Trifles by Susan Glaspell: From courthouse to a stage setting

Susan Glaspell was only twenty-four-years-old when she covered the Hossack murder in Indianola, Iowa as a reporter. It would be several years prior to Glaspell would compose her breakout play Trifles, a play that bears impressive similarities to the real-life murder of farmer John Hossack. Inside the wooden doors of the Indianola courthouse, young Glaspell had seen an event that would affect the rest of her life. To the residents of Warren County, the occasion that took place inside that courthouse was a trial to figure out a female’s innocence; to Glaspell, it was a testimony of American injustice towards ladies in society. When she took a seat to write Trifles, there is no doubt that it was modeled on the events that took place during that Hossack trial. The line is drawn as Glaspell the reporter ends up being Glaspell the artist, and she makes mindful omissions and additions to her work. Trifles is not just a retelling; rather, to much better overemphasize her concern about sexism, Susan Glaspell made numerous changes for her play. The addition of Mrs. Hale, the unclean roller towel, and the canary stresses Glaspell’s focus on the injustice of guys’s feelings toward females and their work.

Glaspell first departs from the genuine Hossack story with the intro of Mrs. Hale. In the play, Mrs. Hale is the stern other half of Mr. Hale, the guy who inadvertently finds the scene of the crime. When the men search through your home belittling Minnie Wright, Mrs. Hale is the one to retort. She is the voice of factor, “loyal to her sex” (Glaspell 5). Although familiar with the men’s ironical remarks, she never does much more than mutter under her breath. No parallel to Mrs. Hale appeared in the genuine Hossack murder case, in which really couple of women were hired to testify. Mrs. Hale represents Glaspell herself– the only female journalist, who quickly noted the unequal treatment women received in the courtroom. When ladies started to offer their viewpoints in court, they were quickly silenced immediately, on grounds such as the claim that “She [the witness, Mrs. Keller] wasn’t responding to the question that had been asked” (Bryan and Wolf 146). Completion of Trifles remembers the silence that Glaspell observed; nevertheless, “their rejection to speak rings with the power of intention and choice” (Holstein 284). Like Mrs. Keller, they are not addressing the concern that was asked, however in this case the mindful choice to be quiet recommends that contrary to males’s viewpoints, the women really have something crucial to say.

Another modification Glaspell made to her play is the addition of the unclean roller towel. This seemingly insignificant detail does much to advance the story’s fixation with sexism. The roller towel develops the chance for the County Lawyer to make the condescending remark, “very little of a house cleaner, would you say, ladies?” (Glaspell 4). This remark expresses the County Attorney’s expectation for all women to function as housemaids. Of course, there were not any filthy roller towels in the real-life Hossack farmhouse, for John Hossack was a stern guy who was frequently prone to fits of rage, the worst of which he would threaten Margaret with “physical damage,” calling her “bitch” and “whore” (Bryan and Wolf 114). Possibly frightened by these temper tantrums, Margaret Hossack needed to bring her weight in performing her home chores. Glaspell altered this element of Margaret when she created Minnie Wright, and she did so without compromising anything substantial from the total plot. By adding something as unimportant as a filthy roller towel, Susan Glaspell developed the chance for the audience to briefly see inside the mind of the County Attorney, who ironically “at the end of the play [knows] no greater than at the beginning” (Holstein 283). Glaspell deliberately makes the males pay for their ignorance by enabling the females, not the men, to find the motive first.

Lastly, the dead canary even more highlights Glaspell’s message by revealing the stress in between Minnie and John Wright. The audience is led to assume that the canary died in John’s forceful hand, and instantly feels the couple’s strife and anger. In the words of Linda Ben-Zvi, John does not simply eliminate the canary, Minnie’s only convenience, however he likewise eliminates her “bird-like spirit” also (153 ). Glaspell constructs the images so beautifully that the audience can actually feel the years of abuse inflicted upon Minnie. A similar experience can be found in the Hossack case. There was no dead canary to highlight feelings of abuse; however, there were lots of surrounding farmers who testified during the trial that John Hossack’s anger regularly drove Margaret out of the house. For example, local farmer Frank Keller affirmed that “there was no peace in [the Hossack] family” (Bryan and Wolf 42).

Susan Glaspell could not put every fact of the Hossack case into her play. She needed to create something that not just could be produced on phase, however was also a masterpiece that conveyed her message– that “women’s voices are to be heard not as difference but as similarly registered” (Ben-Zvi 162). Glaspell’s addition of Mrs. Hale, a dirty roller towel, and the dead canary support that message well. They help Glaspell translate the irony she observed in the courtroom– the lack of women’s voices to protect another, mistreated female– to a play that reaches far beyond Indianola.

Works Pointed out

Ben-Zvi, Linda. “‘Murder, She Composed’: The Genesis of Susan Glaspell’s ‘Trifles’.”

Theatre Journal, Vol. 44, No. 2, American Scenes. (May, 1992): pp. 141-162. JSTOR. Montgomery County Neighborhood College., Brendlinger Lib. 24 April 2007. <

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