I guess you know about how much he talked himself, but I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John--
Henderson interrupts this statement by Hale because he is more interested in the facts of what Hale witnessed the day before in the Wright farmhouse, but this statement is important in terms of the play because it provides the first hint that the Wright household had problems with the marital balance of power. From this offhand observation, we learn that the authority of the husband is the only authority in the farmhouse, which in turn suggests the beginning of a motive for Minnie Wright's crime. Hale finds it worthy of mention but does not regard it so highly that he presses the point, while Henderson waves the sentence, but Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find a deeper significance. They elaborate upon this basic issue throughout the remainder of the play as they discover clues to Mrs. Wright's psychology while in her kitchen, but the early foreshadowing of these troubles unifies the play thematically while showing the male disregard for such details in their investigation of the crime.
Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
Hale casually makes this statement from which the play takes its title when Mrs. Peters calls attention to what she regards as the significance of the exploded jars of fruit preserves. In doing so, he gently chides the women for lacking the common sense and mental focus to pay attention to the important things, but he suggests that the men should forgive them for their foibles because they are only women and thus deal every day in small, unimportant details. Furthermore, his words imply that because women deal in trifles, women must also be trifles. However, his patronizing tone is undermined throughout the play as the women ultimately outwit the men and prove their worth, and not coincidentally does Glaspell have the women draw together after he utters this sentence. Meanwhile, the men spend all their time looking for evidence because they have forgotten that evidence often consists of the little things - especially when no eyewitnesses are involved.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: No--it's not cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the homemaking instinct. MRS. HALE: Well, I don't know as Wright had, either.
The county attorney and Mrs. Hale represent opposing sides in the matter of understanding domestic felicity. On the one hand, Henderson assumes that females are solely responsible for the domestic realm and consequently concludes that any lack of cheer in the Wright farmhouse must result from Mrs. Wright's incompetence. Mrs. Hale resents Henderson's ideas because she recognizes that although domesticity has a physical aspect, the greater part comes from the emotional and mental state of the people in the household. In her mind, because John Wright lacked the ability to empathize with his wife and because he made her feel so lonely, he is the one truly responsible for the unhappiness in their household. Henderson keeps promising to return to the subject of the state of the Wrights' marriage, but he never does and thus never comes to understand her viewpoint.
Well, I don't think she did. Asking for an apron and her little shawl. Worrying about her fruit.
Prior to their discovery of the quilt, the birdcage, and eventually the canary, Mrs. Peters claims that she has no idea if Mrs. Wright actually committed the crime, but Mrs. Hale states her definite opinion that Mrs. Wright is innocent, with the implication that no one so focused on trifles such as her fruit preserves and her apron could be guilty. However, Mrs. Hale later proves to be incorrect, which leaves the question of how and why she made her error in thinking. Most likely, her assertion of Minnie Wright's innocence is based partly on loyalty to a friend and partly on her assumption that a concern with trifles is incompatible with a concern with larger problems. However, as Mrs. Hale herself shows when she and Mrs. Peters decide to hide the evidence by pretending to be interested in unimportant matters, taking an interest in smaller details can be a convenient way to hide one's true thoughts. Meanwhile, the faith that Mrs. Hale shows in proclaiming Minnie's innocence is later transferred into a determination to protect her from the law.
But, Mrs. Hale, the law is the law.
Mrs. Hale shows anger at the men and particularly at Henderson for what she regards as the sneakiness of using Mrs. Wright's own home as evidence against her, but Mrs. Peters defends the men in her assertion that "the law is the law." With these words, Mrs. Peters reveals her sense of obligation and duty that, as Henderson later notes, derives from her marriage to Henry Peters, the sheriff. She displays nervousness at the thought of Mrs. Wright being the murderer, precisely because that causes a dissonance between her desire to help Mrs. Wright and her desire to follow the law. Ultimately, however, she rejects the assumption that her moral compass must derive solely from her husband's chosen vocation, and she decides that protecting Mrs. Wright at the expense of the law is the option that most fully preserves her personal integrity.
I could've come. I stayed away because it weren't cheerful--and that's why I ought to have come.
As Mrs. Hale contemplates Minnie Wright's birdcage and speculates about the whereabouts of the bird, she develops a clearer picture of the Wrights' home life, and she begins to berate herself for negligence, for apathy. As she says, she never visited Minnie Wright because the house lacked a feeling of comfort and welcoming, but she now realizes that she had used the excuse of its cheerlessness to skimp on her duty to other women in general and to Mrs. Wright in particular. The hidden location of the Wright farmhouse made it simpler for Mrs. Hale to ignore the presence of such an unhappy place, but she sees now that her neglect may have contributed to the isolation that drove Mrs. Wright first to solace in a canary and eventually to her murder of her husband. Mrs. Peters tells her not to blame herself, but Mrs. Hale nonetheless sees that she must shoulder the burden of her own wrongdoing as well as that of Mrs. Wright's husband.
Yes--good; he didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him. (Shivers.) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.
In this quote, Mrs. Hale at first appears to agree with the sentiment of the local people that John Wright was a good man, and she initially substantiates this judgment by noting his good qualities. However, she subsequently undermines the assertion by speaking specifically of his main negative trait, his hard nature. Mrs. Hale's main sphere of experience is domestic, and as a result, she sees that Minnie Wright must have suffered terribly because of John Wright's cold nature. Her reference to a raw wind in turn connects to the cold of the weather outside the farmhouse, which broke Minnie's jars of preserves and which represents Minnie's mental and emotional environment. If Mrs. Hale has criticized herself for not having provided companionship to Minnie, then she doubly condemns John Wright for his abuse of his wife's emotions.
When I was a girl--my kitten--there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes--and before I could get there--(Covers her face an instant.) If they hadn't held me back, I would have-- (Catches herself, looks upstairs, where steps are heard, falters weakly.)--hurt him.
In Trifles, Glaspell often uses an innovative dramatic technique that employs mutual monologues, in which both Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale speak aloud but in conversation with herself rather than with the other woman. In this passage, Mrs. Peters whispers a revelation about her darkest thoughts as though she can barely stand to admit that they exist. In this moment, she comprehends the horror of the death of Mrs. Wright's canary, and realizes that, although she had previously tried to uphold the law, the law alone cannot deliver true justice - especially in this case, when it comes to John Wright's emotional abuse of his wife. She knows that she cannot let her husband hear her thoughts because he is the sheriff and hence bound to the law, but she acknowledges that she has experienced the desire for revenge. The quote is part of a mutual monologue; Mrs. Hale does not respond directly to her powerful admission but instead wonders to herself about the isolation of a life without children.
I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things--it's all just a different kind of the same thing.
Whereas Mrs. Peters struggles between her duty to the law and her duty to a fellow woman, Mrs. Hale's inner conflict is less a matter of choice and more a matter of gaining a new understanding of her own identity as a woman. This passage is the most explicit statement of her new gender consciousness, as she concludes that she should have known to help Minnie Wright earlier because of the commonality of the female experience. With these words, she explains to Mrs. Peters that although Minnie's life might have been more dire than their own comfortable existence, they still need to empathize with her and support her because they could have been in her place. She juxtaposes "close together" and "same things" with "far apart" and "a different kind" to show that, although they can believe that their lives are different, they must recognize that some aspects remain analogous.
COUNTY ATTORNEY (facetiously): Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to--what is it you call it, ladies! MRS. HALE (her hand against her pocket): We call it--knot it, Mr. Henderson.
The final lines of the play are a dialogue between Mrs. Hale and Henderson, the county attorney. His query unifies the play as it echoes similar questions from earlier sections. Mrs. Hale's line is not only a straightforward reply to a question that shows an ignorance of domestic issues, but also wordplay that can be interpreted in multiple manners. In one sense, when she says, "Knot it," she is referring to a technique for making quilts, but she may also be saying that she has knotted away Mrs. Wright's secret, that the women are now knotted together in a unified front to protect Mrs. Wright, or that the women are "not it" in a denial that any of them have broken the law. Furthermore, George Henderson's facetiousness and obvious disregard for the female intellect allows the women to hide away their knowledge without facing suspicion.
Trifles Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Trifles is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Many in the town considered John Wright a good man, but he was also a hard one, and the name "Wright" may also refer to her moral, if not legal, right to free herself from her own birdcage, albeit through murder rather than through the songbird's...