Literature and Composition: Reading, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. DiYanni WRITING AN INTERPRETIVE ESSAY From Analysis to Essay Read the short play Trifles and consider the literary elements we have discussed: plot, character, setting, and symbol. Try to formulate at least two or three thematic statements that could become the thesis for an interpretive essay. Analyzing Literary Elements - Plot
In Trifles, two plots run parallel: the men have an off-stage story as they hunt for clues to the murder of Mr. Wright; the women have an on-stage story as they unravel the life of Mrs. Wright. The tension in the storys plot has to do with the rate at which Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come to understand what has happened. Analyzing Literary Elements - Plot
Suspense builds as the two women, and the audience, figure out who killed Mr. Wright and why. The suspense is heightened by the moral dilemma of whether the women should conceal incriminating evidence and whether theyll get caught doing it. One reason the men in the story dont figure out what happened is that they dismiss the things the women say as mere trifles. Analyzing Literary Elements characters
Trifles has two female characters - Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters and three male characters Mrs. Hale, the sheriff, and the county attorney. Mrs. And Mrs. Wright, though not on stage, have a presence as well. Over the course of the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters change, feeling less certain about their own beliefs, disappointed in themselves for not being better friends to Mrs. Wright, and empathetic to her desperate loneliness. The men dont change. We learn about all of the characters through their conversation, especially in the way the conversation changes when the men are involved. Analyzing Literary Elements setting
The setting helps us understand character and also moves the plot along. The play takes place in an empty farmhouse, but the setting is more complicated than that. The men go to the bedroom where the murder occurred, while the women focus on the kitchen. Both the men and the women note the disheveled condition in which Mrs. Wright left it, yet the women are protective of her as well, understanding that she probably wouldnt have left such a mess if she hadnt been unexpectedly taken from her home. They also come to understand that the mess (which is a part of the setting) may be a sing of the sudden feeling the sheriff and attorney are looking for. We learn that the community is close and that Mrs. Peters is a newcomer. Mrs. Hale has known the woman under suspicion for many years, and it is through that familiarity that she understands what has
happened and makes the decision she does. Analyzing Literary Elements symbols Certain symbols are repeated. The cold is brutal and unrelenting. The characters move toward the stove whenever possible, and the cold is a repeated subject of conversation. Mr. Wright is depicted as being cold and unloving, making the cold a clear symbol of a life without affection or even company. Other symbols might be Mrs. Wrights quilt pieces, the choice between quilting and knotting, the dead bird and the broken birdcage, the preserves (or trifles), and even the half-done chores.
Each of these things is more fraught (loaded) with meaning than it at first seems. Possible Themes So, although the subject of Trifles is the unraveling of a mystery and the decision to protect the murderer, some of its themes might be: Sexism can make people blind to the truth. People may take desperate measures when they feel entrapped in a loveless marriage, in a cold isolated house, or in a society that doesnt value them. Someone who is a criminal by one set of social standards might be a victim according to another set
of social standards. Or, in other words, justice is not always the same as the rule of law. Developing a Thesis Statement First and foremost, remember that you are analyzing the elements of the work in order to arrive at an interpretation; you should not be summarizing the work. Simply retelling what happened or making an observation does not amount to an interpretation. If you start right off with a thesis statement that
argues for an interpretation of the plays meaning, you will guard against summary. . Thesis with only Summaries In Trifles, the women notice evidence that the men do not. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover a birdcage and dead canary, which provide clues to what actually happened to Mr. Wright The summary statements, though accurate, simply tell what happened during the course of the play.
There are facts only, and it leaves no room for development but retelling. Thesis with Interpretations In Trifles, the differences in the evidence the men and women notice suggest different worldviews and value systems. When Mrs. Hales and Mrs. Peters discover a birdcage and a dead canary wrapped in silk, they associate the silenced songbird with the joyless and repressed life that might have motivated Mrs. Wright to murder her husband. The interpretive statements take the same
points and explain why it happened. There are facts and opinion which give room for development. Remember When formulating your thesis, you are writing about how literary elements such as plot, character, setting, and symbol illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole. Thus, you are always balancing the two: literary elements and interpretation. Prompt
In a conventional mystery, the point of the story is to figure out who the culprit is. The mystery in Susan Glaspells play Trifles is unconventional, as the culprit is apprehended before the play even begins. However, as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters unravel the mystery of why the murder took place, the plays themes are revealed. Discuss how Susan Glaspell uses the mystery in Trifles to reveal a theme of her play. Deconstruct the Prompt A good starting point is to figure out exactly what is being asked. In this case, you are being asked to
consider the murder-mystery plot not as an end in itself but as a means of developing a theme. A murder mystery is all about the law, because somebody has to be held accountable for the crime. More questions than answers Is Glaspell asking us to reflect on the relationship between law and justice or to link justice and punishment?
Did Mrs. Wright do wrong in being her husbands judge, jury, and executioner? Was living with him punishment enough for her wrongdoing? Did she choose a punishment that fit his crime? Initial Thesis Try to incorporate the answers to all the questions into a one-sentence statement: The murder mystery in Trifles is solved, but it is not so easy to answer the questions that the mystery raises about law, justice, and punishment, and whether hard-and fast rules that govern human relations are always appropriate or
fair. Too long and rambling, needs more focus. Narrowed down thesis In Trifles, the murder mystery is the means Glaspell uses to explore whether the rule of law is always the same as justice. Since the play ends inconclusively Mrs. Wright is neither convicted nor exonerated (acquitted) which make it difficult to say that the play takes a stand on the issues. Then, it is better to argue that Glaspell asks
her audience/readers to explore these issues. Planning an Interpretive Essay When writing an essay, your main points will grow out of your thesis statement. Expressing these points as topic sentences moves the essay along and makes it more cohesive. Thesis: In Trifles, the murder mystery is the means Glaspell uses to explore whether the rule of law is always the same as justice. First Development of the thesis
This thesis indicates that you will first discuss the murder mystery as a plot device, and then explain how it contributes to the theme. Solving the murder is not really the point of the story. Suspect is detained, and case is pretty much closed right from the beginning. Seem to be different ways of investigating for men and women. Men doing police work. Women looking at trifles. Women suppress evidence, defy mens justice. Empathize with Mrs. Wright. Birdcage and dead bird symbolize Mrs. Wright (former singer) and her desolate life with Mr. Wright. Possible Topic Sentences
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Although Mr. Hale retells the circumstances of finding the body, questions arise concerning Mrs. Wrights indifferent behavior and the way her husband died. During the investigation, the men follow rules to gather evidence, supporting one anothers assumptions about what is significant, while the women quietly observe the surroundings, noticing important clues that the men dismiss as trifles. Identifying with Mrs. Wright, the women withhold judgment
and instead try to understand what might have motivated her. The birdcage and the dead canary, clues to the mystery, also symbolize the quiet oppression of Mrs. Wright. The plays conclusion serves as closure to the mystery, but it is the investigative process that proves to be more illuminating. Supporting Your Interpretation Be specific. Active reading and rereading are essential.
Citing examples and explicitly explaining how they illustrate and support your interpretation are key to a successful essay that analyzes a literary work. The more you explain how rather than state that, the stronger your essay will be. Avoid stating the obvious. Avoid Summary but Keep a good balance by Assuming that your reader has read the book but has not necessarily thought too much about it. This way you wont have to recount the plot or describe the characters. Pretend you are writing for the person who
sits in front of you in class (Thomas Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor). Sample developing paragraph Identifying with Mrs. Wright, the women withhold judgment and instead try to understand what might have motivated her. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters look around the house, especially the kitchen, and notice the fruit Mrs. Wright has canned and the quilt she is stitching. They talk about the fact that the couple had no children and that Mr. Wright was not a communicative husband. They also discuss incidents from their own past when they felt strong emotions that might have made them do something
uncharacteristic or rash. Comments on the sample developing paragraph Holds clear focus Information is drawn from the play so what? But too general seems like summary Need to ask: What can you infer from their actions? How do these events reveal some of the themes that anchor the play? How do the remembrances of Mrs. Wrights loneliness
and childlessness help them to understand Mrs. Wrights motivation, which is the focus established in the topic sentence? How to better support the thesis and topic sentence The most important part of supporting your argument involves explaining your examples and discussing the ways the details you recount or quote connect to your thesis statement and topic sentences. Include sentences of explanation, sometimes called commentary or analysis, for each of your examples and making those
examples as concrete as possible. Compare to the revised: Identifying with Mrs. Wright, the women withhold judgment and instead try to understand what might have motivated her. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters look around the house, especially the kitchen, and notice the fruit Mrs. Wright has canned and the quilt she is stitching. They talk about the fact that the couple had no children and that Mr. Wright was not a communicative husband. They also discuss incidents
from their own past when they felt strong emotions that might have made them do something uncharacteristic or rash. Identifying with Mrs. Wright, the women withhold judgment and instead try to understand what might have motivated her. They discuss how hard life must have been for Minnie in a house with no children and with John, who was cold and distant. The Wright house is located in a hollow, and the road cannot even be seen, so Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters begin to understand how the isolation and sense of entrapment could have led
Mrs. Wright to snap. They can see how the only means of escape might have been to kill her captor, Mr. Wright. Mrs. Peters furthers the link between them and Mrs. Wright by sharing a time when Mrs. Peters herself felt the desire to hurt a boy who butchered her kitten with a hatchet. The women realize that they too might have been driven to violence under Mrs. Wrights circumstances.
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