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Characterize John Wright

Question: Characterize John Wright in order to figure out why his wife killed him. That is, the worse he is, the more justified she is in killing him. For example, was he verbally, physically, or sexually abusive to Minnie? Was he the opposite--cold, absent, withdrawn? What are the clues?

Breaking the Silence

From: Shirah Pope - JSR - Eng. 112
Date: 1/27/99
Time: 1:43:15 PM


Just from listening to Mr. Hale at the beginning of the play, it seemed as though Mr. Wright was a simple, conservative man. He shrugged off Mr. Hale's idea about getting a telephone line hooked up in their area by saying, "folks talked too much anyway." That statement not only revealed that Mr. Wright was used to a simple way of living, but also showed that he obviously did not like socializing very much.

The "lonesome looking poplar trees" surrounding the outside of the Wright's hollowed home reflected Mr. Wright's withdrawn, melancholy demeanor. Unfortunately, his demeanor lasted well over 20 years, and overtook his wife's cheerful spirit as time had passed. I imagine Minnie felt depressed and lonely because she no longer was able to sing in the choir, be around cheerful people, and wear pretty clothes. Mr. Wright's physical and mental isolation of Minnie took all of that away. Mostly everything she had now, including her clothes, chair and stove, were old, tattered and broken down. Although Mr. Wright may have been "a good man that didn't drink, paid his bills and kept his word", he was also hard and cold, because he was inconsiderate of his wife's basic needs.

Because Minnie already suffered mental anguish from being in solitude for so many years, when Mr. Wright wrung her bird's neck, she realized he was perpetuating her isolation. That was the final straw for Minnie. When that happened, Minnie made a decision to do to John what he had figuratively done to her for 20 years, as well as repay him for what he had done to her bird. In essence, she skillfully and quietly choked the life out of John, just as he had undoubtedly, slowly choked the life out of her throughout the years without her noticing.

By John Wright being so simple, old fashioned, and painstakingly quiet, he not only isolated himself, but isolated Minnie as well. Her justification for killing her husband was the only way she probably felt she could break free. Now that John was dead, Minnie would not have to worry about feeling as if she was caged any longer.

To Kill or Not to Kill

From: Jeff Thomasson JSR
Date: 1/27/99
Time: 9:21:34 PM


John Wright was, I believe, a very estranged man--the type who like to keep his wife to himself and would chain her up in the back yard if possible. 

I noticed some symbolism between her and the bird: it was once so beautiful and sang a beautiful song as did she, however, now they were both dead, the bird slightly more permanently. 

Was she justified in killing him? I am not sure. My belief in murder is that you should only kill if your life is being directly threatened; even if he was abusive either sexually or mentally, I think there should have been a better way for her to get back. Maybe she could chain him to the bed while he was asleep and run away.  

I believe John Wright was not what the American Psychological Association would call sane; however, I do not think his murder was justified even if he was an evil man.

Summary of the Two Responses Above

From: Shirah Pope - JSRCC
Date: 2/3/99
Time: 2:02:09 PM


bulletMy review of the responses somewhat shows a likeness in the characterization of John Wright with regard to him being an isolated, estranged man. 
bulletSo far, both of us saw the bird as symbolic of the way Minnie's life was, and how it figuratively turned out to be in the end. 


bulletMy summary and Jeff's differ slightly in that Jeff thought Mr. Wright was insane. I, on the other hand, do not believe he was insane, but I do believe he was cruel, or else he would not secluded his wife in such a manner, or wrung her bird's neck. 
bulletThe two responses also differ in opinion as to whether or not Minnie was justified in killing Mr. Wright. Although she was not physically abused or dead, John Wright psychologically abused Minnie for 20 years, and then physically killed the one thing that probably kept her sane. I see justification for Minnie killing John because of the mental abuse she endured throughout their married life, although Jeff did not. Jeff felt Minnie could have chosen another way to get out of her situation, but in Minnie's eyes, I don't believe she felt she had any other option.

A Modest Proposal

From: Jeff Thomasson JSRCC
Date: 2/3/99
Time: 10:22:07 PM


We never were told that Mr. Wright killed the bird, and from what I got out of the story he wasn't a cruel man, only cold and harsh. It  takes a pretty tough person to strangle a bird--one who had maybe gone off the deep end. Maybe Minnie finally had enough, her husband telling her what to do and what not to do.  With the bird sitting in its little cage singing away, perhaps she killed the bird out of jealously, and killed her husband out of rage. 

The opening of the story tells how she was just sitting in her rocking chair stitching. After killing a man would a person with all of their facets connected really be stitching a quilt? Did he finally just push her over the brink?

Minnie Needs More Motive

From: Shirah Pope - JSRCC
Date: 2/4/99
Time: 1:18:33 PM


Jeff, you have made some good points. The story clearly shows that John Wright was cold and harsh, but does not portray him as being cruel. That was a description that I put on him myself because of the way he isolated his wife for so many years, which caused her to change so drastically. I called him cruel because he didn't seem to care about the things she used the most (chair, stove, worn out clothes). Another word I could use to describe John Wright's behavior toward Minnie is compassionless, basically for the reasons I described above.

Now, I must admit, Minnie was a little "off her rocker" when Mr. Hale showed up at her house that morning. She had to be distraught to have killed her husband and then continue to knit and prepare bread as normal like everything was O.K.

It is very possible that she could have killed the bird out of jealousy, but I don't think so. I never thought of it that way before, I guess because of some the other circumstantial evidence that was found in the kitchen that pointed toward Minnie. I think John killed the bird because it was singing too much (unwanted noise), and because John was obsessively quiet, the bird had to go.

As far as Minnie goes, I see it this way. Why, after all those years, would she just "snap" all of a sudden and kill him? She may not have liked who or what John had made her become (isolated and depressed), but she was used to being that way. What could have set her off so much that day to kill him now after all that time? He had to kill the bird - which triggered her to kill him. 

[In addition, the bird's method of dying determined John's.  He apparently wrung the canary's neck with the efficient skill of someone who had wrung the necks of a few chickens for dinner in his day.  Had Minnie simply snapped, she could have shot John with the gun on the premises. --Ed.  See also the comment from California right below about this issue.]

Stingy with Joy

From: Madeleine Eaton, USC-Redlands
Date: 3/6/99
Time: 6:30:58 PM


Hi, I'm a freshman at the University of Redlands in So. California,  and I'm including Trifles (along with 4 other plays) in my final portfolio for Theatrical Manuscript Analysis class.

Shirah, you made some wonderful points in this post, some of which I had completely overlooked. We disagree, however, about John's motive for killing the bird. Of course the unwanted noise was probably a factor, but I think the main reason he killed the bird was because it was the one thing that prevented Minnie from being only a possession of her husband's and having no life of her own.

When Mrs. Hale says something to the effect of "he quieted that bird just like he quieted her," I don't think she's suggesting a motive, but merely making an observation that Glaspell wanted the audience to make, too. No, killing the bird was to John just one more thing he had to do to sever completely any ties to happiness his wife still had. He was as stingy with joy as he was with money.

John Wright's Jealousy

From: Jean Preddy JSRCC
Date: 2/18/99
Time: 4:35:02 PM


I disagree with Jeff, because Minnie was not working on her quilt as she rocked [when Mr. Hale discovered her]. She was sort of nervously pleating her apron, as if she was beside herself. She was in a state of shock. She didn't know what was what.

It is doubtful, based upon her character (as described by Mrs. Hale) that she killed the bird. It seems quite obvious [to Mrs. Hale] that the bird was killed by John. Perhaps the sound of a bird singing happily upset him to the point of shutting it up by wringing its neck. He seemed to be opposed to anything that would bring pleasure for his wife. If anyone was jealous, it was John who was jealous of the bird - the one thing Minnie could nurture.

Let's not Overgeneralize; John Wright Was an Extreme!

From: Roy
Date: 8/20/00
Time: 9:56:34 PM


Yes, I believe in the eyes of Minnie she felt that the only way to get out of her being "caged" in by Mr. Wright was to suck the life out of him. In my eyes, I think that perhaps the damaged birdcage, with the latch broken, symbolizes the attempt to break free from Wright and fly to freedom.

I disagree with the belief that women in early America were basically caged in by their husbands. While I roll my eyes at the feminism perpetuated throughout this play, it is an interesting work, and I do believe Mr. Wright did neglect [and control mercilessly] his wife based on the story. I refuse to paint this as how America was though a century ago.  Many husbands did care for their wives and didn't cage them in. It is time revisionist history ended [with a more balanced view].

Cold Is as Cold Does

From: Drew Armstrong
Date: 2/3/99
Time: 11:48:02 PM


Although I feel Wright was a cold and introverted man, I don't feel his wife was justified in killing him. Yes, he did "deprive" her of social connection, but that was one of the choices she made in selecting him as a husband. I'm sure she knew the man as someone who shied away from social interaction, and that he was a plain man who lived only for the daytime.

[This "chicken and egg" question also came up in Summer, 2002, class.  Was John cold because

  1. that's the way he's always been, to some degree
  2. he couldn't sire children, and their marriage lost hope
  3. she couldn't bear children, so he became reticent and sullen

A related "chicken and egg" question has to do with the childlessness of the couple:

  1. Was John so cold that he never even touched his wife?
  2. Was John so cold that Minnie practiced birth control so that she wouldn't have a child to be raised in such an environment?
  3. Did John become cold in reaction to the inability of the couple to make a child?--Ed. ehibbison@jsr.vccs.edu ]

She was indeed young and vibrant before, but as with most everyone, time erodes the body and mind, and she could have just as easily been taking out a frustration she had with her own deterioration, when Wright's act of killing her canary set her off.

The point is that she lacked love, either by her own coldness tempered by years of loneliness or because of Wright's cold demeanor.

Unanswered Questions

From: Joanne C. Snook
Date: 6/11/99
Time: 7:27:41 PM


Drew, I do agree with your response about John Wright being a cold and introverted man. But why? Was this due to his upbringing? Was there something in his past that made him like this?

As the story unfolded, Mrs. Hale said that Mrs. Wright used to be a very vibrant young lady, full of life. Did he become estranged from her because of the fact that something happened between them? Yes, it did seem like he was always like this, and she made the mistake in marrying him.

Did she have a right to murder him? No. She did endure endless days and nights of silence and abuse. However, I do believe she snapped after John killed the one thing that did keep her sane, the bird.

But what triggered him to do so? Was it pain, anger or something she did? So many questions left untold in this tale.

I do believe she should have taken a different approach in seeking her revenge on her own husband. There must have been years of abuse, though, both mentally and physically in this instance.

What Happened to This Marriage?

From: Traci Parsley
Date: 1/19/00
Time: 9:32:18 PM


I have read some of the characterizations from previous classes on John Wright. It's really interesting how people react to the story & how everyone interprets things differently. 

Murdered Bird: As I read "Trifles" there wasn't a doubt in my mind that Mrs. Wright was the one who killed the bird. It never crossed my mind that Mr. Wright could have done it. Looking at it from others' perspective gives new insight.

Telephone: The conclusion that I came to was that John Wright was a hard worker, but kept to himself. Maybe he didn't like the town gossip & didn't want to be involved in that. That could explain his reply to Mr. Hale about a party line - "people talk too much anyway."

The Early Years: I think Mr. Wright was attracted to Minnie Foster in the early days because she was so full of life. That was probably something missing in his upbringing, that in the end he couldn't change. Mr. Wright's childhood could have been too much to overcome & he ended up resenting his wife for the way she was. He could have been jealous of her & grew to resent her cheerfulness. As he became more set in his ways, they grew apart more & Mrs. Wright ended up changing & hating him for what she had become.

Minnie's Suppressed Emotions: It could have been in those days that the wife knew her duties & the man, at any cost, was in charge. Instead of communicating the feelings that were going on, Mrs. Wright suppressed them and had to let out her anger - by killing the bird. This was something she could have control over. In the end, for her own sanity she killed her husband to free her from what he had made her become.

Gender and "Trifles"

From: Adrienne Lee, University of South Alabama
Date: 1/14/00
Time: 12:43:01 PM


I have just finished studying Trifles in a Gender & Literature course. I believe John killed the canary because it was just another "trifle" to him as were all his wife's interests. The men investigating the murder call Minnie Wright a bad housekeeper, but if they had noticed the "trifles" the way the women did, they would have seen she was normally a very good housekeeper. This would have provided evidence that something had upset he--the half-wiped table, the bad sewing on the quilt.

Because they disregard women and their interests, they can find no motivation for the murder. Because John Wright disregarded his wife and her interests, he lost his life. Minnie wasn't killing John because he killed her canary. She was killing him because he had killed her. I think most women who are married can relate to this story to an extent. Women lose a lot of who they are and their interests in caring for men and children.

[John passes neglect and gets into targeted controlling--withholding money for Minnie to make dresses for herself that weren't shabby, for instance, so that she could help the other ladies decorate the church. This makes him different in kind from the merely sarcastic and blind cardboard men who investigate John's murder so ineffectually.  The wives we see go along with their husbands to the Wrights' house because they have neighborly duties to perform to gather items for Minnie.  This indicates a sort of partnership in these marriages that was woefully absent from the Wrights'; so the men are not all of one piece.

Since our society has turned from an agrarian economy, and especially since the Reagan era, something over 60% of households have both spouses working outside the home just to make ends meet.  In many cases, both spouses are also working in the home to share household and child-rearing responsibilities--or both spouses are skipping both of those sets of responsibilities in some homes. 

Any reading of this play should get beyond the appeal to stereotype and recognize the unique and extreme conflict in the Wrights' household.  After all, it's about murder, which is not, thank goodness, the norm for spouses who cannot accommodate each other.-Ed.]

Summary of Comments So Far

From: Barbara Bendle JSRCC
Date: 6/16/99
Time: 12:10:18 AM


I think that most of the replies posted here all tend to agree that Mr. Wright was a cold-hearted introvert and that the canary was symbolic of Mrs. Wright's desire to "sing". However, perhaps we have been led to this conclusion by the author with the references made to the men laughing about the women worrying about trifles.

Drew Armstrong brought up some valid points. Mrs. Wright obviously made poor judgment in her choice of a mate, and it was a choice. He also hinted at the fact that perhaps Mrs. Wright had also been cold due to the many years of loneliness.

The Good John Wright vs. the Scary One

From: Todd Kildoo JSRCC
Date: 9/8/99
Time: 12:55:48 PM


In the way that the rest of the town saw him he was a good man. He didn't drink, steal, etc.. They did not have to live with him the way Minnie did. I agree that he probably verbally abused her and prevented her from being outgoing anymore. He sure did seem to be cold and withdrawn. 

Do you think it might have been scary living with this sort of man? From the way we assume he killed the bird it appears that he was prone to fits of rage. He would be a scary man to be around--quiet one minute and yelling and possibly throwing things the next.

The Public vs. the Private John Wright

From: Theresa Arnold
Date: 9/8/99
Time: 8:30:34 PM


At home, John is a cold-hearted controlling man. He was withdrawn and kept his wife withdrawn also.  In the town, John seems to be "a good man."

First of all, I think we have to look at the definition of a good man. Webster gives the definition of a good man as "an adult male of a favorable character or tendency." Within the first couple pages of the story, Mr. Hale talks about John. He speaks of a party telephone. He was going to the Wright's house to talk about it in front of Mrs. Wright. John had turned him down before, but he thought that if he mentioned it in front of his wife, she may want to do it. Then Mr. Hale goes on to mention that he didn't really know "as what his wife wanted made much difference to John."

I would think that a "good man" would at least be considerate to the woman he is spending his life with. If he couldn't be, then is he really was a good man?  So even his public image is cold and mean-spirited.

A Controlling Man

From: Jessica Kennamer, JSRCC
Date: 9/16/99
Time: 6:44:42 PM


I believe that John Wright was a very controlling man. I think that he might have been physically abusive towards his wife at some point in the relationship, but that the abuse was mostly verbal. He was very cold towards her.

I think that what drove her to kill him was not only the abuse, but also the absence of any type of communication or attention. The marriage was based on control. Mr. Hale even states that it didn't matter much to John what Mrs. Wright wanted.

I think that most people who knew the Wrights', knew what was going on but did not what to get involved. That would explain why even her neighbor Mrs. Hale, didn't go to visit. She says that it is an unhappy place. She also makes the observation that before "Minnie" got married, she was a very pretty lady who was full of life. She used to sing in the choir and wear pretty clothes. Then after becoming Mrs. Wright, she stops singing and caring what she looks like as if she has had the life strangled out of her.

John Wright drained all of the life out of "Minnie" until she couldn't take it anymore. I think she finally went crazy and killed him when she wouldn't have to worry about him fighting back, while he was sleeping.

An Argument Led to Killing the Canary

Minnie's Ticket Out

From: Madeline Ortiz English 112
Date: 1/27/00
Time: 7:35:50 PM


I am convinced that Mr. Wright was a horrid man. Minnie used to be a pretty and vivacious woman before she met John Wright. She undoubtedly endured years of verbal and possibly physical abuse. Mr. Wright possibly was a good man when Minnie first met him. He probably turned into an angry and hardened man after their marriage. What caused it for sure is hard to say.

Thirty years later Minnie is described as shabby looking and reclusive. This proves that her spirit was broken by the hard life this man had given her up to this point. They lived in a farm, and farm life is very hard. Minnie must've worked from dawn to dusk. After working all day in the farm, she endured her husband's mistreatment. Apparently Mr. Wright was not happy with how his life turned out and took his frustrations out on his wife.

On the night of the murder, I speculate that Mr. & Mrs. Wright got into a quarrel. This quarrel was the same as usual, but this time things got out of hand. I believe Mr. Wright killed the one and only good thing in Minnie's life. Minnie's bird gave her solace and order. I guess the bird reminded Minnie of how she used to be, beautiful, cheerful, and full of song. She had already endured years of abuse, but this horrid act was the final straw. She choked the life out her abusive husband much in the same way he choked the life out of her for thirty years.

I don't think it was justifiable homicide, Minnie could've found other ways of handling the situation. Then, again, I really don't know how a woman that is subjugated thinks. It was the only way out for Minnie. Murder was her ticket out.

A Look at the Evidence Against John Wright

Deserving of a Death Sentence?

From: Mike Cox JSRCC
Date: 1/31/00
Time: 11:46:31 PM


John Wright is not referred to a great deal in the play. A generalization of some of his personality traits can be developed with the few instances he is mentioned. The characters’ attention is rightfully focused on the incident of the previous day, but some clues are offered in their dialogue. Mr. Hale makes the first reference to Mr. Wright while he describes his reason for visiting the morning before:

“I'd spoke to Wright about it once before; but he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet -- guess you know about how much he talked himself.”

It was common knowledge that Mr. Wright kept to himself. This shows he developed few meaningful relationships. It is likely that this coldness reflected in his relationship with his wife.

Mr. Hale continues in his description of Mr. Wright by mentioning how little he was concerned for his wife’s opinion on installing the party line to the homes:

“But I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, and said all the women-folks liked the telephones, and that in this lonesome stretch of road it would be a good thing -- well, I said to Harry that that was what I was going to say -- though I said at the same time that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John -- "

A man who has little empathy for his wife’s situation would demonstrate this indifference to his wife’s needs. It would not be much of a stretch to imagine Mr. Wright taking the bird away, possibly the only thing in the world his wife cared for.

Mrs. Hale then describes how dismal a house Minnie was forced to live in. The desolation of the Wright household was, in her eyes, due to Mr. Wright:

"No; I don't mean anything," she answered, with decision. As she turned a little away from him, she added: "But I don't think a place would be any the cheerfuler for John Wright's bein' in it."

The above references are followed by a description of Mr. Wright’s business level dealings that is, when compared to the others, a complimentary statement:

"Yes -- good," conceded John Wright's neighbor grimly. "He didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts.”

The final ruling on John Wright should be left to Mrs. Hale’s last statement about him. It places Mr. Wright in the proper light.

“But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him --.” She stopped, shivered a little. "Like a raw wind that gets to the bone." Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: "I should think she would've wanted a bird!"

The above description of Mr. Wright leaves us with a feeling of a man who was cold, bitter, and selfish in his concerns. Does this wickedness deserve a death sentence? While Mrs. Wright may have had few options considering the time in which the play was set, it would in no way justify the ultimate punishment.

Re: Deserving of a Death Sentence?

From: Shana Bumpas
Date: 3/16/00
Time: 3:14:29 PM


I didn't get the impression of physical abuse, but there was certainly mental and emotional abuse. Why get married if all you want is peace and quiet?

There must have been a sensitive and caring side to him at some point, because the description of Minnie before they were married was a cheerful and happy person. It seems odd that she would want to marry someone so cold--unless it was arranged.

Did he deserve death? That's debatable. A life is a life, and all life is precious. But did she deserve a living death? Just because you are alive, that doesn't mean you're living. He cut her off from the rest of the community and himself, and the only connection to reality and happiness--he strangled the life out of it [the canary].