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Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

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Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

A major theme in the play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell is that of patriarchal dominance. Glaspell uses elements of irony to implicate their evident folly. The male characters are the prime investigators of the crime scene. They have titles such as “sheriff” and “county attorney” while the women are in attendance to merely serve as company while they work. The men make the investigative decisions. They decide to go upstairs to see the crime scene, as they believe this is the most important area of the investigation. The women are left downstairs in the kitchen, of all rooms.

Mrs. Peters: “It’s a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it?”


Sheriff: “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!”

The men poke fun at the women’s investigative claims. In fact, the men fail to realize that the women are at all a part of the investigation. Glaspell implies that the women make the most important conclusions and notice subtleties the men do not. The men spend most of their time “doing the work” at the exact physical crime scene while Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are in the kitchen, analyzing indirect facets of the crime. They explore Mrs. Wright’s personality and lifestyle, as well as possible incentives. The women encounter some important pieces of evidence in the kitchen. They are able to connect such “frivolities” to Mrs. Wright’s possible crime.

            Mrs. Hale: “I-I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow      

And you can’t see the road. I dunno what it is but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now-“


Mrs. Hale: “Not having children makes less work-but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day and no company when he did come in…”


Mrs. Hale: “…But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”


Mrs. Hale: “…We all go through the same things. It’s just a different kind of the same thing.”

Here, Mrs. Hale is empathizing with Mrs. Wright. Often, empathizing with the accused is crucial in prosecution. This is a way in which Glaspell implies a great sense of insight on the part of the women, and not of the men.


This article deals with the role empathy plays in forensics.

A major symbol in the work is the bird. The women find the birdcage in the kitchen and thoroughly observe it. They realize it is broken and no bird is there. Later they find the bird and realize it had been strangled.

Mrs. Hale: “She, come to think of it, was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty but kind of timid and fluttery.”

Glaspell compares the oppressed life of the bird to that of Mrs. Wright’s, through Mrs. Hale’s dialogue. The birdcage is yet another kitchen item that the women, not the men find and examine. They are able to make interpretive conclusions; again Glaspell is communicating intelligence and insight on the part of the women.

The characters eventually conclude that a jury will never convict a woman of such a crime as murder. This implies that the men’s expectations of women eventually work outside of their favor by disallowing them to work their jobs effectively. Basically, the men dig holes for themselves by excluding the women from their endeavors.

            I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The caged bird metaphor has been used in other areas of literature before for the same reasons.

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