The Use of "Trifles" in "A Jury of Her Peers"
emily_mc — Thu, 01/26/2012 - 01:21
In Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers," there is a part where the men of the story are making fun of Mrs. Wright, who is suspected of murdering her husband, for worrying about her preserves:
Mrs. Peters' husband broke into a laugh.
"Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!"
The young attorney set his lips.
"I guess before we're through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about."
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Hale's husband, with good-natured superiority, "women are used to worrying over trifles." (504)
I found the use of the word "trifles" interesting because when I think of trifles, I think of the layered dessert. From this train of thought, I wondered if "trifles" was being used in reference to the fruit preserves.
The Oxford English Dictionary provides several definitions for the noun "trifle." I found the second definition, "a matter of little value or importance; ‘a thing of no moment’ (Johnson); a trivial, paltry, or insignificant affair”, to be the one that was most directly related to the context of “trifles” in the story because the men were basically saying that women only concern themselves with trivial things. Throughout the story, the men make it clear that they believe women are only worried with things such as preserves, sewing, or other household chores. The men also make it clear that this is how they want women to act. Mr. Hale reinforces this when he says “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?"
Though the aforementioned definition provided by the OED seems to fit in with the context of where “trifles” is mentioned, I found the first listed definition to be very interesting, since I know how the story ends. The first definition states: “A false or idle tale, told to deceive, cheat, or befool…” We, as the readers, know that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale discover the canary and realize that Mrs. Wright did indeed kill her husband, but they do not mention these things to the men. In that sense, they are lying to and deceiving the men. They can get away with this because the men do not really believe the women would have been able to find anything of use for the investigation, which is seen when Mr. Hale says “But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?"
Glaspell could have meant “trifles” to have two meanings. The “insignificant” definition of “trifle” is more fitting with the time period, but the other definition is interesting to think about. I also found it interesting that “A Jury of Her Peers” is adapted from Glaspell’s play Trifles.