ELIT 48C Kim Palmore 1
Essay 1: A Response to Literature of the Modernist period.
To Lean to Write a Clear and Cohesive Response to Literature
To Learn Rhetorical Strategies: Analysis, Synthesis, Argument, Cause and Effect, Compare and Contrast
To Learn Critical Thinking Skills
To Learn MLA Documentation Style: Integrating quotations; Works Cited
In this first half of our quarter, we have read and discussed multiple texts, theories, and opinions on both
literature and literary analysis, and for this reason, I offer you several choices for your first essay. In a
thesis driven essay of 500 to 750 words, respond to one of the following prompts. You need only the
primary text for this essay, but you may incorporate other stories, manifestos, or critical theory as
additional support. Remember, you can also draw on your own experiences and knowledge to discuss,
explain, and analyze your topic.
Topic: Choose One
Essay Topic #1: The Irony of the Title Trifles
The title of the play, Trifles, is an important indication of the dynamic conflict that provides the tension of
a serious situation that is anything but trifling. A man has been murdered by his wife, but the men of the
town who are in charge of investigating the crime are unable to solve the murder mystery through logic
and standard criminal justice procedures. Instead, a small group of women who visit the home where the
crime occurred are unable, albeit unintentionally, to “read” a series of clues that the men cannot see
because all of the clues are embedded in domestic items that are specific to women. Using this
information and citing textual evidence, explain the irony of the title that Glaspell chose to name her
work. Be sure to incorporate an analysis of Trifles by Susan Glaspell in terms of the ways that the men
dismiss the women’s trifling concerns.
Essay Topic #2: Notions of Gendered Space
All of the action in this play takes place in a single setting: the home of the murdered man and his wife,
who the reader learns is his killer. The men and women who enter the home after the crime see totally
different scenes in this same setting, though. What each set of characters sees is limited by his or her
gender. The women notice certain items—preserved fruit, a sewing box, an empty bird cage—that the
men completely overlook because they consider the domestic space of the woman of the house to be
worthless in terms of offering clues about the crime. Write an essay in which you define and explain the
two gendered spaces and their significance in the development of the plot and the play’s outcome.
Essay Topic #3: The Symbol of the Bird
The women who visit the Wright home after the murder of Mr. Wright notice an empty birdcage and
recall that Mrs. Wright had owned a songbird. The women observe that the door of the cage is broken and
the hinge has been pulled off; Mrs. Hale observes that someone was “rough with it,” which suggests the
motive of the crime. When the women discover the dead bird wrapped up in a piece of fine silk in Mrs.
Wright’s sewing box, they piece these clues together and discover the reason Mrs. Wright killed Mr.
Wright. Considering the discussion that the women have about the bird, consider its symbolism and what
it might have meant to Mrs. Wright. Explain why Mrs. Wright would have killed her husband over a
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Essay Topic #4: The Moral Dilemma in Trifles
Once the women have pieced together the clues and solved the mystery of Mr. Wright’s death, they
quickly come to an agreement to suppress the information from the men who are investigating Mr.
Wright’s murder. Explain the process by which the women come to this agreement. Identify whether any
of the women resist colluding in the suppression of this evidence. Then, construct an argument in which
you identify whether the women were right to withhold their discovery from the investigators. Identify
the different experiences that the women themselves had which made them empathic to Mrs. Wright’s
situation and helped them to justify their actions.
Essay Topic #5: The Concept of Crime
After the women have discovered the true story of the crime and have distracted the investigators from
discovering the same truth, they have a brief exchange amongst themselves about the relationships among
women. Mrs. Hale declares that never visiting Mrs. Wright was “a crime” and asks, “Who’s going to
punish that?” What Mrs. Hale describes is a different kind of crime, of course, than the murder which
Mrs. Wright has committed. Yet it seems that Glaspell wants to make a commentary about other kinds of
crime and their impact on individuals. Write an essay on the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell in which you
explain what Mrs. Hale means by the crime of not visiting Mrs. Wright, and explain the distinctions
between this kind of crime and legal concepts of crime.
Essay Topic #6: Symbolism and Local Color
Read John Millington Synge’s famous one-act play Riders to the Sea and compare it to Glaspell’s Trifles.
How does each play employ symbolism and local color? How is the one-act format important to each
Essay Topic #7: Where is Mrs. Wright?
One of the most important characters in Trifles is Mrs. Wright, yet she never appears on the stage. Why
did Glaspell leave her out of the play? How does her absence impact Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters? Discuss
the ways the play would be different if Mrs. Wright were present. Is this a modernist strategy? How or
why does it illustrate modernist trends?
Essay Topic #8: A Jury of Her Peers?
Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale do not begin the play determined to do whatever they can to help a fellow
woman in trouble. Discuss the development, over the course of the play, of their attitudes toward Mrs.
Wright and the killing of her husband. Refer as specifically as possible to any factors that may contribute
to the changes in their thinking. In your judgment, have Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale acted responsibly? Has
justice been served by their actions, or would it have been better served if they had allowed all the
evidence to come to light?
Essay Topic #9: Symbols to Propel Plot and Convey Meaning
Trifles contains several important symbols. In literature, a symbol is something that represents something
else, and is often used to communicate deeper levels of meaning. What are some of the important symbols
in Trifles? How does Glaspell use these symbols to propel the plot, and convey deeper levels of meaning
about her characters or themes?
Essay Topic #10: Feminism and Modernism
Discuss Trifles through the lens of feminism and modernism. Consider traditional and evolving gender
roles. Look to the following questions to help direct your discussion of feminism and modernism.
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Note: You are free to pursue another writing topic. Please, discuss it with me before you begin so we can
make sure that it is viable.
Submission Requirements: Please submit an electronic copy to firstname.lastname@example.org
Format Requirement: MLA-style formatting and citations
Length: Your finished text should be between 500-750 words, excluding the Works Cited page.
Research Requirements: none
Works Cited Page
A Works Cited page names all of the sources that were used in an essay or research paper; it credits the
source or sources for the information you present, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize to support your
ELIT 48C Kim Palmore 4
thesis. A Works Cited page also serves as a reference to the sources that were used so that a reader or
writer can quickly refer to the original text. The Works Cited page for this research project will include
Trifles. If you use other sources, including other primary or secondary sources from class, please list those
Expected Student Learning Outcomes
§ Demonstrate outlining and brainstorming abilities
§ Demonstrate an awareness of the time needed to plan, search, and write an essay
§ Demonstrate increased awareness of strategies for organizing ideas and structuring essays
§ Demonstrate an ability to use complex sentence structures
§ Demonstrate an understanding of multiple rhetorical strategies
§ Demonstrate active reading strategies by finding textual evidence
§ Learn to integrate quotations effectively and correctly
Previously Learned Skills Required to Complete this Assignment
ü The ability to summarize sources
ü The ability to use multiple rhetorical strategies: Narration, Description, Exemplification
ü An awareness of plagiarism issues
ü The ability to write grammatically correct, clear sentences.
ü The ability to write a clear and concise thesis.
ü The ability to brainstorm material for an essay.
ü The ability to organize an essay
Ø As you (re)read Trifles, keep in mind the prompts and highlight specific passages, lines, or scenes
that may support your argument.
Ø Write a thesis that helps readers understand both your argument and your reasoning.
Ø Include textual examples that illustrate your points.
Ø Avoid telling the reader that something is “interesting,” or “exciting”; instead create images or
use examples that show it.
Ø Come to my office if you are unsure, confused, or behind.
Traps to Avoid:
Ø Choosing a topic that you do not understand or one not on the list that you have not discussed
Ø Failing to assert a clear and strong argument.
Ø Seeking to present the subject from memory or hearsay.
Ø Failing to support the argument with evidence from appropriate sources.
Ø Citing Wikipedia (or other non-academic or unreliable sources) as a source for your paper.