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Themes and Colors
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
The Blindness of Men Theme Icon
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Trifles, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Justice Theme Icon

Trifles might be described as a kind of murder mystery. Yet a murder mystery usually ends with the criminal being brought to justice, and instead in this murder mystery it is the idea of justice itself that is complicated. In discovering the dead bird, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find evidence that serves as a motive for Minnie’s killing of her husband but also, from their viewpoint, somewhat justifies Minnie Wright’s act of murder. They understand that Minnie’s act was not just a murder, but an escape. That her husband’s cruel of strangling her pet bird was not the sole reason she murdered him, but rather that the act was the culmination of the social oppression and socially sanctioned loneliness that has essentially strangled Minnie herself. And they see this because they themselves have faced the same prejudice and mistreatment, as when Mrs. Hale says, “we all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”

Mrs. Hale also accuses herself of the crime of not having supported her neighbor, asking, “who’s going to punish that?” In this moment when Mrs. Hale turns the blame on herself, the play also highlights all of the men who aren’t blaming themselves, and how many of the men’s crimes of varying magnitude will go not only unpunished but unnoticed by the male-controlled powers that be. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters hide the evidence of Minnie’s act because the legal system cannot fairly punish, account for, or even comprehend the vast array of crimes that have been committed against women in general and Minnie in particular.

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Justice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Justice appears in each chapter of Trifles. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Justice Quotes in Trifles

Below you will find the important quotes in Trifles related to the theme of Justice.
Trifles Quotes

“They say it was such a—funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that.”
“That’s just what Mr. Hale said. There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker), Mrs. Hale (speaker), Lewis Hale, John Wright, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discuss the murder of John Wright while alone in the kitchen. What is notable about this murder is the means used to kill Mr. Wright, who was strangled by a rope around the neck. This brutal method was used even though a gun—which would certainly have been quicker and more effective—was available in the house. This passage is an example of foreshadowing, as the women discuss the method of murder early in the play, emphasizing that this question will be key in understanding of the mystery of Mr. Wright's death. The men state that they're concerned with finding evidence that reveals a motive for killing John Wright, and for killing him in this unexpected way. 

This passage also subtly shows the gender roles for men and women expected by this society. The women rely on any information provided by their husbands, and they believe in and trust this information (as they have no other choice). Mrs. Hale quotes her husband with the understanding that this adds authority to her words. This difference in power--men control information--is examined throughout this play. Later on, however, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold the information they have--the evidence they uncover gives them power and control over the situation. This is a rare experience for these woman, who are used to accepting their husbands' words as unquestionable facts. 


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“Mr. Henderson said coming out that what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger, or—sudden feeling.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker), George Henderson, John Wright, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters foreshadow the discovery of evidence showing a motive for Mr. Wright's killing. A motive is assumed to be evidence of "anger" or "sudden feeling," which supposes that Mr. Wright was killed out of passion rather than through a cold-blooded plot. George Henderson may be indicating that he already suspects Mrs. Wright, assuming that a woman might have cause to be angry at her husband, but not assuming that a woman would kill with planning and forethought. Women are pigeonholed as creatures of instinct and emotion, rather than rational beings. 

The idea of motive is an important one in a murder trial. There may be other evidence against Mrs. Wright, but an understanding of her motive would strengthen the case against her. Because the reader/audience understands this from early on in the play, it is clear that the stakes are high when Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters uncover just this sort of evidence. 

This passage relies on a literal understanding of the word "justice": justice brought about through the legal system, in which wrong-doers are punished and innocents are set free. The legal system requires evidence of the crime and the identity of the perpetrator, such as a motive for killing. This play questions whether this is the best interpretation of justice, however. Is there always evidence for crimes that have been committed? Is the legal system capable of punishing all types of wrong-doing? This play provides counter-examples. 

“But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—[Shivers] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, John Wright
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale is critical of John Wright's character, which begins to shift the reader's opinion of the couple at the heart of this play. One has been killed and the other accused of murder. Yet, what is the true crime? One of John Wright's "crimes" was his coldness and harshness to his wife. Mrs. Hale cannot imagine being married to this man, and even imagining passing the time of day with him makes her shiver. This statement shows that John Wright was not kind, and he must have been very difficult to live with. What did Minnie Wright experience while cooped up in her isolated house with him? The metaphorical language of this passage emotionally conveys John Wright's unkindness and shares the sensation of being around him with the reader or audience. To be near him was like being in a "raw wind that gets to the bone." We can understand and relate to this unpleasant sensation, and Mrs. Hale's comment subtly turns the reader or audience against John Wright.

This comment also shows another important shift, as Mrs. Hale starts to identify with Minnie Wright and relate to her experiences as a suffering wife. Mrs. Hale is already aligning herself with the other woman, and entering an emotional state in which she will want to defend Minnie against the cruel treatment of men. Her sympathy is the initial source of her willingness to lie to protect Minnie. She sees that John Wright is not wholly innocent, but his personality and abuses are not the concern of the legal system. 

“Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hale (speaker), Minnie Wright
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale's sympathy for Minnie Wright shifts into personal guilt as she comes to understands how much the other woman must have suffered alone at her house without the support of friends. She knows that if Minnie Wright had had the support of other women--to complain to, to talk with, to help her feel that she wasn't suffering alone at the hands of her husband--she might not currently be a murder suspect. Mrs. Hale could not have solved the larger problem of inequality between the genders, nor the specific problem of Mrs. Wright suffering at the hands of her husband, but she could have emotionally supported Minnie Wright. 

Mrs. Hale refers to her own actions as a "crime," and the term is repeated for emphasis in this passage. The legal system, crime, and evidence are repeatedly discussed in Trifles, although they are mostly used by the male characters to refer, in a limited way, to the murder of Mr. Wright and the prosecution of his murderer. Mrs. Hale shifts the definition of crime here, however. She sees her oversight as a crime, and she sees Minnie's isolation as a crime. This reveals that many things in the world could be considered crimes that are beyond the regulation of the legal system. One reason for this is that men dominate the legal system. Only men will decide Minnie Wright's fate through a trial, and consideration of crimes such as Minnie's isolation won't occur to these men or be relevant in Minnie's case. Justice, in Mrs. Hale's eyes, should be more broadly applied.