Trifles

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The Dead Bird Symbol Analysis

The Dead Bird Symbol Icon
The strangled songbird that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover explains the motivation behind Minnie Wright’s crime, but also symbolizes John Wright’s abusive treatment of his wife. Minnie is linked to the bird through Mrs. Hale’s memory of her as a young unmarried woman who liked to sing. Like the dead bird, Minnie was once bright and filled with life, but this energy and vitality was strangled out of her by life with John Wright, by her married life caught in a patriarchal society living with a hard man (a fact the other women understand because they experience the same thing, though to a lesser extent). The bird also symbolizes Minnie’s need for companionship in her childless home, and the death of the bird showed that John not only didn’t acknowledge this need but actually removed her remaining source of happiness in a cruel and brutal way.

The Dead Bird Quotes in Trifles

The Trifles quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Dead Bird. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Baker's Plays edition of Trifles published in 1951.
Trifles Quotes

“When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—[Covers her face an instant] If they hadn’t held me back I would have—[Catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly]—hurt him.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dead Bird
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

When faced with the evidence that Mr. Wright killed Minnie's pet bird, Mrs. Peters explains a traumatic childhood memory of a boy who killed her pet cat. Mrs. Peters shares this experience in common with Minnie Wright, and by describing this experience, she empathizes with the suffering and pain Minnie would have felt. But Mrs. Peters also acknowledges her reactionary feelings of anger and violence. Having been hurt, she wanted to lash out in return. This shows both Mrs. Peters and the reader/audience that Minnie's reaction is natural, or at least understandable. It is clear that Mrs. Peters acknowledges the similarities between their situations as she "catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly." She is confronting the truth that she could easily have been in Minnie's shoes, with something to hide from the men searching her home. 

Mrs. Peters is much more traditional and obedient than Mrs. Hale at the beginning of the play. Mrs. Hale makes several disparaging comments about the men, while Mrs. Peters refuses to criticize them. Therefore, it seems harder for Mrs. Peters to sympathize with Minnie Wright and consider protecting her even at the risk of defying her husband. Yet this is the moment when her perspective shifts. She sees herself aligned with and loyal to Minnie, rather than to the men, as both have been hurt by men in the past.

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The Dead Bird Symbol Timeline in Trifles

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Dead Bird appears in Trifles. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Trifles
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
...Hale notices a fancy red box, opens it, and the women discover the body of the dead bird . (full context)
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
The dead bird ’s neck is twisted and the women realize that someone must have wrung its neck.... (full context)
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
...hurt him if she could. Mrs. Hale says she knows John Wright must have killed the dead bird . Mrs. Peters, growing emotional, tries insisting that they don’t know who killed John Wright.... (full context)
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
The men leave the room momentarily and Mrs. Peters tries to hide the box with the dead bird in her too small bag and then Mrs. Hale conceals it in her pocket. The... (full context)