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MoralObligation in Trifles
Trifles is a play set in 1916 to capture the events after Mrs.Minnie Wright was locked up for the alleged killing of her husband,John Wright. The play was written four years before women weregranted voting rights. Trifles examines the circumstancesbehind the death of Mr. Wright as the characters debate the extent ofguilt and responsibility borne by Minnie. While in custody, Minniesent two of her female friends, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to collectsome items from her house. At the same time, the County Attorney andthe Sheriff are searching for evidence to prove that Minnie hadwillfully conspired to murder her husband. Lewis Hale also providesinvaluable insight into the case since he was the first non-familymember to discover the victim’s lifeless body. The two women searchthe kitchen area while the men climb upstairs where the murder wasoriginally committed. Coincidentally, the women uncover evidencepertinent to the case. However, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are notmorally obligated to tell the County Attorney and the Sheriff whatthey know about the murder.
The Sheriff and the County Attorney had the sole duty to uncover theevidence. The law placed the burden of proof on the County Attorney.In this respect, he had to present credible evidence to substantiatewhatever claims he made concerning Mrs. Wright. Consequently, Mrs.Peters and Mrs. Hale were not obligated to help the County Attorneyin his duties. In fact, the County Attorney acknowledged hisresponsibility when he said, “I would like to see what you take,Mrs. Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be of use tous” (McMahan 971). Mrs. Peters also recognized that the lawenforcement officers had to search the house since “it’s no morethan their duty” (McMahan 972). Frustrated with their fruitlesssearch, the County Attorney stated, “I’m going to stay awhile bymyself. You can send out Frank out for me, can’t you? I want to goover everything. I’m not satisfied that we can’t do better”(McMahan 977). Therefore, the two women were not morally obligated todisclose what they knew about the murder.
Also, the County Attorney and the Sheriff made wrong assumptions andthereby overlooked the evidence. This detail is revealed in aconversation between the two law enforcement officers. The CountyAttorney stated, “I guess we’ll go upstairs first–and then outto the barn and around there. You’re convinced that there wasnothing important here–nothing that would point to any motive?”(McMahan 970) In response to this question, the sheriff replied thatthere was “nothing here but kitchen things” (McMahan 970). TheCounty Attorney also undermined the items gathered by the ladies whenhe remarked, "Oh, I guess they`re not very dangerous things theladies have picked out" (McMahan 977). Therefore, their failureto perform due diligence does not oblige the women to reveal whatthey know about the murder.
The County Attorney and the Sheriff had a condescending view ofwomen. The sheriff displayed his prejudice in response to Minnieworrying about the states of her fruit jars. He remarked, “Well,can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about herpreserves” (McMahan 971). In the same passage of conversation, Mr.Hale stated that “women are used to worrying over trifles”(McMahan 971). The County Attorney felt that Minnie lacked the“homemaking instinct” and was “not much of a housekeeper”(McMahan 971). These ignorant comments were made in the presence ofMrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. The women could see that the men hadlittle respect and appreciation for the work they did at home. Themen despised their efforts to be helpful. Therefore, the women didnot feel the need to share what they had discovered.
Besides, Mr. John Wright had stifled his wife’s joy in theirmarriage. This conclusion is evidenced by the value judgments of Mrs.Hale as she had been visited the couple on previous occasions. Shehighlighted that the Wrights’ home had “never seemed a verycheerful place” (McMahan 971). She also did not “think a place’dbe any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it” (McMahan 971).In a later conversation with Mrs. Peters, she stated that Mr. Wright“was a hard man.” She also supposed that spending a day with JohnWright could be likened to “a raw wind that gets to the bone”(McMahan 975). Although Minnie “used to sing” (McMahan 976), hehusband had managed to suppress the joy she derived from singing.Consequently, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are not morally obligated toreport their findings.
Also, the harm done to Mrs. Wright had to be somewhat avenged. It wasimpossible for the other characters to fully comprehend thecircumstances surrounding Mr. Wright’s murder. However, the womencould tell that Minnie had been shortchanged in her marriage. Mrs.Hale reminisced Minnie’s former radiance when she said, “I wishyou’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blueribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. That was a crime!That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?” (McMahan 976)Minnie’s bliss had been dampened as her life no longer brought herpleasure. Someone had to be held responsible for the injustice sheendured. Therefore, the women should not disclose what they knowabout the murder.
Inevitably, Minnie Foster would have been vilified for her crime andsubjected to harsh judgment if incriminating evidence against her wasfound. At that time, juries had little regard for women. In fact,female defendants stood little chance of escaping a guilty verdictwhen faced with a jury. The County Attorney recognized as much whenhe stated, “No, Peters, it’s all perfectly clear except a reasonfor doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If therewas some definite thing. Something to show–something to make astory about–a thing that would connect up with this strange way ofdoing it” (McMahan 977). Since a man had been murdered, a jurycomposed entirely of men would have certainly condemned Minnie.Therefore, the women were not morally obligated to reveal theevidence they had uncovered.
Also, Mrs. Wright was neither malicious nor spiteful. In fact, sheused to be happy and joyful before her marriage to Mr. Wright. Shedid not have malicious intent towards her husband. The CountyAttorney and the sheriff remarked that “it was such a–funny wayto kill a man, rigging it all up like that” (McMahan 973).Strangling a man using a rope seemed like a cowardly way ofcommitting murder. The law enforcement officers also noted that“there was a gun in the house” (McMahan 973). If Minnie had beenspiteful, she would have used the gun rather than the rope.Therefore, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are not obliged to shareevidence that would portray her as a villain deserving of death.
Additionally, Minnie had a questionable mental state. In thisrespect, her murderous actions could not be as fully attributed asthey would to a person with unrestricted mental faculties. Mr. Halenoted that Mrs. Wright "looked queer” when he discovered theslain body of John Wright (McMahan 969). He also remarked that Minnieseemed “as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. Andkind of done up” (McMahan 969). Her questionable mental state couldalso be seen when she failed to realize that she had “somethingmore serious than preserves to worry about” (McMahan 971). Themangled of quilt also showed her mental delirium. Mrs. Hale noted thediscrepancy when she said, “All the rest of it has been done sonice and even. And look at this! It’s all over the place! Why, itlooks as if she didn’t know what she was about!” (McMahan 973).Therefore, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale were not morally obliged tocondemn a troubled woman by revealing incriminating evidence againsther.
Moreover, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale understood the circumstances thatled Minnie to kill her husband. As fellow women, they could relate tothe stresses that plagued Minnie’s married life. Mrs. Haleacknowledged this fact when she stated, “I know how things canbe–for women. We all go through the same things–it’s all just adifferent kind of the same thing” (McMahan 976). Mrs. Peters alsoremembered when she “was a girl–my kitten–there was a boy tooka hatchet, and before my eyes–and before I could get there–Ifthey hadn’t held me back I would have–hurt him” (McMahan 976).Since Mrs. Peters had wanted to retaliate, she understood how Minniecould have been pushed to act. Therefore, the women are not morallyobligated to reveal what they know about Mr. Wright’s murder.
Also, Mrs. Hale felt partly responsible for Minnie’s actions. Shehad not visited Minnie as often as she ought to. She said, “but Itell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over heresometimes when she was here. I–wish I had. I stayed away because itweren’t cheerful–and that’s why I ought to have come. I wish Ihad come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now–”(McMahan 974). Minnie had endured loneliness and isolation in hermarriage. This realization led Mrs. Hale to exclaim, “Oh, I wishI`d come over here once in a while!” (McMahan 976) Therefore, Mrs.Hale and Mrs. Peters are not obliged to disclose what they knowconcerning the murder.
Indeed, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are not morally obligated to informthe County Attorney what they know about the murder of Mr. Wright.Granted, Mr. Wright had an irrefutable right to live. Nevertheless,several mitigating circumstances absolved Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Haleof the obligation to reveal what they had discovered. As discussed,the County Attorney and the Sheriff bore the responsibility ofconducting investigations and gathering evidence. Furthermore, theirnegligence led them to overlook the kitchen as a probable source ofevidence. Later, their prejudice towards women led them to despisethe items gathered by the women.
Also, Mr. Wright had stifled his wife’s joy and dampened herspirits during their marriage. Consequently, he merited the death hesuffered at his wife’s hands. Minnie was a cheerful person devoidof malice and evil. Her questionable mental state had to beconsidered. Besides, the jury would have dealt with her in a cruelmanner if evidence was provided. Also, Mrs. Hale blamed herself fornot intervening earlier so as to rescue Minnie from the lonesome anddull state of her home. The women also understood the circumstancesthat propelled Minnie to commit such an atrocious act. Therefore,Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale have no moral obligation to report theevidence to the County Attorney.
McMahan, Elizabeth et al. Literature and the writing process.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2014. Print.