Murder is an unforgivable act. But what if it is done as a counter-act to defend oneself from withering away, and to pause the acute oppression that is wrecked incessantly. Well, this logic is not an easy one to understand. ‘A Jury of Her Peers’ will be the point of reference from which you can seek an answer.
Inspired by life!
Susan Glaspell was inspired by a real-life incident which she had reported, and went on to compose the story ‘A Jury of Her Peers’ based on the same subject.
The theme of the story is a murder mystery, which has been solved almost effortlessly by observation and intuition of two women who have in practicality been reduced to humble housewives. However, they don’t reveal this to their husbands, with the aim of safeguarding the accused woman.
Well, to commit a wrong act is a crime in itself, but to conceal it on purpose is a greater act of crime. This is known well by all. Why then, these otherwise loyal women hide the details about the crime, and also hide the evidence of the crime? Susan Glaspell narrated this story in a way that it shall remain etched in our minds for several years altogether. She will also succeed in instilling a feeling of sympathy and despair for the accused woman – Minnie. Get a feel of the story through the following summary and analysis.
A JURY OF HER PEERS – Summary
● The story opens with Mrs. Hale leaving her hob undone in her kitchen, to accompany her husband Lewis Hale, Sheriff Peters and his wife, and lawyer Henderson to the crime scene. The crime scene is the residence of the Wright family. The family consisted of Mr. Wright and his wife Minnie Wright. Mr. Wright was choked to death at his own residence while he was asleep. His wife Minnie Wright has been arrested as the prime suspect.
● The Hales are the immediate neighbors of the Wrights, and hence, were summoned by the officers to interrogate them. Also, Hale was the first to know about the unnatural death of John Wright. He had come that morning to the Wright’s place in order to ask him if he wanted to install a telephone at his place. Upon coming, he met Minnie seated on her rocker in the kitchen. She seemed very unmindful and lost. When asked about her husband, she bluntly broke the news of his murder.
● When the officers were taking a look at the kitchen and the articles there in order to find some clue about the motive of the murder, they scornfully remarked about Minnie’s unbecoming ways of looking after her home. They found the frost-hit broken fruit jars, unwashed cutlery, unclean kitchen area, etc. They then left the kitchen in their wives’ custody, and proceeded upstairs.
● The ladies looked into everything in the area and sympathized Minnie for the broken jar. They tried to find the underlying cause of Minnie’s act of murder. Eventually, they come across the unfinished quilt and the crazily stitched block of it, the shabby dresses of Minnie, and the dead canary, the body of which she stored in a nicely decorated box.
● The women could very well understand Minnie’s situation, and could completely understand the reason of her extreme behavior. They understood that it was a living hell for her to live with a person who was nonidentical from her. The ladies also find the broken cage of the bird. They could now come to a conclusion that Minnie was sad of her marriage, her lack of social life, her childless state, and the horrifying killing of her bird.
● Thus, she killed the oppressor, who for so long had kept her in oppression. Hence, the ladies unanimously decide not to tell their husbands about their discovery of the missing links, and successfully hide the bird and the quilt. For them, it was justice meted out in the just way.
A JURY OF HER PEERS – Analysis
■ A canary is known to be a singing bird. The use of a canary in the story is a gateway to comprehend the sorry state of affairs Minnie was living under for two long decades. She suffered in silence. She was isolated from the rest of the world. These lines of Mrs. Hale affirm it.
“But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters, I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I wish-I had.”
■ Minnie was compared to a free bird, like a canary by Mrs. Hale. Her line given below suggests it appropriately.
“She- come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery.”
■ These lines portray Minnie as a freedom loving bird which loved to tread its own path, without captivation. She was married to John Wright. They begot no children. In order to fill the void, Minnie had bought this canary bird from a bird seller in an attempt to keep herself in the company of her choice.
■ This act was laden in double intentions. One, where she would have a company, and the second would be a reflection of her own free spirit that she had prior to her marriage. She was a young damsel and a singer in the choir. Her singing ability was highly recognized by many in town.
“Look at it! Its neck-look at its neck! It’s all -other side to. Somebody wrung its neck”.
■ These lines reveal that Minnie’s canary was brutally murdered. It’s neck was twisted, and it was chocked to death. This gruesome act was John Wright’s, Minnie’s husband. She sought pleasure in the innocent singing of the bird. This was reason enough for John to kill the bird and hurt his wife.
■ The quilt is another significant element used in the story to state Minnie’s turmoil. The story suggests that she was an adept in the art of sewing. It was free of follies. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, in their endeavor to see the unseen, also found a quilt. It was beautifully stitched by Minnie. But there was a single block that was uneven, so much that the ladies were forced to ponder upon it.
The sheriff’s wife exclaimed,
“Why look at this one. All the rest of them have been so nice and even-but-this one. Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!”
■ The stitching pattern silently spoke of the state of mind Minnie was into. It suggested that she was sewing in order to calm a restless mind. Her mind was occupied with endless misery and resent. But there was no vent for those deep sunken feelings. These expressions of grief were threaded in the form of the uneven block.
■ Minnie’s canary was chocked to death. Like Minnie, her bird too was silenced! This was enough reason which kindled the feeling of revenge in Minnie. She now resolved to end the aggression she lived with for years together.
“He died of a rope around his neck,’.
■ This line is suggestive of the murder method employed to kill John Wright. Minnie wanted to make her husband experience the havoc which he wreaked on her as well as her poor bird. She chocked him, just to suffocate him, like he suffocated her and the bird. To her it was justice.
■ A girl has to adopt her husband’s name after marriage, discarding her maiden name forever. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to change completely after marriage. Minnie changed completely.
■ She was compelled to. She used to be a chirpy girl before she was married. With marriage came the unwanted change that loomed large over her, and that change was to stay with her always. Mrs. Hale knew Minnie since her young days.
■ She could very well see the change she had undergone after her marriage. In the story, we find Mrs. Hale addressing Minnie by her maiden name, to emphasize that she was akin to Minnie Foster, and not Minnie Wright. Minnie Foster was free like a bird. Minnie Wright was captivated.
■ The story shows how there was a clear demarcation in the investigation carried by the men and their respective wives. The men tried to find a motive and the evidence that could be used to accuse Minnie for murdering her husband. But, they almost looked through the evidence that was lying right before their eyes.
■ Their wives, on the contrary, found out the motive of the man’s murder, and also could well understand that the murderer was none other than Minnie herself. But, the story very well touched upon the essence of justice.
■ Murder in itself is an unforgivable crime, but the crime that Minnie had lived for those many years was a murder that she suffered each day. The grief was far higher than the crime she committed, failing to endure any further.
■ The women very well understood it, and concealed the startling evidence and the motive they had unearthed. This was in order to save Minnie from being punished. It was a decision that they deemed right for Minnie. Hence, it was ‘A Jury of Her Peers’.
● Minnie Wright – the perceived accused
● John Wright – the victim of the murder
● Lewis Hale and Martha Hale – Wright’s neighbors
● Sheriff Henry Peters and Mrs. Peters
● George Henderson – lawyer
Minnie Foster and Minnie Wright
Minnie Foster was an easy-going, zealous, ambitious, young maiden, who loved singing. She loved to dream and pursue the same. She dressed well and lived well. Post marriage, she had to spin a new herself, which was unlike her. She had to adopt a life which was her husband’s, and not her’s at all. She had to give up singing. She had to become an unsocial housewife whose lone motive was to respect and obey her husband.
He was a law-abiding man who had a good reputation in society. There wasn’t anything for which people would disregard him. But, to his wife Minnie he was a terror. He was cold, unkind, and bullied his wife. He didn’t provide Minnie with any kind of happiness ever. It was tormenting to live under the same roof with him for so many long years. It’s clear from these words of Mrs. Hale.
“Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”
Mrs. Hale is the wife of the farmer, Hale. Right from the opening scene, it is evident that she is extremely particular about the art of housekeeping. She was reluctant to have left her unsifted flour back in her kitchen. Even at Minnie’s home, she sits down to stitch Minnie’s quilt to perfection, defying the fact that it is improper to handle any evidential properties at the crime scene. We also see how diligently and patiently she could find out the real motive of the murder.
Mrs. Peters is the wife of the sheriff. Needless to say, with the name of her husband also came the mighty responsibility to live up to the standard of the name. She was extremely respectful of her husband, and by virtue of being a lawman’s wife, she entrusted herself with the grave responsibility of maintaining the law and abiding it. However, at the end, we also witness her trying her best to hide the evidence from her husband. This she did in order to spare Minnie from suffering the punishment. She could well understand that murdering her husband was heinous, but the plight she underwent at his hands was even more heinous.
Sheriff, Attorney, Farmer
All three men appeared as male chauvinists, who didn’t consider the ability of women in anything else except in household chores and childbearing.
THEME OF THE STORY
● Victimization of Women
Susan Glaspell penned down ‘A Jury Of Her Peers’ in a feminist insight. We have to keep in mind that she had written the story at a time when women were not seen in the same light as men. It was a general norm to restrict a woman’s existence within the concrete walls of a house. Through this story, she also laid importance to the atrocity many women endured, which was inflicted upon them by their own protectors – their husbands. Minnie represented those women who suffered helplessly in the form of domestic violence, which could be both physical or mental.
● Gender Bias
The men in the story who headed significant roles like that of lawmen also looked down upon women, in this case their own wives, and of course Minnie Wright. On finding the household items cluttered here and there in Minnie’s house, they noted her as someone who didn’t deliver her job properly. They never tried to delve into the matter as to why Minnie left her kitchen and the items in that manner. On other occasions, they seemed to ignore the possibility of finding something fruitful amongst the household objects in Minnie’s kitchen. They left it all at the hands of their wives, judging those as ‘trifle’; ineligible to give any clue about the crime.
SETTING OF THE STORY
■ The setting is a cold and unwelcoming farmhouse of the Wright couple. They were residing in the house which was significantly aloof from the rest of the world. The house appeared as if it was built within a tiny hollow. It appeared estranged, alone. So were the trees. The trees were also far from being usual. Overall, the place lacked in calm and peace. It appeared miserable, without any charm or happiness.
During the 19th century and early 20th century, America was still cluttered within the hollow dogmas of patriarchal society. Glaspell landscaped the scenario through her play ‘Trifles‘, which received so much of acclaim that she wrote a short story on the same subject.