Trifles of fate On the surface, Susan Glaspell's play Trifles focuses on a wife murdering her oppressive husband. The husband is abusing his wife emotionally out on a lonely secluded farm isolated from society in the Midwest. Under the surface, the behaviors of Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Wright in Glaspell's play to those of Clotho the Spinner, Lachesis the Disposer of Lots, and Atropos the Cutter of the Thread in Fate from Greek mythology (Meak 86).
Although Glaspell brings new meaning to the myth, the attention given to Mrs. Hale's resowing the quilt, the change in Mrs. Peter's perspective on law and justice, and the rope placed by Mrs. Wright around her husband's neck are part of the story of the Three Sisters who control the fate of men. Mrs. Hale's behavior is similar to Clotho the Spinner, the sister who spins the thread of life.
Mrs. Hale subtly suggests that Mrs. Wright is not the sole agent in the death of Mr. Wright (Meak 86). Mrs.
Hale's reference to that event, "when they was slipping the rope under his neck," (Glaspell 568) showing a plural pronoun and a singular verb suggests the involvement of more than one in a single outcome, and it suggests that the three women will be in conspiracy in the case controlling the outcome or the fate of all characters (Meak 88). The information about the living condition of Wrights on the farm is supplied mainly by Mrs. Hale describes Mr. Wright as "a hard man," and she describes how she remembers Mrs.
Wright when she was younger. She describes her as "kind of like a bird." (Glaspell 571) She establishes the connection of Mr. Wrights's Involvement in the physical death of the canary and spiritual death of his wife. The way the men joke about the women's concern about Mrs. Wright's intention "to quilt or just knot" the quilt evokes a defensive remark from Mrs. Hale in which she hints that it is unwise to tempt fate; she asserts "I don't see as it's anything to laugh about" (Glaspell 571).
Finally, by "just pulling out a stitch or two that's not sewed very good" and replacing it with her own stitching (Glaspell 571), Mrs. , Hale symbolically claims her position as the person who spins the thread of life. The second member of the Three Sisters, Lachesis the Disposer of Lots, is personified by Mrs. Peters (Meak 87). The importance of the thread spun by Mrs.
Hale depends on the actions and reactions of Mrs. Peters. To claim her position as the member of the Fates responsible for assigning destiny, she must look at things further. Her objectivity is displayed in her assertion that "the law is the law" and her view on physical evidence as she tells Mrs. Hale not touch anything (Ben-Zvi 158). The sight of the dead canary and the recognition that "somebody wrung its neck" marks Mrs.
Peters's waking up to realize that Mrs. Wright is guilty. The discovery of the dead bird makes Mrs. Peters think about her childhood memories of rage toward the "boy who took a hatchet" and brutally killed her kitten. In her mind, the kitten, Mrs.
Wright, and the bird become enmeshed. Mrs. Peters realizes that the dead bird will be used to stereotype Mrs. Wright as a mad woman who over reacts to her husband's behavior. At this point, Mrs. Peters emerges from the shadow of her role as the sheriff's wife and becomes "married to the law." Her new concept of law subjectively favors justice over procedure (Ben-Zvi 161).
She claims her position as the sister who dispenses that lots in life when she moves to hide the bird and denies the men "something to make a story about" (Glaspell 573). Mrs. Wright is representing Atropos the Cutter of the Thread. Symbolically, Mrs. Wright is first linked to Atropos in Mr. Hale's description of her rocking back and forth is similar to the motion made by cutting with scissors (Ben-Zvi 160).
The connection to Atropos is further established when Mrs. Peters discovers the dead bird in Mrs. Wright's sewing box and exclaims, "Why, this isn't her scissors" (Glaspell 571). Ironically, the dead canary takes the place of the scissors: The death of the bird is directly tied to the fate of Mr. Wright. Mr.
Hale relates that in his questioning of Mrs. Wright, she admits that her husband "died of a rope round his neck," but doesn't know how it happened because she "didn't wake up"; she is a sound sleeper (Glaspell 565). Mrs. Wright denies personal involvement in the death of her husband, yet she acknowledges that he died while she slept beside him in the bed. Mrs. Wright says, "I was on the inside" (Glaspell 565).
Although she may be referring to her routine "inside" position of sleep behind her husband in the bed placed along the wall, Mrs. Wright's statement suggests a movement from the outside being her individual consciousness to the inside being the collective consciousness of the Fates. Her involvement with the rope of death is the equivalent of severing the thread of life. She did not spin the thread, nor did she assign the lot: she merely contributed a part to the whole, and that collective whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
For this reason, Mrs. Wright is correct in denying individual knowledge or responsibility in the death of her husband (Ben-Zvi 161). In Trifles, Mrs. Hale weaves the story or describes the circumstances, Mrs. Peters weighs the evidence and determines the direction of justice, and Mrs. Wright carries out the verdict; although the procedure is somewhat reversed, the stories are still the same.
Susan Glaspell's use of the Fates, or the Three Sisters, does not weaken her dramatization of women who are oppressed by men (Mustazza 492). Although some believe that the power of the Three Sisters rivals that of Zeus, Glaspell reminds her audience that, regardless of myth or twentieth-century law, it still takes three women to equal one man (Mustazza 495). Works Cited Ben-Zvi, Linda: "Murder, she wrote" the genesis of Susan Glaspell's Trifle: Theatre Journal May 92 44: 141-162 Glaspell, Susan: "Trifles" Literature and Society 563-574 Meak, Phyllis: "Trifles in Greek mythology": The Explicator Winter 97 52: 88-90 Mustazza, Leonard: "Generic translation and thematic shift in Susan Glaspell's Trifles and A jury of her peers." : Studies in Short Fiction Fall 89 26: 489-96.