Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
Question: Explain why Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters suppress the evidence that might have provided the
county attorney with the motive he sought, keeping in mind that each woman has her own
motives, as well as common cause with Minnie Foster-Wright.
(Hint: The best answers explain what each woman has to go through mentally to reach the point of being able to suppress evidence.)
AND IS IT RIGHT?
Question: Do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters do the right thing when they suppress the evidence against Minnie Foster-Wright? Explain the conflicting values involved and which ones seem to weigh most heavily in their decision.
My thanks to Chris Kopacki and Lloyd Weaver for helping me compile this archive. -EH
From: Stephanie Wakefield (JSRCC)
Time: 3:46:09 PM
I think that the suppression of evidence by these two women goes far beyond guilt and alliance of women. For one, the era that this play is set in occurred long before women had hardly any rights. These two women knew that the punishment that Mrs. Wright would receive would not be a simple slap on the wrist. She had killed her husband. Not only that, but she had killed a MAN.
The courts probably never would have believed her story about the treatment that she suffered living with John Wright. But these two women knew that she had suffered and they did not want her to suffer any longer by revealing evidence to the police that could further implicate Mrs. Wright as the murderer.
From: Mark Young, JSRCC
Time: 3:05:34 PM
I agree that alliance among women for their treatment as second-class citizens had something to do with the actions of the two ladies in suppressing the evidence, but I feel that their own individual reasons were the prime motivating factors that caused them to do as they did.
Had it not been for Mrs. Hales' guilt over not having been a better friend, and Mrs. Peters' empathy for having suffered such a major loss of her pet and later her child, I do not feel that they would have hidden the evidence as they did, particularly Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters went to pieces as she tried to hide the evidence at the end of the play, and if hiding the evidence was this difficult for her at this stage, then lesser provocation to suppress would not have sufficed.
[A Sidebar on
From: Leslie Hedges, NVCC
Time: 3:11:29 PM
I believe you are completely on target. Outside of our own time and place, we are all influenced by our personal convictions, beliefs and experiences, thus, ultimately motivating us to act as we do.
It is so great to acknowledge that in this day and time, you are able to do precisely what the men in the play were not able to do in evaluating the situation. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of the value of literature. Because it is written in a different time and place, it causes us to acknowledge how different things are in this day and time; how different our lives are from those depicted in the work, thereby allowing us to feel compassion for those in a less fortunate situation than our own.]
From: Jason Mullins, JSRCC
Time: 11:34:51 AM
Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale both keep the evidence that have found from the men to protect Mrs. Wright but for different reasons. Mrs. Hale feels guilty for never visiting Mrs. Wright much. She admits that she didn't because the place was not "cheerful". She describes the house as a "lonesome place" but admits that that is all the more reason that she should have visited her childhood friend. Mrs. Peters holds back what she knows because of her sympathy and loyalty to her own sex.
Mrs. Peters believes that Minnie probably did kill her husband but only because she was driven to it. The dead bird reminds her of when a boy had once killed her cat when she was young. She recalls that if no one would have held her back that she would have "hurt" him. She also can sympathize with the stillness of the house, having lost her first baby, and how it would affect a woman. The men would undoubtedly laugh at the thought of Mrs. Peters trying to explain this to them and she knew it so she kept it to herself. In closing both women wanted to protect Minnie but each had their own motives.
[* An Editor's Choice Answer: This answer is more thorough and more articulate than most.]
[In his summary of answers to this question, Jason observed:] I believe each person responding touched more on the reason that they themselves could more deeply sympathize with.
From: Theresa Arnold JSRCC
Time: 10:08:20 PM
In response to Jason's explanation of the suppressed evidence, I would have to agree with him. Mrs. Hale did seem to feel guilty for not visiting more often. I think that she suppressed evidence possibly out of some guilt that she wasn't a better friend to Minnie, especially since she knew what kind of man she was married to. She says that "she hates men snooping and criticizing in her kitchen." Mrs. Hale's making this statement lets the reader know that she has had men verbally criticize her. She may be telling us that she also lives with some abuse.
Mrs. Peters is also wanting to protect her gender, but she relates more to the bird than to Mr. Wright. She knows how it feels to have someone hurt or kill something that you love. So both women are suppressing evidence for different reasons.
Summary of Responses for Question 2
From: Mark Young JSRCC
Time: 3:23:18 PM
It appears the women responding to the question focus more on an alliance between women in general, while the men focus more on the individual reasons that each woman has for her actions. It seems that we all agree that there are multiple reasons for suppressing the evidence, but we seem to see the primary reasons differently. Each viewpoint has equal merit, just two different ways of looking at the same situation.
From: Mark Young, JSRCC
Time: 2:40:45 PM
Each of the women had their own reasons for suppressing the evidence, in addition to the shared reason of loyalty to their sex.
Mrs. Hale knew Mrs. Wright as Minnie Foster, a childhood friend. She remembers her singing in the choir, and being nicely dressed. This happy child later turned into an unhappy woman, with few things in life to look forward to. Mrs. Hale regrets not spending more time with her friend, ministering to her friend's loneliness and pain. Instead, she took the easy road, avoiding an unpleasant environment by staying away. Perhaps if Minnie had known she had a friend to stand by her, she would not have been so distraught when the bird, her only source of joy, had been taken away from her. She had not done enough for her friend in the past, but she found an opportunity where she could do something now to help ease her guilty conscience.
Mrs. Peters had lost things she loved in the past, first a kitten when she was a youth, then a two-year old son, when she lived in the Dakotas. She knew the pain that such a loss could bring, and the stillness and quietness in the house, where it had once been noisy and happy. She empathized with Minnie's pain, and remembering what she had wanted to do to the boy who had killed her kitten, she knew that she could not condemn Minnie, at least in her own mind.
Society looked down on women as second-class citizens, at best. At the time this play was written, women were not yet allowed to vote, neither were there yet laws to protect women from domestic violence. A husband, for most purposes, practically owned his wife. While people looked down on men who mistreated their wives, the women were expected to take the abuse without retaliation. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale felt a certain amount of loyalty to their sex, I'm sure, but I feel this alone would not have been enough to persuade Mrs. Peters to go against the law.
[* An Editor's Choice Answer: This answer is more thorough and more articulate than most. Bold added.--EH]
From: John Roberts, NVCC
Time: 10:56:37 PM
I believe it was a combination of several factors that led the two ladies to suppress evidence.
Condescension: One factor obviously was the condescending manner in which the men, especially the county attorney, addressed the two women during the initial stop in the kitchen. Observations by the women were generally met with laughter and demeaning comments such as the "trifles" reference as well as the dirty towel, the quilt, the preserves and so forth. Certainly this type of treatment did nothing to help their state of mind when they began to realize what had really happened. Evidence was there that told the story.
Some respondents recognized the submissive roles of the women and attributed it to the era during which this event takes place. That is obviously a factor but cultural environments can further intensify this behavior whatever the era, past, present, or future.
Blind Investigators: This evidence most likely would have been transparent to the men investigating the murder--evidence that seemed recognizable and understood by those who shared to some degree Minnie Wright's loneliness, her isolation. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters seemed to express some kinship with Minnie in her isolation and loneliness.
It's somewhat ironic that the kitchen seemed to be completely ignored or discounted as a source of evidence by the investigators. I don't know that the county attorney would have "got it" though, even if he had found the oddity in the quilt and the dead bird to go with the broken birdcage. He probably would have seen much of the real evidence as just....trifles.
Minnie's Prison: Minnie Wright's loneliness and isolation were so much more complete, however, because of John Wright's lack of social skills, his unwillingness to communicate, or to interact. You can almost see these two women's minds working as they recalled the young Minnie Foster and how happy she had been, how she liked to wear nice clothes, how she loved to sing and how eventually John Wright had killed all that for her.
Mrs. Hale's Angst: One could feel the anguish and guilt that welled up in Mrs. Hale as she mentally agonized for not having visited Minnie. It was also possible to see how the mindset of these two women subtly changed as they began to understand more of what Minnie had really experienced. The quilt, the bird and birdcage, indeed the entire kitchen told so much of the story, so much toward the state of her mind, her fragile existence.
Was it the insight into Minnie's life that caused Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to reflect upon such similarities in their own lives and thus find some kinship with Minnie and her miserable existence?
Mrs. Hale had seen Minnie slip in the way people always do, gradually, quietly, in the blink of an eye that lasts years, and though she had meant to visit she never had. It wasn't a "cheerful place" and there was always something else to do. [This articulate sentence was included in a comment by Will Bryce, JSRCC.]
Fear of the County Attorney: [In her summary of responses, Dawn Clarke
of JSRCC adds:] Their fear of the County Attorney and how he would treat "Minnie Foster" could also have led them to cover
Small-Town Farm Life Magnifies Mrs. Hale's Guilt: [In his summary of responses, Alan Mudd of JSRCC suggests:] Maybe being from a small town, and knowing what farmer's wives go through, made this bond greater.
No Fair Trial Possible: [Chinyelu Talley, JSRCC, suggests:] The
women suppressed the evidence not only because they felt sorry for Mrs. Wright, but because they knew she would never get a fair trial. The men had already convicted her without ever really knowing if or why she killed Mr. Wright. They suppressed evidence because they thought the men were being unfair in their judgments and accusations.
Time Served: [Mike Cox notes:] "Time served" is an excellent justification (or rationalization by Mrs.
Hale & Mrs. Peters) for their behavior.
From: Charles Willing, JSRCC
Time: 3:01:50 PM
Ironically, these two ladies look to each other for support while they struggle to make a decision which could have drastic consequences for their third ally, Mrs. Wright.
The alliance begins to form as the two ladies innocently subject themselves to the ridicule of the Sheriff and the County Attorney while commenting on their own observations. A wedge begins to form between the men and women in the play as Mr. Hale refers to their concerns as 'trifles'.
The distance is increased as they are again ridiculed by the Sheriff when he comments on Mrs. Hale's question, "I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it", referring to Mrs. Wright's quilt.
The alliance of the three women becomes stronger as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters learn more about Mrs. Wright while making observations about the house and wondering between themselves what kind of life she has had.
By the time the bird is discovered, the two ladies have developed a shared compassion for their neighbor, and Mrs. Hale has expressed her regret at losing touch with Minnie Foster Wright.
Mrs. Hale is the first to suppress any evidence when, after being further ridiculed about the quilt, she suggests to the County Attorney that a cat may have destroyed the bird. Her actions are causal to Mrs. Peter's decision to express her own experiences of grief and loss and this makes their bond even greater.
The struggle over what to do occurs as a last-minute chance to honor the unwritten code of the life of the farm wife. The decision of whether or not to hide the evidence is made by both women out of fear--partly of violating laws of society and morality, but mostly fear of regret and remorse which would likely be more devastating for these two women [if they allowed Minnie to be punished for killing her tormentor, John Wright].
From: Peter Pudner, JSRCC
Time: 3:13:40 AM
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters do the right thing when they suppress the evidence against Minnie Foster-Wright, yet the women have to go against what is correct according to the law in order to protect Mrs. Wright.
The men obviously do not respect the thoughts of women when Hale generalizes that "women are used to worrying over trifles" and when the sheriff sarcastically says "Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?”
Mrs. Peters knows she would probably have done the same thing, thinking back on the boy killing her kitten, and catching herself before she says if she had not been held back she would have killed him.
The ladies realize that Mr. Wright made Mrs. Wright’s life difficult. When Mrs. Hale said, “I don’t think a place'd be cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it,” it shows that he brought people down. The comment also made more understandable Mrs. Wright's reason for having killed him after he murdered the one thing she still loved, her bird.
The women definitely relate to Mrs. Wright. When Mrs. Hale says, “I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be—for women,” she lets you know that if they had helped her out it might not have gotten to the point where she was compelled to kill him. Although Mr. Wright's killing her bird was not reason enough for his wife to kill him, the way he treated her through the years is why I think Mrs. Hale and Peters did the correct thing by suppressing the evidence.
Xin asked in Jan., 2002: Is the law 100% right? If not, then these women did the right thing.
From: Susan Hiers-JSRCC
Time: 11:02:26 PM
To answer the question logically, I would say "no" it is not right to suppress evidence.
Susan Glaspell cleverly used the readers emotion to lean towards suppressing the evidence to help Mrs. Wright. As Mrs. Hale put it living with Mr. Wright would be "like a raw wind that gets into the bone", giving us an insight of what Mrs. Wright's secluded days with him must have been like.
Even though you know it is wrong, you hope Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters hide whatever evidence they find to help free Mrs. Wright from the years she has already spent in "jail", a jail not in the traditional sense of the word.
I think there are circumstances when people have had more than they can bear and just snap; this was portrayed in this story and I for one hope she got away with it.
From: Shirah Pope - JSRCC
Time: 1:36:53 PM
I must say that I agree with you on your point of view regarding the suppression of evidence in Trifles. Suppressing evidence is not right. However, in Trifles, if the women had divulged the circumstantial evidence that they found, they knew Minnie would have surely spent the rest of her miserable life in a structured jail. Circumstances definitely dictated suppression of evidence in this case.
Mrs. Peters knew all too well that suppressing evidence was against the law. After all, the County Attorney trustingly made the statement that Mrs. Peters was "one of us", even "married to the law," thinking she was loyal to the legal system. Even though he told her to "keep her eye out for anything that might be of use", Mr. Hale said he "didn't believe the women would know a clue if they came upon one." Obviously, each of the men felt that way, or they would not have dismissed the clues in the kitchen area as trifles. We now know that the kitchen is where the women found the evidence that showed motive for the crime.
Obviously, neither of the women went into the Wright's home with the intent of suppressing evidence. In fact, even after the dead bird had been found, Mrs. Peters tightly said, "The law has got to punish crime." However, once the women browsed around the kitchen, began to "feel Minnie's pain", and personally relate with what she had gone through mentally and emotionally for so many years, it changed their way of thinking.
Understandably, yet unbeknownst to Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, their female instincts took over. They began to become protective of Minnie. It was obvious to the women that Minnie had been imprisoned already for 20 years, and subconsciously, they did not feel she needed to be punished any more for killing a man that "had let her die for lack of life." At that point, the only way Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters could help Minnie was to not let the men know what they had found in "those kitchen things", and share a bond of secrecy in order to salvage any part of Minnie's somber life.
From: Susan Hiers JSRCC
Time: 11:29:42 PM
It seems the vote is unanimous that we feel "technically" it is wrong to suppress evidence, but because of the circumstances involved we all accepted the women's behavior. As stated in my answer, the circumstances of this "crime" are like the everyday crimes we all hear about. When the "unjust" in our society eventually pay the price for their wrong deeds. Mr. Wright in this case certainly got what was coming to him. It may sound callous, but as the saying goes, what goes around comes around.
From: Betsy Chatham JSR
Time: 1:15:31 PM
Transcendent Justice vs. Mere Law: Is it right to suppress evidence or is it right to suppress "this" evidence? On the one hand, we are part of a society and in order for anarchy not to rule we need to follow the rules of that society. One of those rules is that we cooperate fully with the authorities. On the other hand, we are part of something bigger than society; a spiritual universe, and from the point of view of the universe justice may be better served by not coming forth with all the evidence. The reason being is the people who want the evidence are operating on a lower level than the transcendent justice of the universe is. I believe the later holds true in this case.
Women's Rights in 1920: Trifles was published in 1920. Women were just getting the right to vote in national elections that year, and it had been a hard-fought battle. Men during that period of time did not think highly of women. Women dealt in “trifles”. Even though those “trifles” fed the family (preserves) and kept them warm (quilts).
Adultery vs. Abuse as a Justification for Killing a Spouse
Although it was perfectly justifiable in the early part of the century for a man to kill a woman because of adultery, it was not justifiable for a woman to kill a man because he abused her. Today, we often read of women killing their abusive husbands. Sometimes they are acquitted and sometimes not.
The Option to Leave
However, today, women have more options for leaving a relationship. Not only does society accept women leaving; they help them do it and provide protection. Today, there is real no excuse for a woman to kill an abusive man, unless it is done as she is trying to protect herself, i.e., while he is beating her. Mrs. Wright did not have these options.
Depressed and Cheap vs. An Abusive John Wright
Mr. Wright does not appear to be a physically abusive person, by the descriptions given him from the characters in the story. Mrs. Hale makes the observations that a place would not be “any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.” A little later she notes that “Wright was close”, meaning tight with money. Is this really a reason to kill him – because he was depressed and cheap? I don’t think so.
However, there are other clues to Mr. Wright’s demeanor – the bent birdcage and the poor little dead bird, with its neck wrung. Psychological studies have shown that people who abuse animals are also abusive in human relationships. No one in the story knows that John Wright physically abuses his wife, but you could infer that he would from the way he treated the bird.
Temporary Insanity in 1920?: I also believe Mrs. Wright was temporarily insane. She had “gone off her rocker” so to speak. The evidence of this are her actions and demeanor when the Mr. Hale first appeared at her home. Hale states she was just rocking and pleating her apron and looked “queer”. When Harry asks her who killed her husband, she says she doesn’t know. If she is insane, even temporarily, it is very likely that she doesn’t know, even though all the evidence points to her doing it. I believe she would also have to have been insane, or in a rage, to give her the strength to choke a strong man to death.
Again, because of the time period in the story, it is doubtful that Mrs. Wright would have been found not guilty had she gone to trial and the dead bird been presented as evidence. It is very doubtful that a temporary insanity plea would have been used as a defense, and if it were, that it would have been trusted. In the time period the play is set psychology was not something that the average person acknowledged.
Justice: So, was it right that the evidence was withheld? It may not have been lawfully right, but I believe in the greater scheme of things that it was justice.
From: Betsy Chatham JSR
Time: 12:43:24 PM
Justifiable Homicide: Everyone seems to agree that in this case it was ok to suppress the evidence. The reason most given for the endorsement of suppression is that John Wright was a mean and abusive husband and his death was justifiable homicide.
Time Served: Responders felt that with the evidence it was almost a certainty that Minnie would be convicted and that as she had already been in a "prison" imposed by John Wright for 20 years there was no reason for her to spend more time in jail.
"Trifling" Evidence: It was also noted that the story made it clear the men were biased against women. The men did not think the women could help them any, so, if the men thought that way, why should the women help them. Why take the chance that the men would just call the bird a "trifle" also? If the men had no use for their (the women's) opinion, why give them any assistance?
Higher Justice: Another point made was that although a rule of man said evidence should not be suppressed the women were working on what they felt was a rule of a higher order and that rule would not want the evidence presented to the authorities.
From: Evellyn Ramos, JSR
Time: 10:53:25 AM
Suppressing evidence is never right, even though the guilty person is a housewife seeming to be the most innocent person in the world. The guilty woman in this case must have had a good reason to kill her partner, but there is no reason enough for killing, and Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale should've never protected her.
The following ideas were prompted by a students' essay, but they may be helpful to readers of this play:
Your essay is based on an absolute principle, that trials are fair, which even the county attorney doesn't buy. He insinuates that it's very hard to convict a woman when he says, "But you know juries when it comes to women." He also wishes for a clear motive when he adds, "If there was some definite thing. . . . Something to show--something to make a story about--a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it" (1300). This comment comes AFTER the county attorney [prosecutor] has seen the birdcage and TWICE discussed Minnie's knots.
If you've sat in a court room much even today, you might observe the gender and class biases of judges. More important, however, you should consider that juries of this era (before women could even vote) were all men. The short story version of this play was published under the title, "A Jury of Her Peers," which indicates that the author probably doesn't consider an all-male jury to be true peers of an abused woman.
For your thesis to stand, you need to consider that the county attorney did see the evidence himself, as well as to consider the ideas above. To support your thesis, you can also note that Mrs. Peters was pointedly charged by the county attorney to "keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us" in prosecuting Minnie (1294).
So it seems that the men were not qualified to be peers and that the women were not entirely responsible for suppressing evidence that the prosecutor saw but ignored. By the way, Mrs. Peters backs Mrs. Hale in misleading the county attorney when he sees the birdcage; Mrs. Hale claims there was a cat that got the bird, and Mrs. Peters suggests the cat left the premises because of the dead body, cats being "superstitious."
From: based on an entry 106 by Shellie MacKenzie
Time: 9:20:41 AM
In a practical sense, it's not right for these ladies to suppress evidence.
In a more up to date version, the ladies would have either not gone with the men to protect the integrity of the crime scene, or been investigators themselves and gone to assist with the investigation.
The 21st Century "Ms. Peters" investigating forensic clues in the murder of John Wright
Women of today wouldn't be content to go along with their husbands or friends and occupy themselves with "trifles" as the others conducted their work.
If these women were more confident in themselves and surer that what they thought and felt had merit they may have come forward with the evidence.
But in the lives and time period this story takes place, women's views were not considered of significance and so these women each started out as mere onlookers to the crime scene, not participants.
The women could also see that the men were ready to condemn Mrs. Wright and treat her as a cold blooded killer which they knew was not the case.
|Would New York Assistant District Attorney Adam McCoy give Minnie Wright a bigger break than the Iowa County Attorney did?|
In a more personal sense these ladies felt a connection to Mrs. Wright. In this instance, they justified in their own minds their covering up of the evidence to protect her.
Mrs. Hale knew her before she was married and felt a great sense of guilt at having not given her some comfort and friendship before she was driven to commit this crime. She had reasons for staying away, the fact that the home didn't seem happy, the fact that Mr. Wright was a cold man, the fact that she was busy with her own life.
But what if she had taken a few moments every week to come by and chat, to talk about the "trifles" that women talk about, to sing, or laugh, the way Mrs. Wright had been able to as a single woman?
Perhaps this would have given Mrs. Wright the strength to endure the life she had chosen, maybe it would have gotten her through the rough times.