Battered Birds: Susan Glaspell’s Story of Murder and Mystery

“She-come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery.” -Graspell, 526

“No, Wright (John Wright) wouldn’t like the bird-a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.” -Glaspell, 527

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Trifles,  a play by Susan Glaspell reiterates the story of a woman, Mrs. Wright, and the circumstances surrounding the mystery behind the murder of her husband John Wright, which took place in the bedroom of the Wright’s farmhouse. Most of the setting for this play takes place within the kitchen and bedroom of the house where characters involved developed their theories as to why this murder took place and who could have committed such a crime, if not Mrs. Wright. The play itself is filled with various forms of symbolizes which ultimately tells a story of its own as to the type of life the Wrights may have truly lived.

Glaspell’s implementation of the bird within the play is a clever representation of the bird itself as a symbol of freedom and perspective. The crux of the message behind this play is stimulated by Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale who both locate clues and develop their own reasoning as to what may have took place on the night of that gruesome murder and why. Unlike the bird, which ordinarily symbolizes freedom, Glaspell suggests the opposite by depicting that both Mrs. Wright and the bird were representatives of caged bodies who were not allowed to be free and continue in what they both enjoyed doing, which was singing.

Furthermore, the play also suggests the various roles that women were expected to play and in many cases how they were perceived by men.  The title of the play itself is a key indicator as to how women were viewed as a thing of little value or importance and something to treat without seriousness or respect. Evidence of this is clearly seen through the county attorney George Henderson’s sarcastic remarks about Mrs. Wright not keeping a tidy house, something women were expected to do. Upon the distraction of the men, the two women present conclude their own ideas as to what has happened and discovers that like the battered bird whose neck was broken, suspected by Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright too was a form of battered bird who had been silenced and who appeared beautiful on the outside but dead or unhappy internally. It is later suspected that Mrs. Wright may have killed her husband in the same fashion as was the bird, a broken neck, and that this was a sign of repayment for the evil done to the bird as well as herself.

Moreover, the article “Stories in Fiction and in Fact: Susan Glaspell’s ‘A Jury of Her Peers” and the 1901 Murder Trial of Margaret Hossack” by Patricia L. Bryan reviews the study of law and literature. The article discusses the scenarios surrounding the 1990 murder of farmer John Hossack who had been allegedly killed by his wife of thirty-three years Margaret Hossack. Bryan shares that the inspiration behind the short story A Jury of Her Peers and the play Trifles was inspired by the true story of the Hossack murder which Glaspell used to create her own version of events. Interestingly, Glaspell had been the reporter who wrote on the story of the Hossack murder case, which thereafter, her love for writing blossomed. The article is well written and documents various key elements of the Hossack murder case and its connection with Glaspell’s inspiration for writing the play Trifles. As with Margaret Hossack, Mrs. Wright herself is the subject of accusation, suspense and allegedly a battered bird who, if guilty, may have saw murder as her only viable option, however we can only speculate as to what really took place in both instances and why.

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