quiltdra.gif (1299 bytes)VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)

Up John Wright Suppressing Evidence Preserves Women-Men Symbols Trifles Loneliness Other Setting in Trifles India vs. Trifles Biography Visual Elements in "Trifles" Using Archives


From: Ron Carter, RCC
Date: 1/23/99
Time: 11:22:15 AM


What props take on symbolic significance as the play progresses? Explain one or two.

rocking chair 

one unbroken jar of cherry preserves quilt that Minnie was finishing by knotting it canary bird cage
rocker preserves quilt canary birdcage
stove pots and pans kitchen table soiled towel barn
stove pots and pans kitchen table towel barn


The Purpose of Symbols in the Play: [Julie from St. Thomas University explains:] Overall, it is through the discovery of these small "kitchen things," and Mrs. Hale's familiarity with Mrs. Wright, that the women piece together Mrs. Wright's motive. Ironically, the men thought these things were insignificant to the murder case. 

The setting portrayed through these symbols the life of Minnie Wright, which she struggled through from an abusive husband. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters were able to evaluate the clues around the kitchen and find the underlying truth. In addition, the women recognize how the men will react to their finding - primarily the missing significance of those "trifles." This exposes the men's narrow view of women, enabling the women to take a step beyond that seclusion in a male-dominated society and have control to protect Minnie.

Rocking Chair: [Catherine Langhorne (JSRCC) says:] I believe that the rocking chair is a sign that Mrs. Wright is trying to stay calm, but she was very nervous. She was holding her apron, and she was bunching it up. She is sitting in the rocker when she tells Hale that her husband "died of a rope around his neck." Mrs. Wright was told the coroner was on his way, and she moved to a small chair in the corner. She knew that she was going to get caught. 

[Kelly Bergman (RCC) observes:] The rocking chair symbolizes
her way of tranquility. She was finally at peace, and that was where she liked to spend her quiet time.

Cherry Preserves: [Julie from the University of St. Thomas explains:] As Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale observe the kitchen setting, they notice that the cherry preserves were broken from the cold. The preserves represent the " trifles" that women concerned themselves which [actually] took many hours of labor to make. The men, however, . . . make fun of Mrs. Wright for worrying for her preserves: "Can you beat that woman, held for murder and worrin' about her preserves." 

As a result of the cold weather, the jars had cracked and broken just like Mrs. Wright - she, too, had fallen apart. Thus, the preserves symbolize the meaning of Minnie's life of hard labor and confinement. Moreover, the preserves were shattered just as her spirit was broken by her cruel and unappreciative husband. 

The preserves were evidently something Minnie enjoyed doing; it brought satisfaction in her lonely life. This was an indication that it was not out of Mrs. Wright's control - due to her dreadful emotional state living in the household lonely. 

In addition, women were not looked on with any meaning for society, thus, like the preserves, Minnie cracked due to the extreme harshness and "coldness" from her husband.

Quilt: [Kristin Nonnemacher (NVCC):] I think the quilt is symbolic of the story and all the trifles Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale find. Before a quilt is completed, it is just a bunch of patches of fabric. They don't have anything in common at all until they are pieced together to form a quilt. The pieces don't seem to have any relation to each other at all, just like all the little trifles of information the women
gather in the kitchen, until they are put together. The messy stitching could be symbolic of the turmoil Mrs. Wright was going through. The quilt remains incomplete, as does the story, since we don't know the fate of Mrs. Wright.

[Kitty Lee of JSRCC offers these details:] The quilt is symbolic because it helps to show the fact that Mrs. Wright knew how to tie a knot. As you should recall Mr. Wright was hung by a rope. The rope had to be tied in a knot to make a loop to put around his neck. When she was sewing the quilt she began to sew out of line. Was she nervous?  Mrs. Hale says, "Mrs. Peters, look at this one. Here, this is the one she was working on..." This is not her first
time sewing a quilt, so therefore, Mrs. Wright had no reason to be nervous, unless she had done something to be nervous about like killing her husband. When the County Attorney says, "Well ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?", Mrs. Peters replies, "We think she was going to-knot it."

Canary: [Catherine Langhorne (JSRCC) suggests that:] The dead bird lets other people know that Mrs. Wright is capable of murder. Mrs. Hale notices that the bird has a broken neck. The bird didn't die of natural causes. Mrs. Wright also put the bird in a box that was laying in her sewing basket. I believe she wanted someone to see the dead bird. She could have buried the bird and her husband, but she chose to keep them with her in the house.

[Kelly Bergman (RCC) claims, apparently assuming that Minnie killed the bird, that] The bird is also symbolic of the way she wanted all the noise in her life to just cease. In some ways it could be taken as evidence to whether or not the murder was premeditated or not.

[Peter Pudner (JSRCC) offers:] I agree the bird is the most significant prop in trifles. It is symbolic of the way Mr. Wright treated Mrs. Wright and, as you said, the reason Mr. Wright is dead. I also think the bird is symbolic of how Mr. Wright wanted to “kill” any thing, which gave Mrs. Wright pleasure.

[Daniel Owens (NVCC) concludes:] While the bird is a very symbolic prop it can carry several meanings. It can reinforce the separation of the woman from the men about the crime scene and Mrs. Wright's guilt. It can also lead the reader to again ask themselves questions like

bulletWhat really happened here?
bulletWho killed the bird Mr. or Mrs. Wright? 
bulletWhy did the bird get wrapped and hidden in the sewing bag?
bulletWhat was Mrs. Wright's state of mind. 

[Anna Uong captures this idea in her summary of ideas submitted for this question:] Mrs. Wright wanted others to find the dead bird; otherwise, she would have buried it.

[Kitty Lee of JSRCC says:] The bird is symbolic because it also helps to solve the case of Mr. Wright's murder. When the ladies found the bird, they found it in a box, wrapped up, as if it was something special--and it was, at least to Mrs. Wright. Otherwise, why would she be keeping a dead bird in a box? The ladies came to the conclusion that Mr. Wright killed the bird, and he probably did, and that's why Mrs. Wright killed him. 

Mr. Wright took something away from her that she could relate to. Mrs. Hale says, "She-come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery." Somehow Mr. Wright changed Mrs. Wright and it was not for the better. He took all those good things , the special things Mrs. Hale said about Mrs. Wright away. The bird is the motive for why Mrs. Wright killed her husband. When he killed the bird, he killed her along with it. 

[Gloria McMillian (JSRCC) offers a different perspective on the bird's symbolism:] I believe that the bird in the Trifle's play is symbolically significant. But instead of discussing what the bird symbolized to Mrs. Wright, I would like to look at this creature through the eyes of Mr. Wright. 

It is evident that Mr. Wright abused his wife. This abuse could have been emotional (verbal) and/or physical. In situations like this, we seem to always sympathize with the victim, Mrs. Wright in this case. And yes, I do feel for her, and the thousands of other women she represents. 

But from all that I have learned about abusers, they themselves were often the victims of abuse. Therefore, I would like to suggest that Mr. Wright had indeed been an abused child. Children, who grow into adults, learn by example. Mr. Wright therefore had a distorted perception of what love really was and how love is to be positively expressed. 

I believe that Mr. Wright loved his wife to the best of his limited capabilities. I believe that he daily watched Mrs. Wright show love and affection towards that bird. He probably saw her take care of the animal with joy, instead of with hesitation and dread, like she had when taking care of him. I believe he became jealous of the bird and grew to hate him, because the bird received the love he longed for from his wife. 

[Iesha Collins (JSRCC) points out:] I believe that the bird symbolizes a child-substitute for Mrs. Wright. [So then what is John killing when he breaks the bird's neck?  Does this implication provide additional reason for Minnie to kill John?]

Russell Vines (JSRCC 2004), after reviewing the comments above, offers his own theory of how the bird died.  "May I suggest that Mr. Wright killed the bird and placed it in the box for his wife to find. Mrs. Wright may have been abused in the past and feared for her life. This would cause anyone to be nervous. Upon discovering the dead bird, afraid for her life, she nervously goes about her daily chores.Webmaster's reply: "I've always
thought John killed the bird right in front of Minnie, out of spite and
anger, but your depiction is just as cruel and also gives John a chance to
get to sleep while Minnie stays up with her sewing."

Birdcage: [Julie from the University of St. Thomas says:] While the women stay in the kitchen, they observe the broken birdcage and the dead bird. The bird symbolized the true essence of Minnie's spirit and joy. This final revelation indicated that the bird was an embodiment of Mrs. Wright's beauty - only until Mr. Wright had finally "killed" her singing. 

Furthermore, Minnie was, in a sense, a "caged-bird" herself - confined to only the house, thus, preventing her from communicating with others.

[Gloria McMillian (JSRCC)asks a question every reader of this play has to wonder about:] If the men had found the bird cage and bird, could they have put 2 and 2 together?

Dirty Kitchen: [Kelly Bergman (RCC) offers a symbolic interpretation of the messiness of the kitchen:] The dirtiness of the kitchen too symbolized something. It symbolized that she was finally free. She no longer had to wait on anyone else and no longer would she fear anyone.

[Philip Quick (NVCC) suggests:] the woman were protective of Mrs. Wright and stood up for her when she was critisized for keeping a dirty kitchen. They stated that men don't keep their hands as clean as they should.

Tally and Summary by Karen Shelton--

I began by tallying the responses - 3 for the rocking chair as a symbolic prop because the rocking chair symbolizes Mrs. Wright's way of tranquility and a way for her stay calm. I felt the rocking chair was symbolic because it is a link to Mrs. Wright. She is the basis of the story, but actually never appeared in the play, but referred to often with descriptions.

Four felt the quilt was a symbolic prop because it symbolizes the turmoil Mrs. Wright was going through. I liked the idea that Kristin from NVCC gave - "The quilt remains incomplete, as does the story, since we don't know the fate of Mrs. Wright." Also, Kitty from JSR referred to the quilt because it related to how Mr. Wright was killed - "As you should recall Mr. Wright was hung by a rope. The rope had to be tied in a knot to make a loop to put around his neck. When the County Attorney says, "Well ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?", Mrs. Peters replies, "We think she was going to-knot it."

Eight felt the dead bird was the most symbolic prop. Most referred to the comment Mrs. Hale made about Mrs. Wright - "I wish you'd seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang...she was kind of like a bird herself -- real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and -- fluttery. How -- she -- did -- change." The death of the bird symbolizes the death of Minnie Foster.

I was the only one who felt the bird cage was also an important prop. My reasoning for this was if they had not found it and the condition it was in (the door was broke, one hinge is pulled apart, looks as if someone must have been rough with it) there would not have been a need to look for the bird or try to decide what had happened to it.

I think everyone gave good reasoning as to why they felt which props were more symbolic.