Susan Glaspells Trifles is a play about a real life murder case that uses
symbolism to help bring it to a close. It is easy to see that Mr. and Mrs. Wright live
in a society that is cut off from the outside world and also strongly separated by
gender. Three of the key symbols in Glaspells play are a simple bird cage, a quilt,
and isolationism. Anna Uong of Virginia Tech and Karen Shelton of JSRCC share
these same ideas on symbolism. These three symbols are the main clues that help
the reader decide who killed Mr. Wright.
The bird cage that was found is one of the most profound symbols in the
story. Mrs. Hale describes Minnie as, kind of like a bird herself, real sweet and
pretty but kind of timid and fluttery(841). The bird and Minnie are similar because
they are both caged in.When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find the broken birdcage,
they think nothing of it until they discover the bird. He was found wrapped in a
cloth inside of a small box, with his neck wrung. Mrs. Wright wrapped the dead
bird in a silk cloth and placed it inside a fancy box; this symbolises her cherishing of
her past life.(Uong, 1) When John strangles the life out of Minnies bird, he also
strangles the life out of Minnie. The broken birdcage that was found represents
Minnies liberation from John. Just like the bird, Minnie has now freed herself from
The second symbol that ties the story together is the quilt, which was
symbolic of Minnies life. The quilt that Minnie was working on at the time of her
husbands death is almost perfect, except for the most recently sewn block. It is said
to be All over the place as if she didnt know what she was about, states Mrs.
Hale(840). This is another clue into how enraged and flustered Minnie was.
Minnies last straw was when John killed her bird. When the bird died, so did
Minnies personality. After that murder, Minnie was enraged, confused, and didnt
know what to do. Mrs. Hale wondered if she was goin to quilt it or knot it(840).
By quilting the blanket, she would have chosen to endure the pain that John was
putting her through, but by knotting the quilt she chose to eliminate it. Just as a knot
represents a finishing or a completion of a project, it also was an end to John. The
weaving of the quilt also symbolises the building up of the marriage and then the end
of it. The quilt started out as a beautiful piece of art and was brought to a close by a
couple of sloppy stitches and knots(Uong). Just like the Wrights marriage, the
quilt was beautiful until the end where everything was simply a mess.
Isolationism also plays a very important role in the story. The Wrights
farmhouse is located in a hallow, in the woods. This sets her in a secluded place
away from most civilisation. The Wrights didnt even have a phone in their house
to be able to call anyone. Mr. Hale came to talk to Mr. Wright about a phone a few
times but, he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway…(Glaspell, p.835).
This is an example of how Mr. Wright did not want him or his wife to have regular
contact with anyone in town, which is another part of John sheltering Minnie and not
letting her live her life. This is why Minnies bird was so important to her. It was
the only normality to the outside world she had, and Mr. Wright had taken that away
from her(Shelton). When John finally killed the bird, he also killed a part of
Symbolism plays a big role in Susan Glaspells Trifles. Symbolism is what
helps the reader decipher who killed Mr. Wright. Glaspell uses a dead bird with its
cage, a quilt, and isolationism to create a motive in the mind of the reader. The bird
symbolised Minnie herself and how she was suppressed and literally murdered. The
quilt symbolised Minnies life and her choices about her husband; and finally the
isolationism of Minnie gives her a good motive and reason to want to be free from
her husband. Glaspells use of symbolism gets the reader involved in the play and
requires the reader to piece together this puzzle of a murder. This play has lots of
symbolism in it which allows the reader to imagine the story in any way that they
would like to. This story would be wonderful to teach in any classroom because its
a good story and has some good meanings to it.