The play Trifles was written by Muriel Gordon and Alice Terry in the early 1900s before the modern feminist movement began. The use of symbolism allows audience members to view events from Minnie Wright’s perspective and determine why she murdered her spouse through their own eyes. Three key symbols used by Glaspell in the play to offer insight into Minnie and John Wright include the bird, a quilt, and names such as “The Man,” “The Woman,” and “The Bird.”
In Trifles, Glaspell employs character names as a kind of symbolism. For example, Minnie’s name has two meanings: tiny or reduced (that was descriptive of her relationship with her spouse), and Minnie is diminutive. The husband’s names are also significant in the tale. Mrs. Terrill and Mrs. Peters are not even given first names. On page 324, the county attorney implies that Mrs. Peters is married to the law by referring to her as Mrs. Hale’s wife. The image of Minnie Foster is the greatest illustration of symbolism employing names.
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I’m told that before she became Minnie Foster, she used to be lively. Mrs. Hale remarks about her on page 319. The image of Minnie Foster is shown to the audience as an illustration of how John Wright her husband had deprived her of her personality and uniqueness by denying her access to education. This sheds light on the play’s male dominance theme.
Another method in which Glaspell illustrates Mrs. Wright’s perspective is through the use of symbolism and imagery. Mrs. Hale compares Minnie to a bird, calling her charming and lovely, but flighty (p 322). When the women discover the broken cage, they do not recognize its Importance until they discover the dead bird inside it.
The blackbird is imprisoned just as Minnie was trapped in an abusive relationship with John. As he did with Minnie, John strangles the bird to death. When John murdered the bird, he snapped her last lifeline as well. The broken cage indicates Mininnie’s liberation from John, and when she killed him, so did her cage.
The quilt was the last important symbol in Trifles, which represented Minnie’s life. She began by collecting the pieces and sewing them together into a beautiful, organized quilt. However, the block she was working on was all over the place, as if she didn’t know what she was doing, according to Mrs. Hale on page 321.
John’s knife killed the bird, eliminating the last bit of self-expression for Minnie. She was furious and bewildered. Is it possible that Min’s niece will quilt or knot the quilt? (320) By quilting the blanket, she would have chosen to endure John’s abuse because she could not let go of it; by tying the quilt, she chose to remove it.
In Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles, symbolism is used to assist the audience in determining why Mrs. Wright killed her husband. Minnie Wright symbolically represented what was going on in her mind and what drove her to murder her spouse using characters’ names, a bird, and a quilt. The names of the characters aided the audience in comprehending not just male dominance but also the dominance that existed at home with the Wrights.
The bird was a metaphor for Minnie’s character and disposition, as well as the repression and literal murder it endured; and, last but not least, the quilt symbolized Minnie’s life, as well as her decisions in response to her husband’s assassination. This was a fantastic method to engage the audience into the play, with symbolism adding an intriguing layer of complexity.
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