Susan Glaspell (1876 – 1948) was born in Davenport, Iowa and
graduated from Drake University in 1899. She worked for
newspapers early in her career, then published two novels, one
in 1909, one in 1911. She married George Cram Cook in 1913,
published a third novel in 1916, and ultimately was part of a
group that formed the Provincetown Players in Provincetown,
Massachusetts. She worked and wrote plays in the same
time as Eugene O’Neill and her work is often compared to his.
She continued to write and received a Pulitzer Prize for her novel
Alison’s House in 1931.
She had an eventful life and it is interesting to read about it
online and also to read the critiques of her work.
It was in Provincetown, in August of 1916, that Trifles was first presented. The cast
of five included both Susan and her
husband, George Cram Cook. (A later
production, shown on book cover, shows
Marjorie Vonnegut and Elinor Cox in
At the opening of the play, a very short play, by the way, we learn that a
farmer has been murdered and the wife has been arrested and put in jail.
The sheriff, a county attorney and
a neighboring farmer have come to the house to investigate. Also in the scene
are the sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters, and the
neighboring farmer’s wife, Mrs. Hale.
The sheriff enters, all bluster and full of importance, and asks
questions of the neighbor, Mr. Hale, who discovered the body.
The scene takes place in the kitchen, and the sheriff and county
attorney have disparaging remarks about the apparent
slovenly housekeeping of the arrested woman.
Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale say nothing while the men are in
the room, but when the men leave to go upstairs to investigate
the “scene of the crime”, the women speak quietly about
their own ideas of what might have happened.
I said that there were five roles in this play, but I might as
well have told you that there are six. For “silence” is one of
the most important roles—and probably more important
than any of the dialogues.
Women—although “used to worrying over trifles” as the men
say before they go upstairs, have different insights and although
admittedly, they didn’t know the jailed woman very well, felt that
they *should* have known her better–knew there was a sadness
about this house. Admitted they didn’t visit because it wasn’t
a cheerful place to be. But they know in their hearts, that they
are as big a part of the crime as any . . .that although a woman
might have a unique problem, “we live close together and we live
far apart. We all go through the same things –it’s all just a different
kind of the same thing.”
In their restrained midwest kind of way, the women are searching
within for what they are feeling, for what they mean to say, without
quite saying it. They are on new turf.