Instructors’ Teaching Experience
This play can be a great way to incorporate more drama into the classroom without dedicating a large amount of time. The play is one act and can be discussed in one class period. Students enjoyed learning that the situation in the play is partly based on an early twentieth-century ax murder in Iowa that Glaspell reported on. I also found this to be a good text for talking about historical context and genre. [Anna Stenson, email@example.com]
Exploring Source Material and Genre
For our discussion, I broke students into groups and gave each group several of the newspaper articles Glaspell wrote on the story (each group got different articles). Then, I asked each group to list all the similarities and differences they could find between Glaspell’s articles on the actual murder case and her fictional account of the murder in the play. After compiling this information, we used it as a jumping off point to talk about what Glaspell was trying to achieve by changing certain aspects of the story (more sympathy toward some characters, a slightly different message about gender).
This also leads to discussions about genre. We looked at how Glaspell’s writing as a journalist tries to appeal to a different audience than her play. Since she also adapted the same material for a short story (“A Jury of Her Peers”), which is almost identical to the play, it could be interesting to look at what changes she had to make between the two genres. (I haven’t had time to try this in class yet, but it is interesting to see what material has to be stated explicitly in one genre but not in the other).
Finally, I would suggest using Miriam Gilbert’s idea of asking your students to read lines out loud pausing between each line so that the class can “read between the lines” and explain what they think is really going on in the character’s mind (the subtext). In some of the interactions between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the two women leave many implied reactions to the murder that remain unstated, and pausing over some of these sections can help students understand the women’s motivations. [Anna Stenson, firstname.lastname@example.org]
I Love Lucy Activity
One interesting classroom activity that I read about to tie into this play is to watch parts of the I Love Lucy episode “Switching Jobs.” The episode shows, in a humorous way, how “women’s work” is mocked and seen as inconsequential by men. In it, rigid gender roles in marriage are very prominent. Lucy refers to Ricky as “sir” and he chastises her for her “frivolous” behavior. Showing the clip at the beginning of a class where Trifles is discussed can get students thinking about these themes in a nonthreatening way and could lead to an interesting discussion as you head into the darker material. [Mieke Eerkens, email@example.com]
I use Susan Glaspell’s short play Trifles as an introduction to a unit on drama, usually placed in the middle of the semester, after we have done work on fiction with an emphasis on close reading. While reading the play for homework, I ask students to keep a list of every prop that is mentioned within stage directions or that they believe would be necessary for staging the play. For my 50 minute classes, I assign a daily writing response which the students compose in the first five minutes of class. On this day, I ask them to write down which prop from their list they believe is the most important and to explain why. After this, I ask them to start calling out every single prop from the play, as I write them down on the board. After we have a very long list, I begin to impose restrictions. I now tell them that a certain production can only afford five of these props (this allows us to discuss staging and the realities of productions and costs—are there props that could be eliminated and replaced with actors’ expressions or gestures). They must then argue out which of the props can be removed and which five are essential. For instance, some students have argued that you need a bird prop, while others point out that the box holding the bird suffices. Finally, I tell them that they can only choose one prop (this returns us to their writing response). Often the class will argue over three or so items. This allows us to discuss why these objects are important to the play, and to ask questions about what precisely they convey.
With the remaining time, I place students into groups and ask them to list all of the “crimes” (they can interpret this however they want) present in the story, connecting them to the props. We then talk about this in a large group, trying to determine where fault may lie concerning the central murder. [Kyle Barton, firstname.lastname@example.org]