3. "I knew a peek at the peak would pique my curiosity.” While
that's not something anyone would ever say, it does illustrate
proper usage of three of the most commonly confused
"Peek" (a verb and a noun) denotes a stolen glance: "I have a
present for you, so close your eyes and don't peek.”
"Peak" (also a verb and a noun) signifies the top of something: a
mountain peak, or the peak of popularity.
"Pique,” (French) (also a verb and a noun) : As a verb it means to
stimulate (interest or curiosity). As a noun, it suggests a feeling of
irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one's pride.
Historical Context and Style
QHQs, Themes, and Symbols
5. Lecture: Trifles
6. Historical Context:
In many ways, Susan Glaspell’s success at the turn of the
century signaled a new age for women, and Trifles, still her
best-known play, represents the struggles women of her era
In 1916, the year Glaspell wrote Trifles for the Provincetown
Players, some of the important issues of the day were
women’s suffrage, birth control, socialism, union organizing,
and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud.
Women had not yet achieved the right to vote (19th
Amendment 1920), and in most states women could not sit
7. 1914: Margaret Sanger publishes the first text on birth control.
1916: Sanger arrested for opening America’s first birth control
City life: Manufacturing jobs pay little for long days of work.
Pre-teens constitute a sizable portion of America’s workforce.
The factory system creates earning opportunities for women, yet
women earn significantly less than men, and most are relegated
to jobs in domestic service, textile factories, or offices.
Life for rural women was not much better. A large portion of
America’s population was still scattered in rural towns, ranches,
and farmsteads. Women were responsible for the maintenance of
8. Style: One-Act Play
The structure of a play affects all of its most important elements—
the plot, characters, and themes. The one-act play is restrictive
and difficult. With playing times of fifteen to forty-five minutes,
the number of characters introduced is limited, and they must be
The one-act format tends to focus on a single location and a tight
plot. The Wright farmhouse, located in the countryside and set
back from the road, is a lonely, desolate place. The plot involves
seeking clues to suggest a motive for the murder of John Wright.
Note that everything that is said and done, from the way the
characters enter Mrs. Wright‟s kitchen to the discovery of her
dead canary, relates in some way to the mystery at hand.
9. Style: Local Color (Regionalism)
In the late nineteenth century, a style of writing known as „„local
color‟‟ emerged. It is characterized by its vivid description of
some of the more idiosyncratic communities in the American
landscape. Writers such as Mark Twain created characters whose
speech and attitudes reflected the deep South These stories and
novels appealed to people in larger cities, who found these
descriptions of faraway places exotic and entertaining.
Susan Glaspell began writing during this age of regionalism, and
Trifles incorporates many of the elements of local color: regional
dialect, appropriate costuming, and characters influenced by a
10. Trifles is filled with a strong sense of place. The characters in the play are
deeply rooted in their rural environment. Lewis Hale was on his way into town
with a load of potatoes when he stopped by the Wright‟s house to see about
sharing a party line telephone, a common way for people in small communities
to afford phone service during the first few decades of the century.
The lives of the women seem to consist of housekeeping chores, food
preparation, sewing, and raising children, with little time left for socializing.
The characters‟ manner of speech reveals their limited education and rural,
Midwestern environment. They use a colloquial grammar peppered with
country slang. „„I don‟t think a place‟d be any cheerfuller for John Wright‟s
being in it,‟‟ Mrs. Hale tells Henderson.
Still, at the same time that she provides these carefully crafted details of
country life, Glaspell provides her audience with ideas that transcend local
color. The struggle between the sexes, loneliness, and the elusive nature of
truth are all experiences shared by people across cultures and boundaries of
Perhaps the single most important theme in Trifles is the
difference between men and women, distinguished by the roles
they play in society, their physicality, their methods of
communication and—vital to the plot of the play— their powers
In simple terms, Trifles suggests that men tend to be aggressive,
brash, rough, analytical and self-centered; in contrast, women are
more circumspect, deliberative, intuitive, and sensitive to the
needs of others. These differences allow Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale
to find the clues needed to solve the crime, while their husbands
miss the same clues.
The devastating effects of isolation—especially on women—is another
theme of the play.
The men seem better suited to the loneliness and isolation of rural
farming. John Wright, for example, is described as a hard-working
farmer who kept to himself. He did not share a telephone line, and no
one other than his wife knew him very well.
The women, on the other hand, are deeply affected by isolation. Mrs.
Peters remembers with dread when she and her husband were
homesteading in the Dakota countryside and her only child died,
leaving her alone in the house all day while her husband was out
working the farm. Mrs. Hale, who has several children of her own,
imagines how terrible it would be to have to live in an empty house, like
Minnie, with nothing but a canary and a taciturn man for company.
13. QHQs and Symbols
Take 5 minutes and discuss
The Dirty Towel
The Fruit Preserves
The Bird Cage
Female and Male
1. Q: How does the title of
the play, “Trifles,” relate
to the plot?
2. Q: How can you describe
3. Q: Did Mrs. Wright kill
4. Q: What‟s the motive
behind the killing of Mr.
5. Q: Why did Mrs. Hale, and
Mrs. Peters choose not to rat
Mrs. Wright out?
6. Q: Should Mrs. Wright‟s act
be viewed as self-defense, the
result of madness, or an
1. Does the equality of
women require the
destruction of the
patriarchy we live in?
2. To what extend were
Susan Glaspell‟s images
used to bring attention to
and ridicule the
confinement of women in
societal gender roles?
3. Q: Does [Mrs. Wright] really break
free from being oppressed or are
there multiple cages that she must
learn to get free from? [. . .] Was she
able to be truly free?
4. Do men consider women‟s
sensitivity to emotions as trifles and
therefore declare them incapable of
executing certain jobs?
Post #11: Write a paragraph
or two on how you might apply
any one of the Critical theories
we have discussed to Trifles. Or,
discuss how might you read
Trifles in connection with one of
the modernist manifestos?
Read My Antonia (1918) Book I
Introduction Chapters 1-10