, Minnie, who killed her husband, John Wright. This play is a feminist drama because it includes two female leads, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. Through out the story, they are able to find evidence and piece together the clues, leading them to believe that Minnie was the murderer. They are able to sympathize with Minnie, and understand her motives for murdering her husband. One clue that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale finds is a canary in a fancy box that has had its neck wrung.

Trifles by Susan Glaspell

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Though there are many clues throughout the play that lead to their conclusion of Minnie being the murderer, the dead canary in the box is one clue that stands out among the rest. This could be because both Minnie and John Wright had the means of killing the bird. So the question is, who did it?

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One way in which an individual could see the canary die would be at the hands of John Wright.  In the story Mrs.Hale states, ” No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird-a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.”(988) This line is clearly giving John a motive. It states that he would not like the bird because it would sing. If he didn’t like the bird than he probably would have no problem or remorse for killing it. Also, this line states that “He killed that, too”.  This is kind of hinting at the fact that not only did he kill the canary, but he also killed his wife’s singing.

Another reason why it may seem as if John Wright killed the bird would be when Mrs Hale states, “She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.”(988) This is stating that Minnie obviously liked the bird.  Even after death, she wanted to take care of the bird and give it a proper burial. Why would Minnie want to kill something that she loved?

One last reason why it could be believed that John killed the bird is because John ended up dead.  In the story Mrs. Hale states, ” If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful.” (989) If the bird was your only form of entertainment and happiness for years and years, and then your husband came along and killed it, wouldn’t that be a motive to kill him. The fact that both the bird and the husband are dead is evidence that he killed the bird and because of it Minnie ended killing him for getting rid of her only form of happiness in the world.

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Though there is lots of evidence supporting the fact that John Wright could have killed the canary, there is also the idea that Minnie could have been the birds killer. One piece of evidence that supports Minnie killing the bird would be when Mrs. Peters says, ” It was an awful thing that was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.” (989) The fact that Minnie was able to kill her husband, whom she was in love with at some point in her life or else they wouldn’t have gotten married, proves that she had the capability of killing a bird, whom she also loved.

Another reason why it seems plausible that Minnie killed the bird and John didn’t would be the fact that Mrs.Peter’s states about the bird, “Somebody-wrung-its-neck”. Then later Mrs. Peter’s states, “slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.” This is showing that the bird and Minnie’s husband were both killed in the same way.  This could be for many reasons. One reason could be that Minnie was practicing killing her husband on the bird. Or it could be that she killed the bird in order to prove to herself that she would be able to kill her husband later that night.

One last reason why Minnie could have killed the canary as opposed to her husband killing the bird would be because of the future. In the text Mrs Hale states, “She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in a pretty box.” (988) Through out the text you get the idea that Minnie cared for the bird very much. Also in the text Mrs. Peters states, ” Oh her fruit; it did freeze. She was worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break”. (983) This line is showing that Minnie was a worrier. this may be why she killed the bird. Minnie knew that she was going to kill her husband that night, which she probably guessed would land her in jail. If she was in jail who would watch after the only thing in the world she loved; the bird? Since she loved the bird so much she may have killed it, knowing that after she was gone and in jail no one would take care of  it. Then she was going to bury it in a pretty box, so that it would always be in a special place and taken care of.

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All in all, one can see that there is lots of evidence in the text to support that both Minnie and John could have potentially killed the canary. It is up for you to decide for yourself who you think the killer truly is.

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