Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

Susan Galspell’s pen gave birth to the short play “Trifles” in 1916 which stands as an illustrated example of the use of irony and symbolism in the literature (Ozieblo 97). Why are these used in plays is an interesting question, and the answer to which is that they add more depth and meaning to the plays. They make the readers ponder upon the indirect meanings that they convey and the irony that is depicted brings the whole scenario of the plays to a higher level where social issues are brought up and discussed. Thus, the use of irony and symbolism create more depth to the play (Feidelson 28). Trifle is set in a farmhouse where a murder of a man takes place and investigation is being carried out, which eventually is solved at the hands of two ladies who were being suppressed my male dominancy throughout (Glaspell). Each of the elements of the play depicts some hidden meaning: sometimes they show some societal irony and sometimes they symbolize some other important aspects that make the readers read between the lines.

The major aspect of the play that displayed the most ironic situation was the gender differences and discrimination and how eventually the same discriminated gender leads to becoming a crucial source of the resolution of the whole dilemma (Encyclopedia). The play begins and continues to show how females were suppressed out of every right to be intellectual and their minds and emotions were deemed to not go far beyond the realm of the kitchen or their parlors. But the climax of the play leads to the conclusion that the women were far more filled with intuition and analytical skills to think and capture matters and resolve them far better than the men present there.

Other than gender discrimination another ironic element in the play is of isolation, which seemed to be a major aspect of the lives of many people in the play, such as Mr. Wright and his wife Minnie (Glaspell). It was the same reason for which Minnie ends up murdering him: isolation. Where isolation was preferred by Mr. Wright, Minnie despised it and it was torture for her.


The most interesting element of the play is nonetheless the symbols that are used to depict hidden meaning in the play other than the major plot. The pile of unfinished tasks in the kitchen, where leftover food is lying around, dishes lay unwashed and a mess is everywhere (Glaspell), depicts a distorted state of the mind of Minnie. Other than that, a cage represents the feeling of being in bondage, which was felt by Minnie while living with her husband, the quilt symbolizes marriage, the bird that was bought is a joyous thing, Minnie’s apron is a symbol of safety, and finally the death of the bird symbolizes the hatred of the man, and the death of a woman’s spirit (Encyclopedia).

Thus, focusing on the ironic truths of the play and symbols in the forms of many household items allow us to read between the lines and end up examining it for its true worth. The play displays what was an important societal issue of gender discrimination, the misery that isolation brings to people and how the various aspects and feelings are depicted through the use of many everyday items. We can only assess the importance and meaning of these symbols if we pay attention to the reason that only certain items are chosen to be mentioned in the play by the author. Their purpose is not just to create a visual image of the scene of the play but rather create a picture of what the grounds for the story are (Feidelson 172).