Trifles

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The Dirty Towel Symbol Icon
This is one of many out-of-place objects in Minnie’s kitchen that cause George Henderson to accuse her of being a poor housekeeper. The disarray of Minnie’s kitchen demonstrates a distressed mind and that Minnie’s act of killing her husband was more emotional and dramatic than her demeanor indicates. In addition, the mess in the kitchen symbolizes the ways in which the men in this play expect women to fulfill certain gender roles. Minnie, not John, is held responsible for the state of the house and is seen as unfit for her role of wife, as a result. It is precisely this sort of judgment, and the fact that the men are so comfortable in judging women, that isolates Minnie in the first place.

The Dirty Towel Quotes in Trifles

The Trifles quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Dirty Towel. 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

“I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing.” “Of course it’s no more than their duty.”

Related Characters: Lewis Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters (speaker), George Henderson, Henry Peters
Related Symbols: The Dirty Towel
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

The men go upstairs to examine the bedroom where Mr. Wright was killed, and Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are left in the kitchen. The kitchen is in a state of disarray, and the men had unfavorably commented on Mrs. Wright's housekeeping—George Henderson had picked up a dirty towel and pointed out the disorganization of the kitchen. Mrs. Hale is upset by this, and comments so to Mrs. Peters. She sees the work Mrs. Wright has put into running a farming household, because she has works hard every day herself. The men, of course, cannot appreciate this in the same way. Mrs. Hale is more explicitly critical of the men than Mrs. Peters, who often provides excuses for their behavior. 

Although the women are oppressed by the strict gender roles of this setting, they cannot fully reject the roles they have been conditioned to expect. In this passage, Mrs. Hale thinks of the kitchen as belonging to Mrs. Wright and not to her husband. The kitchen is a woman's space and responsibility. Mrs. Peters, for her part, sees the men's work and duties as something she cannot question. Ultimately, the play shows the evolution of these characters when they deliberately conceal evidence in order to protect Mrs. Wright from the men. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters's allegiance to another women is an act of rebellion against the social order, something that is a challenge for both of them. 

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The Dirty Towel Symbol Timeline in Trifles

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Dirty Towel appears in Trifles. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Trifles
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
...farmhouse. The kitchen is in disarray with unwashed dishes, a loaf of uncooked bread, and a dirty towel on the table. The county attorney George Henderson arrives at the house accompanied by the... (full context)
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
The Blindness of Men Theme Icon
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
George Henderson, looking over the mess in the kitchen and noticing in particular the dirty towel , says Minnie seems to be a poor housekeeper. Mrs. Hale stiffly points out that... (full context)