The Unhappy Lives of the Women in the Play Trifles by Susan Glaspell
In the play Trifles, Mrs. Wright’s joy for singing was diminished by her husband’s selfish personality; her life before marriage completely forgotten and it slowly destroyed her. Mrs. Wright’s actions were that of someone who had been shut down since her marriage started, not unlike Mrs. Mallard, who felt burdened by being latched to Mr. Mallard for the rest of her life. However, one of these women had enough of their husband and killed them.
Trifles opens with five people enter the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. Mr. Hale explains how he came to the house to ask John Wright about his interest sharing the cost of a phone line, and speaks to Mrs. Wright, who was in her rocker. He asks to speak with her husband, to which Mrs. Wright replies that he cannot speak with him because he is dead. Mr. Hale goes upstairs to investigate and finds Mr. Wright hanging from the ceiling. After making a remark about the housekeeping, “here’s a nice mess.” (Meyer, p. 1388), the court attorney ushers the men upstairs to the crime scene.
While everyone is still in the kitchen, the women notice Mrs. Mallards canned fruits had frozen due to the cold winter and make a fuss so the sheriff makes a remark, “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.” (Meyer, p. 1388) While the men are upstairs the women are left downstairs to themselves. They decide to bring Mrs. Wright her quilting squares so she has something to do along with the clothes and apron she had asked for. They go to pick up Mrs. Wright’s sewing basket and find a dead bird in a little box and they come to terms with what happened.
As they are talking, the men start coming downstairs and the women decide they are making too much of a fuss over a dead bird so they hide it. The county attorney says they have figured out everything other than a motive. When the men leave the room to check one last thing, the women look at each other again and Mrs. Peters makes an attempt to hide the box that is a makeshift coffin for the dead bird in the bag of quilting supplies she is planning on taking to Mrs. Wright, but it does not fit so well and Mrs. Hale decides to take and hide the box in her coat pocket.
What the story alludes is that Mrs. Wright took in a pet bird that sung beautifully because it reminded her about herself before her marriage. But her husband, Mr. Wright, got very annoyed by the birds constant chirping and wrung its neck, killing it. The bird is a very good symbol that speaks volumes to me as a reader. The bird she kept is a symbol for herself, kept in a cage by her husband. So when her husband killed her bird, he killed the last bit of her sanity as well. Which was the last straw for Mrs. Wright, who is now a shell of who she used to be, so she hung him in his sleep. In the play, Mrs. Peters, who previously stated that she did not grow up in the area, said “I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang.” (Meyer, p. 1394)
In Chopin’s “The Story of the Hour”, Mrs. Mallard hears from her sister and a friend that her husband has died on his way home from work in a train wreck. At first she is really upset and is throwing herself into her sister’s arms sobbing but once the grief passes she goes into her room to be alone. While there, she sulks for a while then realizes she no longer has to bend to anyone’s will, but her own and she starts to feel better. “The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.” (Meyer, pp. 15-16)
While alone with her newfound happiness she doesn’t realize how much time has passed and her sister starts knocking and banging on her bedroom door. Her sister is begging to be let into her sister’s room in fear that her sister might do something to harm herself. After Mrs. Mallard comes down from her cloud of freedom she gets up and goes to the door to open it. She walks down the stairs as Mr. Mallard, who was not in the train wreck, walks through the front door of his house to see Richard, the friend, and his wife as she collapses and dies at the sight of her husband.
Mrs. Mallard was no longer in love with her husband but the time period was not kind to divorced women and it was easier to stay married until one of them had died then to divorce. So when she heard the news of her husband’s death, she grieved for the man she knew loved her unconditionally but then rejoiced at the fact that she now was free to do as she pleased.
Between Trifles and “The Story of the Hour”, both wive’s feel trapped by their husbands will that they cannot be who they want to be. With the death of both their husband’s, they were both free to be themselves again without worrying that someone who has power over them will keep them from it. In Trifles, Glaspell used a bird that was taken in as a pet as a symbol for Mrs. Wright. Her husband kept her in a cage and she became so empty she would no longer sing. With “The Story of the Hour” the symbol used is a window. As she realizes what freedoms she knows has she opens her window and breathes in the fresh air, her “elixir of life” as Chopin puts it. She breaks free of her “cage” in a sense just like Mrs. Wright does.
The contrasts between the two stories are significant as well. In Trifles, Mrs. Wright murdered her husband to gain freedom from him and at the end of the story she was in jail. Whether they let her go based on the fact that there is no motive found by the county attorney it was left unsaid.
When Mr. Hale came to speak with her husband, she calmly, with no emotion, explained he was unable to talk to Mr. Hale because he was dead. “Well, I was surprised; she didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to set down, but just sat there, not even looking at me, so I said, ‘I want to see John.’ And then she laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh. I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said a little sharp: ‘Can’t I see John?’ ‘No’, she says, kind o’ dull like. ‘Ain’t he home?’ says I. ‘Yes’, says she, ‘he’s home’. ‘Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience. “Cause he’s dead’, says she.” (Meyer, p. 1387) She didn’t show remorse about her husband being dead or any sadness for him no longer being alive. However, after Mr. Hale ran to get the coroner, he was waiting with her and she did seem scared for a few minutes.
In “The Story of the Hour”, Mrs. Mallard was at home waiting for her husband to come home from work and heard that he died in a train wreck, she didn’t cause the wreck it was just an accident on the tracks, and she showed grief and cried for an untold amount of time. But Mrs. Mallard, despite being happy about her newfound freedom came to the realization that she was sad as well as happy. “She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead.” (Meyer, p. 16)
So when she came down the stairs with her sister and saw her husband, those dreams of freedom just shattered and so did her spirit. The medical examiner who came said she died of heart disease and based on reading closely, it is easy to assume she was already close to death and the sudden grief, than happiness then to see her husband probably acted as a catalyst and her heart couldn’t take the sudden emotions anymore.
The two stories both had death and grief but also had the gain and loss of freedom. Both women in the stories were trapped in marriages that were not necessarily considered happy. They both gained a little bit of freedom through the stories however, one ended in a jail cell and the other ended with Mrs. Mallard gaining the ultimate freedom of all: death.