Little Trifles Add Up to a Big Case
Detectives are always looking for little pieces of evidence when investigating a crime. After all, it is this evidence that can turn a trial around, whether be it for the good or bad. This is especially the case in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles. When Mrs. Hale comes across little pieces of evidence, she passes them off as being “trifles”, hiding them from the detective. She is the sole reason that very little evidence is collected that would convict Mrs. Wright, and can be believed to have some sort of involvement in the murder of John Wright.
Mrs. Hale, being estranged from Mrs. Wright for over a year, had something to prove when she went into the house that day. Whether it is out of guilt from not seeing Mrs. Wright, or because she was actually an accomplice in helping Mrs. Wright get away with the act, we’ll never know. However, Mrs. Hale knew what she was doing when she started to dismiss evidence before the detective’s eyes had seen it. She was also very committed to showing that Mrs. Wright wasn’t a bad homemaker, dismissing most of that evidence also.
Mrs. Hale first shows signs of her guilt when she defends some bad housekeeping evidence, blaming it on things that men do. When attention it brought to a dirty towel, Mrs. Hale dismisses it because ” Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be”(1121). Her actions are then seen as loyalty to her own sex, and are never seen as loyalty to Mrs. Wright only. The group sees her as having sympathy for a fellow homemaker, which is exactly what she wants them to think.
Chronologically, the next piece of evidence introduced is a quilt. Mrs. Wright had been stitching it, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for one square that had some awful stitching in it. Mrs. Hale then decides to ” . . . finish up this end ” just to keep things nice and tidy for Mrs. Wright (1125). How convenient, don’t you think? Evidence that would show Mrs. Wright as not being extremely stable is just erased for neatness purposes.
Next, Mrs. Peters finds a birdcage, and shortly after, Mrs. Hale finds the bird. There are many peculiar things about both of these items. First, the cage has a damaged door, which shows signs of forced entry. Now, Mrs. Wright is said to have loved the bird, and actually was heard to sing to herself more, after she bought the bird. So that leaves only John Wright to be the one who broke the cage. And, after the bird is found, we know why the cage was damaged. The bird, dead in the sewing box, is found strangled to death. Exactly the way that Mr. Wright died in his sleep. This is the single most important piece of evidence, yet both ladies decide to hide it from the detective.
You may begin to think, “Why doesn’t Mrs. Peters do something, or say something to stop Mrs. Hale?” Well the answer is that Mrs. Hale convinces her that Mrs. Wright is a simple homemaker just like both of them, and due to that, they both need to defend her, no matter what evidence may point to. This culminates to one quick part where Mrs. Peters says,” The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale”. And Mrs. Hale continues on, showing Mrs. Peters that Mrs. Wright is a good human being (1127). And the final deception comes at the very end, when Mrs. Peters deceives her husband and shows loyalty to Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Wright. When asked if she is married to the law, Mrs. Peters says “Not – just in that way.”(1128).
This brings us to the final topic, what was Mrs. Hale’s motive? Well, the reader can see her motive in two different ways. One motive is that she used to be friends with Mrs. Wright, but has stopped talking to her because the Wright house isn’t “cheerful”. Mrs. Hale feels guilty about losing her friend, and now that Mrs. Wright has no one, she wants to show her loyalty to her old friend. She does this by making sure that no evidence can be found to show that Mrs. Wright actually killed her husband.
And the other motive is one of self-defense. Mrs. Wright, being an old friend, has been struggling in her relationship. The loud fights could be considered as having some physical aspects to them, and Mrs. Hale does not like that. So, secretly, they could have gotten together and planned out this whole murder. Whether it was Mrs. Hale only covering up what Mrs. Hale did, or whether Mrs. Hale actually killed Mr. Wright for her, we will never know.
So the play of friendly deception and murder ends with a feeling of doubt. The audience does not know what really happened, or even what is going to happen. We are left to think our own thoughts, and figure out what was really going on. Whether or not Mrs. Hale killed John Wright for Mrs. Wright, we will never know. But the fact remains that Mrs. Hale severely deceives everyone in the play, but she is seen as a harmless homemaker, which is precisely why her plan works.
DiYanni, Robert, ed. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. 4th ed. New York: McGraw – Hill, 1998.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles: (1119 – 1128).