The Use of Symbols in Susan Glaspell’s Play Trifles

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In this beautiful piece of theatrical play, Trifles, written by Susan Glaspell in 1916, it is about a woman, Minnie Foster Wright who is accused of killing her husband, John Wright. This story is about a real-life tragedy, which Glaspell covered as a reporter while working for the Des Moines Daily News. A symbol is seen as a literary device which representing something much bigger and often is hidden at first glance so that the reader has to look and understand. When a writer uses symbol they are able to express more than one actions or objects using the same symbol. In trifles, Glaspell uses symbols such as the canary, the dead canary and the quilt to emphasize the meaning of this beautiful piece. Although based on a real-life murder, however, Susan Glaspell focus on the many symbols found in the play to create more depth: each of the symbols represents some hidden meaning and the symbols also create an important aspect which makes the reader reads between the life to fully understand the play. The little bird in the story is a symbolic representation of Minnie Foster’s life before becoming Mrs. Wright, as Mrs. Hale stated; She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively” when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that” oh, that was twenty years ago (Glaspell 544).

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This quote in the play helps the audience to understand how happy she once was before marrying Mr. Wright. If one was to break this quote, one would have come to an understanding that: the pretty clothes could refer to the bird pretty feathers, lively is something or person that is full of life, in this case, she is lively as a chipper bird, she used to sing in the choir just as a songbird all of that is proof that the bird is a representation of her life before. Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale added, She”come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and”fluttery. How” she”did”change (Glaspell 549), there is no other way to say in fact that the bird does represent Minnie Foster: she was sweet, a fluttery young woman who turned into a lonely depressed Mrs. Wright after years of emotional abuse and neglect by her husband. When the bird died, it symbolizes the death of who she was once before she married Mr. Wright. Another major symbol in the story is the quilt, Minnie’s quilt symbolizes her messy home life and her unhappiness. When she started sewing the quilt her stitches were precise, but as she continued they were all over the place as if she didn’t know what she was doing stated Mrs. Hale (Glaspell 553).

This is a sign of how frustrated and enraged she was, the final stroke for was when he killed her canary. When the canary died so did her personality. When the sheriff asked: have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it? We think, began the sheriff’s wife in a flurried voice, that she was going to” knot it” (Glaspell 549), by choosing to quilt it she would have chosen to live with emotional pain and neglect that John had put her through, instead by knotting the quilt she had decided to make the problem disappeared. A knot is a representation of a completed project, so knotting it means the end of John. The significance of the last symbolism is Mrs. Wright dead canary, which plays a very important in the story, as it symbolizes the missing piece of evidence that the lawmen were desperately looking for, the women had engaged in their own little “trifles” and find it by accident. While the ladies were at the house with the sheriff getting some of her things to take to her in prison, they had come across a quilt which Mrs. Wright had been working on, Mrs. Hale had suggested that Mrs. Peters gather it. “I wonder if her patches are in here” and her things, They turned to the sewing basket”( Glaspell 549) said Mrs. Hale: Here’s some red, said Mrs. Hale, bringing out a roll of cloth. Underneath that was a box. Here, maybe her scissors are in here” and her things” (Glaspell 549). Mrs. Peters opened the box and find something wrapped in a piece of silk. when opened they find the dead canary, whispered Mrs. Peter Look at it! Its neck” look at its neck!” (Glaspell 549) as if the bird’s neck has been broken: Somebody wrung its neck.

Suddenly Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters can guess what had happened, because Mrs. Peter recalls when she was a little girl how she felt when a boy killed her beloved kitten: my kitten” there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes” before I could get there” She covered her face an instant. If they hadn’t held me back I would have” she caught herself, looked upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly”hurt him” (Glaspell 550). The death of the dead canary must have caused Minnie to go over the edge. When the lawmen had returned she ladies hide the box under the quilt piece in the basket. They’ve decided not to provide this damning evidence, instead, they have decided to protect Minnie. This move proves their solidarity against men who cannot understand the difficulties women faces in this society.

In Susan Glaspell “trifles”symbolism plays an important role in the story as it helps the audience to comprehend the meaning of the symbols. Glaspell used a canary, a quilt, and a dead canary to symbolically explain what was going on in Mrs. Wright’s mind, how she was before she married Mr. Wright. The canary symbolizes her spirit and personality how she was as a bird herself, the quilt symbolized her life and her marriage, the choices she had to make as regards to her husband’s murder; and last the dead canary symbolize the missing piece of evidence which could serve motive as to why she killed her husband, and also show the solidarity of sisterhood. Glaspell used symbols to help illustrate how the emotional abuse infiltrate and neglect infiltrates on Mrs. Wright by her husband had slowly killed show she was. This story symbolizes how oppressed her life was under her husband domination.

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The Use of Symbols in Susan Glaspell's Play Trifles. (2019, Jul 03). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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