Writing on Women Writers

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Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” and Domestic Abuse

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Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

In the opening of Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, we encounter a crime scene in the house of Mrs. Wright who is accused of murdering her husband.  In the scene we have the County Attorney, the Sheriff, his wife , the neighbor Lewis Hale, and his wife.  As the County Attorney, the Sheriff and Lewis Hale all observe the crime scene and trying to figure out a motive for why Mrs. Wright may have killed her husband, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are in the kitchen talking about how horrible the event was and how they can’t believe Mrs. Wright would do something like that.  As they are talking, they are taking in the scene in the kitchen.  The bread is out of the bread box, a quilt is left unfinished, and a bird cage is empty and broken.  They continue to talk about Mrs. Wright and how she changed after marrying John Wright; how he had “killed her singing”.  They then find the body of the bird that had lived in the cage wrapped in a fancy box as if ready for burial.  Its neck had been wrung.  This discover has disturbs the women, and Mrs. Hale makes a comment about how John Wright would not have liked the bird.  We then infer that it was in fact John who had killed the bird, and we can then continue to infer that John Wright was an abusive husband and that his killing of the bird caused something in Mrs. Wright to snap and she then in return killed John.

Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological. One in four women is a victim of abuse.  Unfortunately, stories like Trifles are not a rare occurrence.  There are many stories of abused women who then kill their husbands because that is the only way they believe they will be free of the abuse.  Domestic abuse was rarely discussed in the 1980’s, let alone the early 20th century.  Police believed it was a matter that should be settled in private, but that clearly did not work.

‘Sins by Silence’

The article above tells the story of Brenda Clubine, a woman who had been repeatedly put in the hospital by her husband and had 11 different restraining orders on him, as well as a warrant for his arrest.  Despite all of this, police barely did anything to stop the abuse.  Brenda has been in prison for 26 years for the murder of her husband.  Even though she had contacted the police numerous times, the only way she could escape the abuse was to kill him. However, unlike Minnie Wright in Trifles, you’ll see that Clubine killed her husband in self defense.  Clubine now spends years in prison, but it is probably better than her life with her husband.

The Preacher’s Wife

In this article, a young wife named Mary Winkler has been charged with the murder of her preacher husband.  She had shot her husband and then confessed, stating she had snapped after suffering through years of physical and sexual abuse from her husband.  This story is a lot like Trifles, because although people noticed that her husband was rough and that Mary was showing signs of abuse, no one did anything.  Mary also denied it for a long time and would make up excuses as to why she had a black eye and a swollen lip.  Another similarity is that in Trifles, when Lewis Hale is telling the story of how he encountered John Wright’s body, he said he saw Mrs. Wright and she told him John was dead and then she laughed.  She didn’t seem to be mourning him much at all, and actually seemed a little more at ease.  In this article, Mary Winkler is said to be behaving more like her old self after she kills her husband.  She is now allowed to talk to her family, when her husband had prevented that in the past.  Both Mrs. Wright and Mary Winkler seem to be more free and like their old selves after they kill their husbands, even when they know they might very well be in jail for a long time.

In Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, we see the ugly side of abuse and how women are forced to take action after enduring it for so long.  In the two articles “Sins by Silence” and “The Preacher’s Wife”, we see a present day Minnie Wright in Brenda Clubine and Mary Winkler.  These women could not escape their abusive marriages, and they believed the only way they could was by killing their husbands.  Whether it was in self defense of pre-meditated murder, all of these women were horrifically abused by their husbands and now will all share similar fates.



**If you, or a friend is signs of suffering in an abusive relationship, call the domestic abuse hotline.  1(887) 935-7921  The website for this number is www.safehorizon.org/  You could save your life or another life.  Do not go through this alone!  Get help!

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