Trifles Essay Example: Irony


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Irony in Trifles and a Small Victory on Patriarchy

Trifles Essay: Introduction

Founder of the famous Provincetown Players with her husband, Susan Glaspell, first performed her most famous play, Trifles, in 1916. Although critics recognized the importance of the play for gender politics much later than its initial performance, its current relevance combined with Glaspell’s mysterious and ironic language to criticize the gender relations confirmed the play’s timeless significance by feminist circles. In a patriarchal society, women are seen as inferior for caring about little details that are of no importance, called trifles. The play criticizes patriarchy and society’s expectations of women through irony in the title and symbolism in the play and sheds light on the “problem that has no name,” which will be mentioned by Betty Friedan almost fifty years later after the play’s first performance.

Body Paragraphs

Trifles revolves around the murder case of John Wright, and throughout the play, authoritative male characters try to find pieces of evidence to pin the murder on the wife, Minnie. Meanwhile, the men’s two wives join them, at first glance, to explain what had been witnessed that day, but it turns out their role in the play is more fundamental than it seems. The two women unravel the mysterious murder’s reasons through solid pieces of evidence during what the men consider as dealing with “trifles.” The title plays a crucial ironic role as the men struggle to find any evidence or motive while belittling women who concern themselves with little details, who, in fact, solve the case independently. Glaspell humorously criticizes the male-dominated patriarchal society and shows the importance of those “trifles.” Throughout the play, the men make a fool of themselves, and Glaspell portrays this through their words and gestures. Men constantly chuckle or laugh at women’s worries and lose their seriousness around them as they are not to be taken seriously in the society of the era. Nonetheless, the women shatter society's expectations by solving the case and Minnie’s motives and decide to keep it to themselves as they felt empathy for the wife.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find out Minnie’s motive to kill her husband with the help of little details that eventually give away the sadness and loneliness of the wife in a house with no child, company, and assumably an emotionally unavailable husband. Her half messy kitchen, the frozen fruit that she cares about, a dirty towel that men shame the wife about, and an ill-formed unfinished quilt make the women suspicious that something is wrong with the household. However, the revelation of the birdcage and the dead bird becomes the eventual giveaway that the wife killed her husband, and her motive was the brutal murder of her only companion in the house. Glaspell uses bird and cage symbolism to expose male domination in society and how women are trapped in a cage in which their individuality is limited to the domestic sphere as “homemakers.” Glaspell’s symbolic approach shares parallelism with Henrik Ibsen’s famous play, A Doll’s House.

Ibsen also uses bird symbolism to expose this entrapment as Nora’s husband keeps calling her “dove” or “songbird.” The bird symbolism is vital in portraying that women are stripped away from their individuality to be degraded into creatures that need protection and must be kept in houses where they assume the role of caregivers and homemakers. Thus, as the women in the play solve the brutal murder of Minnie’s bird, not only do they become sure of the murderer, but also they connect with her reasons to do, which is revealed through another symbolism: Minnie’s unfinished quilt. Throughout the play, the men’s superior behaviors towards the women are shown as they mock the women for wondering whether Minnie would quilt it or knot it. As it is accepted as a trivial matter for men, it symbolizes patriarchy’s perspective on women’s place in society. Nevertheless, when the women solve the case, they ironically answer the men that the answer is to knot it, which is a subtle and clever reference to John Wright’s death with a rope around his neck.

Trifles Essay: Conclusion

Trifles proves itself to be a feminist work in many ways. The play successfully criticizes the patriarchal society and its expectations of women, as Glaspell uses irony in the title and symbolisms in the play, and sheds light on Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name,” almost fifty years before its publication. In that sense, the play proves itself an essential part of feminist theater and announces that “trifles” may be more important than its name suggests.


Bradford, Wade. “About the Life of ‘Trifles’ Playwright Susan Glaspell.” ThoughtCo,

Glaspell, Susan. “Plays.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of PLAYS by SUSAN GLASPELL.,

Ozieblo, Barbara. “About Susan Glaspell.” The International Susan Glaspell Society,

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Zendaya Kane
Zendaya Kane
Content Lead at Tamara Research. Major in Advertising, loves working.

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