Props in Trifles

The title of the play is Trifles, which is an obvious nod to the role that details play within the performance. Susan Glaspell’s one act play takes place in a farm house, where law enforcement officers are investigating a murder. As the male officers search for clues upstairs, the two women downstairs piece together the answer to the mystery using clues from the messy kitchen that the men overlooked. The play ends with the two women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, hiding their discoveries from the men because they feel sympathy (and even empathy with) Mrs. Wright.

It is through their observations of the small details in the kitchen that the two women are able to decipher the motive for the crime. The mess that the men overlook because Mrs. Wright “didn’t have the homemaking instinct” turns out to be important because “women are used to worrying over trifles” (1.1.47, 1.1.35). Therefore, the role of details in the play is a central one. Because details, or rather, trifles, are so important to the plot, the stage directions of Trifles list an extensive number of props. For instance, the play requires a rocking chair, a small chair, and any number of small kitchen items. The beginning stage directions specifically list that there should be “unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish-towel on the table”, and hint that the director of the play might add more visual indicators of the kitchen’s disarray. Later on, the quilting scraps and basket, as well as the damaged birdcage, are important objects in the revelation of motive and the emotional climax of the scene.

What this short play lacks in length and cast, the specific list of props makes up for. This underscores the theme of the play, as supported by the title – Trifles. The line “women are used to worrying over trifles” ties into the conclusion that the women who worry over these trifles will be the ones who discover the motive for the crime and ultimately make the choice to keep silent in order to possibly save Mrs. Wright (1.1.35). Thus, props as details not only act as technical elements of the play, but they also reinforce the ultimate theme of Trifles: the importance of details and the ones who truly observe them.