Glaspell: Trifles Guide Questions
1. As Lewis Hale's narrative suggests, the murder of John Wright triggers all of the remaining action of the play. If Wright's death is so central to the story, why doesn't Glaspell open the play with a scene depicting his murder or one depicting Hale's discovery of the body?
2. Why do the women go to so much trouble to hide the evidence from the county attorney? What explains Mrs. Peters' sudden change of allegiance?
3. If Trifles is about the deep social and emotional conflict between men and women, is there a winner at the end of the play? If so, who is it? If not, what message does that convey?
4. How does Glaspell establish the division between the men’s view of things and the women’s view? What is the difference between the two?
5. Note that two of the three men have official titles (Sheriff and County Attorney). Is this a commentary here on the ways in which social roles inhibit the exercise of individual sensibility and conscience? What do the official titles, as opposed to the women’s titles—“Mrs.”—suggest about power relations between the sexes.
6. What is the significance of the play’s title?
7. The play contains a number of unusual terms. What is meant by the following? a, party telephone b. roller towels c. red up d. pleating e. cupboard f. Ladies Aid g. tippet h. close (describing Wright)
8. What is the significance of Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale moving “a little closer together” when the men speak critically of Minnie Wright?
9. Compare the positions of the men and women at the beginning and end of the play. How are their relative positions of dramatic significance?
10. What is the thematic and symbolic significance of the dead bird? Why is it significant that the bird is a canary?
11. What does the play suggest about the relation between laws and justice? Is the choice that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale make the right choice?
12. Why does the county attorney prefer to discuss the details of evidence upstairs and out of hearing of the women (and the audience)? What significance is there in Glaspell's physical placement of the men's and women's actions?
13. Trifles was written and produced at the height of the women suffrage movement, just a couple of years before women won the right to vote in 1920. Women at the time also could not serve on juries in all but four states, an inequity emphasized by the ironic title of the short-story version of this play, "A Jury of Her Peers." Can you find other examples in the play where the men and the women read evidence differently. Whose interpretations are more nuanced and thoughtful? What argument(s) about male and female judgment and decision-making abilities does Glaspell seem to be making?