Trifles By Susan Glaspell Symbolism Essay Sample

For my english class I had to write an essay on Susan Glaspell's "Trifles". I was hoping you could edit it and tell me if I answered the question correctly, also I don't know if my conclusion is good enough. Any help would be great!!! Thank you!!

How is symbolism employed to establish and underscore the play's meaning?

Symbolism in Trifles

In Susan Glaspell's, "Trifles," symbolism is used to emphasize the meaning of the play. Glaspell writes of a woman who murdered her husband because he was to blame for her cold and lonely life. The women character's in the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, solve the murder, while the men, the county attorney and sheriff, wonder about trying to figure it out. Glaspell used symbolism as clues to the murderer's motive that only the women were able to figure out, and in turn kept the motive of the murderer a secret due to the bond of women.

One example of symbolism seen in the play is the assertion that Mrs. Wright was going to knot rather than quilt the patchwork quilt. At the end of the play the county attorney said to the sheriff, "Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to-what is it you call it, ladies?" (Glaspell 1300). Mrs. Hale replied, "We call it-knot it, Mr. Henderson," (Glaspell 1300). The ladies knew that Mrs. Wright killed her husband by tying a rope around his neck, but they weren't going to tell. Karen Alkalay-Gut stated, "This image conveys the sense of knotting the rope around the husband's neck: they have discovered the murderess. And they will 'knot' tell," (8). The women were not going to tell because, "The bond among the women is the essential knot," (Smith 179). This shows that the women solved the murder of who killed Mr. Wright, but were not going to tell because of the bond that they have with their fellow woman, Mrs. Wright.

Another example of symbolism was the dead canary and bird cage. As the women were gathering some of Mrs. Wright's things they discovered a bird cage with a broken door and no bird. They later find the bird in Mrs. Wright's sewing box neatly placed in silk with its neck broken. Mrs. Hale makes the relation of the bird to Mrs. Wright when she stated, "she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery," (Glaspell 1298). The canary was a substitute for children and it displaced the silence of the house. Alkalay-Gut stated that Mrs. Wright "understood her husband's action as a symbolic strangling of herself, his wife. It is not just because he killed the bird, but because she was a caged bird herself," (6). When the women found the bird, they realized that Mrs. Wright killed her husband because he prevented her from communicating with others. In a sense, by strangling the bird he strangled his wife. The women related the bird with Mrs. Wright and, in a sense, felt that Mr. Wright was the murderer for what he did to his wife.

The jar of cherries was another example of symbolism. When the men were going through the kitchen looking for evidence they came across Mrs. Wright's preserves that had frozen and gone bad. Later when the women were alone in the kitchen Mrs. Hale notices that there was one jar of cherries that were still good. The single intact jar of cherries, "symbolizes the one remaining secret, the motive to complete the prosecutor's case. Mrs. Wright stayed on the shelf, alone and unbefriended on the farm, until the coldness of her marriage, her life in general, broke apart," (Smith 175). This shows that Mrs. Wright's secrets burst from the pressure. She could no longer take living with Mr. Wright; she was too lonely and sad. The only people who came to understand this were the other women because of the female bond.

Symbolism was a key part to this short play. Glaspell used it throughout to show the bonding between the women. She used certain items that only the women could understand and relate to in order to exemplify female bonds. The men in the play didn't understand the jar of cherries or even notice the bird cage without a bird because, as Glaspell showed, the men don't think or notice the same things women do.

Works Cited

Alkalay-Gut, Karen. "Jury of Her Peers: The Importance of Trifles." Studies in Short Fiction 21 (Winter 1984): 1-9.
Glaspell, Susan. "Trifles." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 8th Ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Makowsky, Veronica. Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Smith, Beverly A. "Women's Work-Trifles? The Skill and Insights of Playwright Susan Glaspell." International Journal of Women's Studies 5 (March 1982): 172-84.


I think you've done a good job discussing the symbolism in the play. I do have a few suggestions for you.

In Susan Glaspell's, "Trifles," symbolism is used to emphasize the meaning of the play. - This statement may be just a little too general, perhaps stating the obvious. Perhaps you could be more specific about what you mean by "the meaning of the play."

The women characters in the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, solve the murder, while the men, the county attorney and sheriff, wonder about trying to figure it out. - never use an apostrophe to make a word plural.

there was one jar of cherries that was still good. - The subject is "jar"; the jar was...

Good work!



Susan Glaspell, an author of one-act play “Trifles” (1916), described the position of women in the twentieth-century American society through symbolism. An author argued that men restricted women rights and freedom; they strived to make their wives dependable. Among several symbols used by Susan Glaspell in her play, the most important one is definitely a bird.

A bird is used in reference to the main character of the play, Minnie Foster, who became Mrs. Wright after her marriage to John Wright. Mrs. Wright had a canary in the cage in their quiet farmhouse. The bird used to sing a lot, but Mr. Wright did not like this singing. There were no children in their family, and Minnie often felt lonely and miserable. That is why she bought a bird. She treated this bird as if it was her child, and she also liked to sing to a bird; it meant a lot to a woman who was very lonely and unhappy in her marriage. The birdcage in the play is the symbol of Minnie’s restricted freedom.  By using this symbol, the author compares Minnie with a bird trapped in a “cage” of her marriage. 

Once the dead bird wrapped in silk was found in Mrs. Wright’s sewing basket. There is no direct indication of who did this to the bird, but it is quite obvious that only Mr. Wright could do this to a canary since he disliked its singing. His wife “was in the choir in her younger years and others enjoyed her voice”. With the death of her bird, Minnie felt like she had lost a part of herself and her voice. This was a turning point of the entire play. From this moment, Minnie’s transformation from a victim of a marriage into a free woman began. “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”. It is obvious that marriage changed Mrs. Wright’s character, but she could not accept this change and at the end killed her husband in a pursuit of freedom.

Thus, a bird in the play “Trifles” symbolizes Mrs. Wright, her sweet and friendly character before the changes caused by unhappy marriage. The bird could be also a symbol of Minnie’s unborn children that she could devote all her love and caring to if she had them. When her husband killed a bird, he obviously killed a lot more than just his wife’s singing. Finally, Minnie realized that she was no longer willing to live in the birdcage and paid extremely high price for the desired freedom.

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