Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, first performed in Massachusetts in 1916 and inspired by the 1900 trial of Margaret Hossack for the killing of her husband, John, is set at the rural farmhouse of John and Minnie Wright. John Wright is discovered strangled with a rope, and Minnie Wright has been jailed. Sheriff Peters, the county attorney, and a neighboring farmer arrive to collect evidence; two of the wives come along to gather items for Minnie. The men examine the house, but find neither evidence nor motive. The women, however, notice details the men consider to be “trifles,” and figure out why Minnie killed her husband.
This case asks students to consider the complexities of organizational communication, particularly the process by which some subject matter traditionally counts as important and other content is dismissed as irrelevant or inconsequential. Gender issues are key to Glaspell’s play and serve as the foundation upon which the communication issues play out. Trifles becomes a way to study the intricacies, strategies, and effects of communication practices within social orders, and is a rich setting for the exploration of communication habits present in organizational settings that elide contributions from members. As such, the play is particularly relevant for management and leadership students seeking to understand the effects of poor organizational communication.