You are on page 1of 9

FORESHADOWING Many women throughout time have faced hardships and afflictions solely based on their sex.

The early 20th century, however, marked a time in which women were caught between the traditional male and female worlds, no longer limited to the home, but not yet accepted in the outside world. In the play, Trifles, author Susan Glaspell uses foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism to convey the theme that women face a power struggle when their legal obligations conflict with their protectionist and empathetic feelings for a fellow woman. Susan Glaspell was born on July 1, 1876, in Davenport, Iowa. She graduated from Drake University, where she received a Ph. B. degree in philosophy. In Des Moines she did newspaper work, covering the murder trial of an Iowa farmwoman, Mrs. Hossack, who had killed her husband in their bed. This incident became the source for the play Trifles, which later was written as a story entitled, A Jury of Her Peers, which is regarded as her most famous story. At the time, this drama was considered very controversial and disturbing, which added to its popularity. Glaspell later married George Cram Cook in 1913. With Cook she became active in New York literary life and in the experimental theater movement in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The work they did there with several leading playwrights and actors resulted in the creation of the Provincetown Players, who performed Trifles in 1916. Glaspell was the leading playwright of the group, and eleven of her plays were produced during the Player's next six years. In all, she produced fifty short stories, fourteen plays, and nine novels. She died of pneumonia in Provincetown in 1948. The majority of Glaspell s writings evolve around her strong feminist point of view. The storylines to these writings also tend to follow real life experiences of

The jar of cherries play an interesting role in the drama that many people would overlook while reading this play. until the coldness of her marriage. Her style of writing reflects her background as a journalist and she credits her husband s influence for changing her genre from fiction to drama. broke her apart. [Holding it toward the window] this is cherries. Mrs.] I think there's some here that's all right. Wright s husband. The cherries were introduced to the audience as two women. John Wright. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer. too. [Gets down. as well. "Minnie(Mrs. (77) Two critics have explained that the cherries represent more than a simple fruit. the bird.] I declare I believe that's the only one. Wright had left out in the kitchen. Mrs. Yes--here. Peters. These objects give the reader clues of actions that may occur later in the story line. I wonder if it's all gone. Beverly Smith states. Goes to the sink and wipes it off on the outside. bottle in her hand.Glaspell. [Looking again. Hale was wandering around the kitchen she approached a loaf of bread and said. Trifles was the result of these influences in her life. and they had asked for a few of the neighbors to tell them about the Wright family. and the bird. Wright) herself stayed on the shelf. the quilt. alone and unbefriended on the farm. Foreshadowing can be found in the use of the jar of cherries. Hale and Mrs.] It's a shame about her fruit. As Mrs. then abruptly drops it. were discussing the food products that Mrs. In a manner of returning to familiar things. She was going to put this in there. her life in general. This drama relies heavily on the reader s ability to recognize these hints and realize their importance. Mrs. Peters.cage.] She'll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. [Picks up loaf. had been found murdered in his bedroom and the police were investigating the house. Her secrets kept under pressure burst from their fragile . [Gets up on the chair and looks.

the motive to complete the prosecutor's case. The single intact jar symbolizes the one remaining secret. the clue that will solve the mystery. "'Preserves' explode from lack of heat. ." (Ben-Zvi 154) These two critics prove that the cherries foreshadow two things. Susan Glaspell s masterful use of foreshadowing provides suspense to the play that it may otherwise lack. . . a punning reminder of the causal relationship between isolation and violence.containers . The jar of cherries provide a simple object that has a much deeper meaning to the story. and the motive that may have been behind the murder." (Smith 175) Linda Ben-Zvi sheds a different light on this matter.

but Minnie Foster's change was due to John's abuse which denied her individuality and imprisoned her in a stereotype that was mentally debilitating. not the murder of John by Minnie.Peters. "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"(glaspell 167). When he kills the bird. John figuratively strangles the life out of Minnie like he literally strangles the bird. Foster being her maiden name. was written long before the modern women's movement began. The law has got to punish Crime. The rocking chair had depreciated over the years just like Minnie Foster. Hale"(glaspell 167). Minnie is derived from mini or minimized. Peter. The Rocking chair is another important symbol in the story. The bird and the birdcage is a private symbol which is also representative of the role women are forced into in society. says "for that matter a sheriff's wife is married to the law"(glaspell 168). Peters. The chair symbolizes the absent Minnie Wright. but kind of timid and fluttery"(glaspell 165). Hale then says "how-she.Hale and Mrs. Women taking their husband's last names is also very significant in the story.Hale used to remember it being. Mrs. Hale describes Minnie. which was very descriptive of her oppressed relationship with John and also the male insensitivity toward most women in society. Mr. The difference is she is talking about the crime committed against Minnie. Character names are very important in A Jury of her Peers. the bird being women and the cage being men. Mrs. and the chair sagged to one side"(glaspell 157). Hale also speaks of Minnie Foster. The women in the story are not given first names. before her marriage. Mrs. Mrs. Minnie then strangles the life out of John like he strangled the life out of her bird. Mrs. This ultimately led Minnie to kill John and escape the abuse. Glaspell illustrates how this highly stereotypical role can create oppression for women and also bring harm to men as well. The bird is caged just as Minnie is trapped in the abusive relationship with John. She says "I know what stillness is. as "kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty.Hale and Mrs. yet her story reveals. the role that women are expected to play in society. but they don't realize the importance of it until they find the dead bird with its neck twisted to one side. The birdcage symbolizes Minnie's life. with wooden rungs up the back. The role that society has cast upon them is defined by their husbands. which the educated lawmen considered a "trifle". through Glaspell's use of symbolism. John and Minnie Wright. the county attorney.Hale and Mrs. She reinforces that identity until she is faced with the brutality of what John Wright did to Minnie. is viewed in those terms. and are referred to only as Mrs.did-change"(165). Minnie had taken the scraps and put them into a . The name Minnie has significant symbolism. and the middle rung was gone.Peters stumble across.SYMBOLISM Susan Glaspell's short story. Another major symbol. The two characters. A Jury of Her Peers. Mrs. are the focus of the story. is the quilt which Mrs. Peters find Minnie's bird cage in the cupboard. who is married to the sheriff. he kills the last bit of Minnie and her spirit. The rocking chair "was dingy. Other significant symbols in the story are the bird and the birdcage. which was not anything like Mrs.

The story is a warning to men that a system where men dominate and oppress women cannot and will not be tolerated. but inside was truly made of scraps.nice neat quilt. Glaspell effectively uses symbolism in the story to help convey the feminist theme. This befuddles the women for "It looks like she didn't know what she was about"(glaspell 163). This is very ironic because while the men are looking for clues. he destroyed the last bit of personality that Minnie held for herself. This represented her life. Mr. or trifles. and literally "didn't know what she was about"(glaspell 163). The women rebel against their husbands. confused. . The symbolisms paint not only a picture of Minnie's life. The referral to the quilt as a trifle is very symbolic in the story. but also the lives of all women who live oppressed under male domination. She either had to quilt it. The question that is asked is whether Minnie was going to "quilt or just knot it"(glaspell 163). as they conspire to conceal the incriminating evidence that points to Minnie. This is a reflection of how the men in the story. She was angry. This is the decision Minnie had to make. she illustrates just how the self-destructive introspection of John had slowly overwhelmed the youthful vivacity of his wife. Through the use of symbols. meaning she had to endure the abuse. Hale says "Women are used to worrying over trifles"(glaspell 159). or she would knot it and decide that her life as it exists was "not it" and she would do something to change it. This is very symbolic and ironic. and society in general viewed and treated the women. the women discover the key to the mystery among what the men consider as only silly women's work. for her life was neat on the outside. When John killed the bird. A trifle is something that is small and of no consequence. but one square was haphazardly sewn.

the reader is intentionally mislead by focusing on the details of the patterns of her life and her overall guiding thought processes. we are introduced to the character around which the story is centered. Certainly such is the case in Susan Glaspell’s story “A Jury of Her Peers”. maintaining a humorless daily grind. She is depicted to be a person of great life and vitality in her younger years. if not outright ashamed. no job is to be left unfinished. if not the central focus of the story’s plot. who is concerned. Peters. In the final analysis. By use of this literary diversion. rise to the occasion. in that this trait seems to be directly opposite the nature of the accused. Wright is indeed the culprit. Hale. good allegorical stories. yet we understand as the plot is developed that she is instead a woman of equally strong convictions and character.A CHARACTER ANALYSIS BY SUSAN GLASPELL As in the case of most. but becomes clearer as the story evolves. it later becomes a key point as the plot develops. Initially we are introduced to a woman. of her failure to be a good neighbor. and a person who can and will. Here we see a richness of characterization and setting that is elusive at first reading. devoid of life as we regard it in a normal social sense. Mrs. In direct comparison to Mrs. It is by the use of allegorical and metaphorical rhetoric that the tension of the story is maintained so very well. Where she was once a . She is shown to be a strong woman. it becomes clear just who the jury is and the outcome of their collective verdict. She initially seems to lack the very force of character that is required of someone of authority. Although it is clear to the reader that Mrs. Mrs.CHARACTERIZATION James McMasters English 112 October 17. Hale’s inherent instinct for “neatness”. 2000 A JURY OF HER PEERS . Hale. Peters seems to be ill at ease being the wife of a lawman. who first seems cast as a central character. in the final analysis. yet her life as Mrs. the primary impact of the tale is strongly influenced by the author’s detailed characterization of the setting. she is portrayed sympathetically because of that very lack of normalcy in her daily routine. that of a farmer’s wife. as well as the characters’ feelings and passions. and high importance is attached to keeping a “proper” household. For example. Mrs. the accursed murderess. if not all. Mrs. Wright is portrayed as one of grim sameness. we are shown the concept of Mrs. Although this appears as a seemingly innocuous detail. the wife of the sheriff. Hale is well suited for her role in life. Finally. Wright. in Paragraph 1. Mrs. Hale is shown to be a person of neatness and detail. we meet her fellow conspirator. It is interesting to note that while the author makes it clear that Mrs. half the flour sifted and half unsifted”. a woman of principle. “her bread all ready for mixing.

Although they themselves are only vaguely familiar with the accused. and a woman’s ability for discernment. imposed his overbearing will upon his wife one time too many. Wright. pure and still relatively untainted. the dirty pots. The telling details center on the unfinished task of putting the sugar away. Mrs. For purposes of character and plot development. and sympathetic of.girl of gaiety and laughter. the men in the story are superfluous for the most part. It is equally clear that she finally was brought to her personal breaking point. a state which had been denied her for the duration of her relationship with the deceased. he committed the unpardonable sin. this ignorance on their part is a fatal flaw that is at the same time a familiar one. and it is only through conscious effort and will do humans become able to fully see and appreciate those subtle nuances that form the complete human psyche. Wright had been abused to the point of desperation was finally and clearly understood by the two women who were the “peers” forming Mrs. he crossed the line formed by her inner feelings by taking from her the last vestige of all that she ever held near and dear to her heart. By taking from her the only thing in life that she truly cherished. Wright. We know the facts of the case as presented in the story. the threadbare clothes. the thought pattern leading up to the actual act had been long in formation. dealing with her situation in a manner that was at once final and yet inconclusive. Wright. depending on the outcome of the legal investigation. That Mrs. It is equally clear to the reader that the act of murder was one which was not a matter of impulse so much as it was a calculated act based on years of mental and marital abuse. Wright’s “jury”. it is clear that over the years she has been forced into a reclusive shell by a marriage to a man who has been singularly oppressive. Wright had finally realized a state of peace within herself. the broken stove. after taking from his wife the only thing she truly still cared for. we all are egocentric by nature. and in the untidy sewing of a small piece of the unfinished quilt. The scene set by the author. As humans. they are also very familiar with. Their major contribution to the story is their good-natured contempt of women in general. with little to no appreciation for the beauty of life. all contribute to creating a sense of empathy on the part of the reader for Mrs. ever the dour one. he in effect destroyed all that was left inside her that was good. in fact. This is in direct opposition to the “investigation” conducted by the women. By his wanton killing of her bird. the plight of her daily routine. In this case. We can easily visualize what occurred: Mr. Although the actual killing was in all likelihood not premeditated. The subtlety of the female mind escapes their attention entirely. caused her to become distraught . it is a subject of derision. It is notable that regardless of the outcome. Mr. We also note that the men’s’ approach to the investigation is based on their experience with other men for the most part.

Wright considered of value in her life. as much as what it represented to her of her lost youth and former life. This treatment she could no long tolerate. it was as if in doing so. Wright strongly suggests the affinity between her and the singing of the bird. Wright symbolically “murdered” the last vestige of his wife’s’ innocence and youth which was the only element still sustaining her in her grim existence. It is also very notable that the dead bird rested in a beautiful box that obviously was one of the last things Mrs. The final irony of the tale is the manner of dispatch. The loss of them virtually simultaneously became the last straw for Mrs. When the bird was needlessly killed. In her defense. Wright was murdered in a manner that was entirely consistent with his wife’s sense of justice. It wasn’t the bird so much that kept her sane. Note that although there was a gun in the house it was not used. One can only hope that the “jury’s” final verdict was a binding one. The fact that he also was choked until dead reflects wonderfully the justice required for his wringing of the bird’s neck. that last remnant of happier times. increases the pathos experienced by the central characters as well as the reader. We can imagine her state of mind as she sat in shock after witnessing the destruction of all that she had left in her life to love and hold dear. In taking from her all that she truly loved. This is evidenced by the fact that. Mr. The author’s masterful use of seemingly subtle and unrelated elements is woven into a complex tapestry that illustrates fully the complexity that is the human condition. The visual mirror drawn by the author between the singing of the bird and that of the young Mrs. Only by taking his life in the manner that he lived was justice fully and completely served. The correlation between the bird and the box is very strong. Wright. Mr. it was as if her husband physically destroyed the central core element of his own wife. It is not an accident that this very piece of stitchery covered the final resting place of the the point of total distraction and fury. . that one piece was a total mess. both represented the loss of all that she ever held near and dear to her heart. the other women understood all too clearly what had driven her to commit the deed. This is a wonderful tale that stands on its own merit. It is an even greater story when considered in light of the symbolic and allegorical elements contained therein. although the majority of the stitching was very precise. The fact that she put the bird in the box.

Once the whole group is safely inside the house. the sheriff’s wife. Wright’s house to convince Wright to get a telephone. The story begins with Mr. Immediately Mrs. Wright’s actions. leaving the two women to each other's company. Hale is asked to describe. She rushes out to join them in the buggy and the group sets off. The story begins on a cold windy day in Dickson County with Martha Hale. Wright’s actual involvement in her husband’s death. Wright's guilt and of her provocations and motives. and does not move into the occurrences after they leave the house. Despite the serious circumstances. Wright in a delirious state and comes to learn that Mr. to find evidence. tendencies he struggles to avoid throughout. The women's curious nature and peculiar attention to minute details allow them to find evidence of Mrs. The story ends here. go about hiding what they find from the men.Plot Summary “A Jury of Her Peers” chronicles the discovery of and subsequent investigation into John Wright’s murder. The men then leave. They arrive at the scene of the crime. George Henderson. what he had seen and experienced the day prior. This story arouses suspicion about Mrs. Mr. . being abruptly called to ride to a crime scene with Lewis Hale. he delivers his story in a long-winded and poorly thought-out manner. Peters. The women. the Wright’s lonesome-looking house. the county sheriff. her husband. Wright (the dead man's wife) twenty years prior. and Mrs. displaying airs of superiority. finding justification in Mrs. to the county attorney. while the men are unable to procure any evidence. their obstruction of evidence will seemingly prevent a conviction. Hale venturing to Mr. Hale exhibits feeling of guilt for not visiting her friend Minnie Foster since Foster had married and become Mrs. Wright has allegedly been strangled in the night. Upon entering the house he finds Mrs. In the end. Sheriff Peters.