Symbolic Setting in Trifles

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There is the presence of symbols in Glaspell's play. In this paper, the analysis is done from the characters and symbols concept. The analysis of symbols significance and their interpretations are conducted via the symbolic settings, names, actions, and objects. Besides, symbolic objects and names also play a major role in the symbols’ development. The physical objects examples are the bird, the birdcage, rocking chair, and cherry preserves. The symbolic action examples are the forth movement and rocking back after the husband's killing, the movement to an ordinary chair from a rocking one, and the dead bird's saving and the corpse. The symbolic setting examples include location and time. The location of the story is in the kitchen and the time is during winter. Glaspell applies symbolism to emphasize women's condition at that moment. Her intention was to show how something trivial is vital if seen deeply.

            In the 19th century, the right of women in the states did not exist. At that time several literary figures emerged. Fern and Chopin wrote on inequality and inability of females to live independently. In that manner, female writers like Gaspell inherited a good legacy from them. Gaspell grew old when at the time writing in America shifted to modernism from regionalism and she assisted to find a modern movement (Angel 779). The play Trifles is a short play which beliefs in the characters' strong feeling and the ultimate impact of the play. The play shows women's will to act as a unit at the time of need. It is substantially different compared to some plays as the other always act bias. Rather, Trifles' women understand and sympathize with each other when faced with retaliation against the brutality and domination of her husband. A symbol is an experience, from both perception viewpoint and a creative one. Glaspell applies symbolism as a device to explain her theme. In this play, she gives women many symbols to justify their feelings and make it easy to foil their findings. Moreover, details were well thought to assist in giving the reader a picture and letting the reader visualize through the farm's house eye.

Several symbols can be noted in Trifles. they include symbolic setting, symbolic name, symbolic action a symbolic object.

Symbolic Name

The Wright

            The main character's family name is The Wright which is pronounced the same as right meaning that their things that are to be accepted by others. The name was chosen to show that the story is right and also the challenges the character face in this play. Minnie Foster is the main character's name before she gets married. Minnie has a similar pronunciation as mini which symbolizes minor or small. The name Foster means force which is a symbol of power. The name combined portrays lack of power and considered weak. After marriage Foster becomes Minnie Wright as she now adopts the surname of the husband. The new name comes with a different meaning which is inadequate right. The name changes the meaning form somebody who is weak to one who lacks right.

Symbolic Object

Rocking chair

            Minnie sits on the chair after killing the husband. The chair symbolizes the way in which Minnie can remain calm after killing the husband. The chair symbolizes comfort and a way to make her forget whatever has happened for a while. Her husband's death makes her frightened and the chair is the only consolation that can make her feel human again (Martha 28)

Cherry preserves

            The cherry preserve had broken already when Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters found it because of the cold. The color of the cherry symbolizes the spirit Minnie had before marriage, happy and cheerful. After marriage, she felt that she was unable to achieve her dreams just like the cherry that was preserved. From the low temperature and pressure, the preserved cracked and broke. Likewise, Minnie is under pressure to achieve her dreams which leads to a heartbreak.

The Quilt

            It is made of fabric patches conglomerated to form a big square. In the play, the quilt is unfinished. It is a symbol of Minnie's fat. The fabric patches symbolize information found. Minnie's fate is still unknown same as the unfinished quilt. At the time the quilt was found it was unfinished and it was not certain whether it was going to be knotted or quilted. If it was to be quilted, then her work goes on but if it was going to be knotted when it is the end. It symbolizes how Minnie was to deal with her fate after the murder (Lizbeth 205).

The Birdcage

             As Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters searched for a string and paper, they found that the birdcage had broken. The cage symbolizes the conditions under which Minnie operated like not being allowed to socialize, treated with brutality and harshness by the husband. The bird symbolizes Minnie as she is also confined within limits. The only thing she was allowed to do was housekeeping and nothing else. The birdcage symbolized a prison under which Minnie had been living for years but when the cage broke, it symbolized the freedom of Minnie after years of confinement (Lizbeth 365).

The Bird

    Mrs. Hale on finding that the bird had died, she sensed that it had not died from natural causes but it had been strangled. The bird was then wrapped and placed in box signifying that it was special (Lizbeth 205).

Symbolic Action

            When Mrs. Hale walked into the house she found Mrs. Wright making back and forth movements on a rocking chair. After murdering the husband, Mrs. was very tensed and therefore, she chose the rocking chair as it helped to ease her nerves and remain calm as if nothing had happened. The chair made her feel comfortable and natural. It was a symbol of staying calm and solving her weakness.

The movement to an ordinary chair from a rocking one

            On the knowledge that Mr. Wright was murdered, Mr. Hale wanted to inform the authorities and that made Minnie switch chairs. The comfortable had vanished. It hit her that she was to be captured any moment from then. On that chair, she was very nervous and confused. The switch symbolized a move from dream to reality.

The saving the corpse and dead bird

            The bird had died and it was covered with silk showing it was important. The bird was not buried immediately as she wanted to know the killer. To be precise she wanted people to know that she was not feeling well. She treated her husband's corpse in the same manner. Minnie had the chance to bury her husband's corpse but she did not instead leave the body lying on the floor. The implication is that she feels guilty about her husband's death.

Symbolic Setting


            The play's setting takes place in winter. The temperatures are very low in winter and trees lose leaves and at the time die. The season is always associated with death. In the play, the setup is in winter and there are characters who also die at that time. The jar gets cracked because of the low temperatures (Angel 779) The weather also symbolizes the cold treatment Minnie received from the husband. She symbolizes the jar which while the temperatures lowered further it cracked just like Minnie who was pushed until she rebelled.


            In the play, the kitchen is gloomy and dirty where all equipment and dishes are all over. The gloomy kitchen symbolizes that Minnie is not happy in her marriage and the disarray shows how confused and nervous she is that she is not ready to do anything. Minnie as a woman of the 19th Century should be keeping the house neat, more so, the kitchen. That is the reason why men do not walk around kitchens. It is a place where any woman spends more time in cooking, cleaning, ironing and performing other house chores. Therefore, it should always be in order and kept clean. The situation is different in the kitchen of Minnie. The kitchen is very dirty and disorderly. The reason is that whoever could complain was dead and she felt free. Her burden has been lifted and is free from house chores. The displayed kitchen shows that when one feels free all that held on to her is scattered away and she remains as a piece (Jackson & Mary 551).

Work Cited

Angel, Marina. "Susan Glaspell's Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers: Woman Abuse in a Literary and Legal Context."Buff. L. Rev. 45 (1997): 779.

Lizbeth Goodman. Literature and Gender. Routledge, 2013-424pgs

Martha, C. &. Susan, G. New Directions in Critical Inquiry. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009 - 120 pages

Jackson R. B. & Mary C. H. The Facts on File Companion to American Drama. Infobase Publishing, 2010 - 657 pages

November 24, 2023



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