Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
Thanks to Steve Bourgoin for advice on compiling this archive.
7. What are "trifles"?
From: Ron Carter, RCC
Explain the meaning of the title, and tell how it is ironic.
From: Stephanie Wakefield (JSRCC)
Time: 3:32:04 PM
Trifles are generally items of little importance or value. In the play, the title is appropriate due to the significance of the everyday items that the two women stumble upon in the home of Mrs. Wright.
While the sheriff and county attorney search for evidence against Mrs. Wright in the murder of her husband, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are aiding Mrs. Wright by concealing everything that they believe could be used against her. Take for instance the dead bird. The bird has been discovered with a broken neck, similar to the manner in which John Wright died. Or perhaps the quilt....Mrs. Wright had perfect, uniform stitches, yet suddenly, the stitches had become jagged and inconsistent, as if she had suddenly become very nervous.
The irony is that the items that were mentioned in this play seemed to be [to the male investigators] items of little importance or value. Yet, when combined with the knowledge of the murder that had occurred in the house the day before, these petty objects suddenly are invested with a great deal of worth.
From: Tamara Leigh
Time: 6:33:11 PM
The word "trifles" means something small, unimportant, belittled, maybe even insignificant. In this play, the men seemed to think that what the women were fussing over were just "trifles." The women in the play worried about Mrs. Wrights' canned fruit and the way her house was kept clean.
Somehow in this play I think there is an undertone of how Mrs. Wright's life was just a "trifle," something no one worried about until she had done something so drastic as to kill her husband.
[Phillip Quick, NVCC, adds:] Maybe what Mr. Wright thought were Trifles is what got him killed.
From: Daniel Owens NVCC
Time: 7:44:51 PM
I see trifles slightly different. Trifles are the things that each of us see and find important for some reason, regardless of size. Their importance hasn't anything to do with size but more of character or significance. The things I see and feel are "important" may not be the same for anyone else. It's more in the view that we take and where we place importance.
In the play the women picked up on the emotional aspects of the small items and their significance to Mrs. Wright, while the men where looking for the "smoking gun," the large obvious piece of evidence to prove the murder.
From: Jillian Seay JSRCC
Time: 6:49:20 PM
Sexism: I believe that trifles are small things that are considered of little or no importance. I could tell early in the play that the male actors were portraying sexist characters. The men's continual disregard about Mrs. Wright's possessions is what really showed me how little they thought of her as a person. First, they are upset by her lack of housekeeping skills. Then, they make fun about her broken jars of fruit that she labored to make.
In the early 1900's this was how men acted towards women. They were almost considered to be property. They should be seen and not heard. During that time period men didn't think that women could act independently.
Mrs. Wright was put down and very depressed most of her life. She was isolated from other people who she could have turned to for comfort. She was denied everything that could have helped her stand living with her mean husband.
I believe Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale were right to hide the dead bird. I think it ironic that one of the little "trifles" that the men thought unimportant is the one thing that explained a great deal about the killing.
[Jonathan Jarrell, JSRCC, adds:] The "trifles" in this play have two meanings. To the men in this story they are unimportant things, but to the women they are very important. The "trifles" in this play, the preserves, the bird, the birdcage, the apron, the quilt, etc. are not just clues to the crime, but clues to the feelings of Mrs. Wright. When the "trifles" are ignored by Mr. Wright, it has fatal consequences for him.
From: Gloria McMillian-JSRCC
Time: 11:49:49 PM
Hi, Jonathan. I am responding to your last comment in which you stated that it was sad that Mr. Wright and the men (typical for the time) didn't see the feelings behind the "trifles". This suggests to me that you feel that men today are different or should I say have evolved since the Trifles era. I would like to believe this notion to be true, but I don't think that the 1990's man appreciates trifles either. And I must say for the record, I am not lumping all men into this category. But I believe there is a segment of our male population that keeps this insensitive mentality alive.
From: C. David Fixman
Time: 9:50:03 AM
Trifles are all the activities that are important to the women, such as making bread and preserves, sewing quilts, housekeeping activities, gardens, etc. and the details of how these things are done and how they appear to others. The women take pride in these trifles and have set ways of doing things. These trifles are experiences that women have in common and are a way for them to relate to each other. In the time of the setting of the play, these trifles were also considered the duties of women, especially if they were farmers' wives.
From: Shellie MacKenzie
Time: 8:56:54 AM
"Trifles" are insignificant, unimportant things or details. When the play begins the men seem to be the focal characters, very intelligent and official. They chide the women for being concerned with "trifles", such as the unopened bread and the broken cherries. As the story continues, the audience realizes the real focal point is the ladies, who have remained in the house. The men, though they are not "bungling idiots" don't look beneath the surface of the things that end up being of serious importance to the crime scene because they are "womanly" things, or trifles. They are sure that whatever made someone commit this crime will be more significant.
The women quietly observe the actions of Mrs. Wright and slowly deduce how unhappy her life must have been, with such a cold, unyielding man, with no children in her life. They follow her footsteps, with the cherries, the bread being left out, the stitching of the quilt, the fact that she was once like the bird, happy and carefree. Through studying her actions these two ladies are able to solve the crime, and (subconsciously at first, then purposely) cover it up as they go. They undo the crooked stitching and resew it, they insist to the men that the bird must have escaped from its cage and then they hide the dead bird and take it with them. These things that were "trifles" to the men had been the keys to solving the crime.