Joseph Campbell explains in his interview that the hero journey involves a transformation of consciousness. He says, “Trials and revelations are what it’s all about.” In this transformation, the adventure evokes a quality of the hero’s character that she/he didn’t know she/he possessed. For Trifles, we will consider the transformation of consciousness that occurs and how it comes about.
Susan Glaspell uses stock character types to help her readers understand the central conflicts. Who are the stock characters, and what types of men or women are they supposed to represent? By using these stock character types, what does Glaspell show her readers about gender roles in society at the time when Trifles is set/when it was written? Historic context is important to avoiding misinterpretation of this play; we must read it first within the context of the historical period in which it produced before understanding its significance to today’s audiences. In that culture/society, what were some important differences between the expectations for men and those for women? How are these expectations revealed through the characters’ behavior, dialogue, and thought processes? What were the differences in laws and men/women’s roles in society? Read the additional information provided to you in content regarding women’s rights and family law if you’re not really sure about the historical context.
Given your understanding of character and context, what might have been Glaspell’s central message (theme) for Trifles? What was she trying to communicate to her audience? As always, consider the title first, and then think about what the plot of the play reveals about that title.
Now, examine the stage directions as well: how does the setting contribute to this theme? Consider the symbolism or the significance of the setting itself. How do different elements of the setting become symbolic of the nature of the Wrights’ relationship? Symbolic of the nature of the individual characters, John and/ or Minnie? Symbolic of the state of men and women at the time?
What is one significant symbol of women’s oppression or freedom that you see in Trifles? What does that symbol show us about the message that Glaspell was trying to communicate to her readers about the state of women’s existence and their place in society? How is it used to offer motive or explanation for Mrs. Wright’s actions?
Consider the “transformation of consciousness” that occurs in the play by describing the mindset of each character at the beginning of the play, and then contrast it with that character’s mindset at the end of the play. Who seems to be most sympathetic to Mrs. Wright’s motivations by the end of the play, and why? Do you recognize any significant changes in any character’s attitude throughout the course of the play? Who does not seem to change throughout the play? Explain. What is the “revelation” that occurs by the end of the play? What quality do you think these characters have found that they “didn’t realize [they]possessed?”
Finally, how might “justice” be served for Mrs. Wright? Is it the legal kind of justice or a different kind that depends on something besides the enforcement of law? Explain how Glaspell uses conflicting character types in the play to offer conflicting views of how justice might be served in this case. In the same thread of discussion, consider how Mrs. Wright’s actions were a form of rebellion that were either necessary and positive for her (and for women as a whole) or that were unjustified and negative.