Trifles, Susan Glaspell, 1916
Susan Glaspell was originally a newspaper reporter from Des Moines, Iowa. She covered a real-life murder case involving a man being murdered in the middle of the night in his own home. This case inspired both Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers.
The following passage is the opening of Glaspell’s one-act play, Trifles.
SCENE: The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, a gloomy kitchen,
and left without having been put in order--unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread
outside the bread-box, a dish-towel on the table--other signs of incompleted work. At the
rear the outer door opens and the Sheriff comes in followed by the County Attorney and Hale.
The Sheriff and Hale are in middle life, the County Attorney is a young man; all are much
bundled up and go at once to the stove. They are followed by the two women--the Sheriff's
wife first; she is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. Mrs. Hale is larger and would
ordinarily be called more comfortable looking, but she is disturbed now and looks fearfully
about as she enters. The women have come in slowly, and stand close together near the door.
COUNTY ATTORNEY [Rubbing his hands.]
1. This feels good.
2. Come up to the fire, ladies.
MRS. PETERS [After taking a step forward.]
3. I'm not--cold.
SHERIFF [Unbuttoning his overcoat and stepping away from the stove
as if to mark the beginning of official business*.]
4. Now, Mr. Hale, before we move things about, you explain to
5. Mr. Henderson just what you saw when you came here yesterday morning.
6. By the way, has anything been moved?
7. Are things just as you left them yesterday?
SHERIFF [Looking about]
8. It's just the same. When it dropped below
9. zero last night I thought I'd better send Frank out this morning to make
10. a fire for us--no use getting pneumonia with a big case on, but I told him
11. not to touch anything except the stove--and you know Frank.
12. Somebody should have been left here yesterday.
13. Oh--yesterday. When I had to send Frank to Morris Center
14. for that man who went crazy--I want you to know I had my hands full
15. yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today and as long
16. as I went over everything here myself--
COUNTY ATTORNEY Well, Mr. Hale, tell just what happened
17. when you came here yesterday morning.
18. Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes. We
19. came along the road from my place and as I got here I said, "I'm
20. going to see if I can't get John Wright to go in with me on a party
21. telephone." I spoke to Wright about it once before and he put me off,
22. saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace
23. and quiet--I guess you know about how much he talked himself, but I
24. thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his
25. wife, though I said to Harry that I didn't know as what his wife
26. wanted made much difference to John--
27. Let's talk about that later, Mr. Hale. I
28. do want to talk about that, but tell now just what happened when you
29. got to the house.
30. I didn't hear or see anything; I knocked at the door, and
31. still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up, it was past
32. eight o'clock. So I knocked again, and I thought I heard somebody
33. say, "Come in." I wasn't sure, I'm not sure yet, but I opened the
34. --this door [indicating the door by which the two women are still
35. standing] and there in that rocker--[pointing to it] sat Mrs. Wright.
They all look at the rocker.
36. What--was she doing?
37. She was rockin' back and forth. She had her apron in
38. her hand and was kind of--pleating it.
39. And how did she--look?
40. Well, she looked queer.
41. How do you mean--queer?
42. Well, as if she didn't know what she was going to do next.
43. And kind of done up.
44. How did she seem to feel about your coming?
45. Why, I don't think she minded--one way or other. She didn't
46. pay much attention. I said, "How do, Mrs. Wright, it's cold, ain't it?"
47. And she said, "Is it?"--and went on kind of pleating at her apron. Well,
48. I was surprised; she didn't ask me to come up to the stove, or to set
49. down, but just sat there, not even looking at me, so I said, "I want to
50. see John." And then she--laughed, I guess you would call it a laugh.
51. I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said a little sharp:
52. "Can't I see John?" "No," she says, kind o' dull like. "Ain't he
53. home?" says I. "Yes," says she, "he's home." "Then why can't
54. I see him?" I asked her, out of patience. "'Cause he's dead,"
55. says she. "Dead?" says I. She just nodded her head, not getting
56. a bit excited, but rockin' back and forth. "Why--where is he?"
57. says I, not knowing what to say. She just pointed upstairs—like
58. that [himself pointing to the room above]. I got up, with the idea
59. of going up there. I walked from there to here--then I says,
60. "Why, what did he die of?" "He died of a rope round his neck,"
61. says she, and just went on pleatin' at her apron. Well, I went out
62. and called Harry. I thought I might--need help. We went upstairs
63. and there he was lyin'—
64. I think I'd rather have you go into
65. that upstairs, where you can point it all out. Just go on now
66. with the rest of the story.
67. Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It
68. looked . . . [Stops, his face twitches] . . . but Harry, he went up
69. to him, and he said, "No, he's dead all right, and we'd better not
70. touch anything." So we went back downstairs. She was still
71. sitting that same way. "Has anybody been notified?" I asked.
72. "No," says she, unconcerned. "Who did this, Mrs. Wright?"
73. said Harry. He said it business-like--and she stopped pleatin'
74. of her apron. "I don't know," she says. "You don't know?" says
75. Harry. "No," says she. "Weren't you sleepin' in the bed with him"
76. says Harry. "Yes," says she, "but I was on the inside." "Somebody
77. slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him and you didn't
78. wake up?" says Harry. "I didn't wake up," she said after him. We
79. must 'a looked as if we didn't see how that could be, for after a
80. minute she said, "I sleep sound." Harry was going to ask her
81. more questions but I said maybe we ought to let her tell her
82. story first to the coroner, or the sheriff, so Harry went fast
83. as he could to Rivers' place, where there's a telephone.
84. And what did Mrs. Wright do when she
85. knew that you had gone for the coroner?
86. She moved from that chair to this one over here [Pointing
87. to a small chair in the corner] and just sat there with her hands
88. held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to
89. make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John
90. wanted to put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh,
91. and then she stopped and looked at me--scared. [The County
92. Attorney, who has had his note book out, makes a note.] I dunno,
93. maybe it wasn't scared. I wouldn't like to say it was. Soon Harry
94. got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and
95. so I guess that's all I know that you don't.
96. [Looking around.] I guess we'll go
97. upstairs first--and then out to the barn and around there.
98. [To the Sheriff.] You're convinced that there was nothing
99. important here--nothing that would point to any motive.
100. Nothing here but kitchen things.
[The County Attorney, after again looking around the kitchen, opens
the door of a cupboard closet. He gets up on a chair and looks on a shelf.
Pulls his hand away, sticky.]
101. Here's a nice mess.
[The women draw nearer.]
102. [To the other woman.] Oh, her fruit; it did freeze.
[To the Lawyer.] She worried about that when it turned so cold.
She said the fire'd go out and her jars would break.
103. Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder
104. and worryin' about her preserves.
105. I guess before we're through she
106. may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
107. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
108. [With the gallantry of a young politician.]
109. yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? [The
110. women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water
111. from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to
112. wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place.Dirty
113. towels! [Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink*.] Not much
114. of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies.
115. [Stiffly.] There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.
116. To be sure. And yet [With a little bow to her]
117. I know there are some Dickson county farmhouses which do not
118. have such roller towels.
119. Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands
120. aren't always as clean as they might be.
121. Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and
122. Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.
123. [Shaking her head.] I've not seen much of her of late
124. years. I've not been in this house--it's more than a year.
125. And why was that? You didn't like her?
126. I liked her all well enough. Farmers' wives have their
127. hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then--
129. [Looking about.] It never seemed a very cheerful place.
130. No--it's not cheerful. I shouldn't say she
131. had the homemaking instinct.
132. Well, I don't know as Wright had, either.
133. You mean that they didn't get on very well?
134. No, I don't mean anything. But I don't think a place'd be
135. any cheerfuller for John Wright's being in it.
136. I'd like to talk more of that a little later.
137. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now.
138. [He goes to the left, where three steps lead to a stair door.]
139. I Suppose anything Mrs. Peters does'll be all right.
140. She was to take in some clothes for her, you know, and a few little
141. things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.
142. Yes, but I would like to see what you take,
143. Mrs. Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be
144. of use to us.
145. Yes, Mr. Henderson.
Glaspell, Susan. "Trifles." Itech.fgcu.edu. Dr. Jim Wohlpart, July 1996. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
The tone of Mr. Hale's speech (lines 45-63) can best be described as