Essay Subjects: Homicide, Children. Keywords: Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale, team men, Mr. Henderson, Minnie Foster Wright, Mrs. Peters, county attorney
In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, Minnie Foster Wright is the main character, even though the reader never sees Mrs. Wright. The story begins as Mrs. Hale joins the county attorney, Mr. Henderson; the sheriff, Mr. Peters; Mrs. Peters; and her husband in a “big two-seated buggy” (188). The team men are headed the Wright house to investigate Mr. Wright’s murder. Mrs. Peters is going along to gather some belongings for Mrs. Wright, who is currently being held in jail, and Mrs. Hale has been asked to accompany Mrs. Peters.
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As the investigation is conducted throughout the story, the reader is given a sense of how women were treated during this time and insight into why the women ultimately keep evidence from the men. Glaspell sets the scene as the team nears the Wright house. Mrs. Peters says, “The country’s not very pleasant this time of year” (189). As Mrs. Hale starts to reply, the Wright place comes into view, and “it did not make her feel like talking” (189). Glaspell lets the reader know what the home looks like by pointing out that “it looked very lonesome this cold March morning.
It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees” (189). The reader definitely gets the feeling that this is a lonely place. Elaine Hedges writes, “Through her brief opening description of the landscape Glaspell establishes the physical context for the loneliness and isolation, an isolation Minnie inherited from and shared with generations of pioneer and farm women before her” (par. 5). When the group arrives at the house, the difference between the men and the women is immediately apparent.
The men approach the scene with confidence and seem to feel indifferent toward the situation, even though John Wright was a close acquaintance and neighbor. However, the women approach the scene with caution and hesitation. The sheriff gets right to business and asks Mr. Hale to “tell Mr. Henderson just what it was you saw when you came here yesterday morning” (189). Mrs. Hale gets nervous as her husband “often wandered along and got things mixed up in a story” (190). Mrs. Hale does not want Mr. Hale to say anything that might “make things harder for Minnie Foster” (190).
This lets the reader know that Mrs. Hale already feels compassion for Mrs. Wright. Mr. Hale explains what happened when he was at the Wright house the previous morning. Mr. Hale says that he came to speak to Mr. Wright about getting a telephone. Mr. Hale says that maybe Mrs. Wright would like Mr. Wright to get a telephone. Mr. Hale says “‘ though I said at the same time that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John” (190). By saying this, Mr. Hale is pointing out that men of that time did not care what their wives thoughtthat the men made all the decisions of the household.
Mr. Hale continues, “‘I didn’t see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was quiet inside.  I opened the door  and there, in that rocker’ pointing to it sat Mrs. Wright'” (190). Mr. Hale says that Mrs. Wright looked “‘queer'” (190) like she didn’t know what she was doing. Mr. Hale says he told Mrs. Wright, “‘I want to see John'” (191), and Mrs. Wright just laughed. Mr. Hale goes on, “‘so I said a little sharp, Can I see John? ‘” (191). Back then, men would run out of patience very quickly with a woman if the woman did not bow down to every command or act quickly enough. Mr.
Hale says that after Mrs. Wright told him Mr. Wright was dead “of a rope around his neck,” Mr. Hale went out and called Harry in case help was needed upstairs. Mr. Hale tells the county attorney that they did indeed find Mr. Wright upstairs with a rope around his neck, and Harry advised him not to touch anything. Mr. Hale states that they went back downstairs. “‘Who did this, Mrs. Wright? ‘ said Harry. He said it businesslike, and she stopped pleatin’ at her apron. I don’t know,’ she says. You don’t know? ‘ says Harry. Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him? ‘ Yes,’ says she, but I was on the inside. Somebody slipped a rope around his neck and strangled him, and you didn’t wake up? ‘ says Harry. I didn’t wake up,’ she said after him'” (191). Even though Mrs. Wright tells Mr. Hale that she did not know who killed her husband, Mrs. Wright is immediately suspected of committing the murder. Mr. Hale says that the men then left the house because it “‘weren’t our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff'” (191). Before the men head upstairs to start their investigation, the county attorney asks the sheriff, “‘You’re convinced there was nothing important here? ] Nothing that wouldpoint to any motive? ‘” (192). The sheriff looks around the kitchen once more and then says, “‘Nothing here but kitchen things'” (192), and then he laughs. The men obviously are not as intelligent as they believe themselves to be. The men do not stop to think that Mrs. Wright, as a woman, probably spent most of her time in that kitchen. The county attorney then looks around the kitchen and scoffs at the way it looks. “‘Here’s a nice mess,'” (192) he tells the ladies when he finds the broken jars of fruit. Mrs. Peters remembers that Mrs.
Wright had been worried about her jars of fruit and says, “‘She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst'” (192). Mr. Peters laughs and says, “‘Well, can you beat the woman! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves! ‘” (192). The county attorney replies, “‘I guess before we’re through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about'” (192). Mr. Hale, like other men during that time who thinks men are superior to women, says, “‘women are used to worrying over trifles'” (192). “Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters understand the physical labor involved in boiling fruit in Iowa heat that one historian has described as oppressive and inescapable. ‘ By the same token, they can appreciate the seriousness of the loss when that work is destroyed by the winter cold…. ” (Hedges, par. 11-12) As the men start to leave the kitchen, the county attorney says that Mrs. Peters “‘is one of us'” (193) and tells Mrs. Peters to “‘keep your eye out  for anything that might be of use. No telling, you women might come upon a clue to the motiveand that’s the thing we need'” (193).
As the men are walking away, the county attorney turns to the men and says, “‘But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it? ‘” (193), as if to say the women are too dumb to know if they were to find a clue. The women resent the men for coming into Mrs. Wright’s kitchen and “‘snoopin’ round and criticizin”” (193). While they are in the kitchen, the women find several clues that could be used to convict Minnie Wright. The first clue Mrs. Hale notices is the half full bag of sugar. “‘She was putting this in there,’ she said to herselfslowly” (193). The women figure out that Mrs.
Wright had been putting sugar into the sack when she was interrupted, but “what had interrupted Minnie Foster? ” (194). The second clue Mrs. Hale finds is the dish towel in the middle of the table. Mrs. Hale can see that half of the table has been wiped clean, and the other side is still dirty. “Things begunand not finished” (195). The women wonder whether Mrs. Wright killed her husband and then move toward the stove, where Mrs. Hale stokes the fire. Mrs. Hale then asks Mrs. Peters, “‘How’d you like to cook on this? ‘” (195), commenting that the stove was in bad condition.
Mrs. Peters starts to understand why Mrs. Hale feels such sympathy for Mrs. Wright. “That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff’s wife now” (195). Mrs. Peters finds a third clue when she notices Mrs. Wright’s sewing basket “piled high with quilt pieces” (196). Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Peters, “Do you suppose she was going to quilt it or just knot it? ” (196), just as the men are coming back into the room. The men share a laugh “for the ways of women” (196), and then head out to the barn to look for clues. Mrs.
Hale seems offended that the men laughed because she does not find it strange “‘our taking up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about'” (196). Mrs. Hale notices the fine, even sewing on the quilt pieces, and about that time, Mrs. Peters says, “‘Why, look at this one'” (196). Mrs. Peters has found a block that looks as if it has not been sewn in the same meticulous fashion as the others. Mrs. Hale proceeds to “replace the bad sewing with good” (196). Mrs. Hale probably did not need to bother with this detail, as no man would pick up on such a “trifle. Mrs. Peters asks Mrs. Hale, “‘What do you suppose she was sonervous about? ‘” (196). This gets the women to thinking about what might have been going on in this househow Mr. Wright treated Mrs. Wright that might have prompted her to kill him. Mrs. Peters then happens upon a birdcage. The women assume that Mrs. Wright probably bought a canary from a man who came around selling canaries the previous year. Mrs. Peters notices that the birdcage door is broken. Then, the women speculate as to what might have happened to the bird that should be in the cage.
When they are getting her sewing basket, the women find a pretty box with the dead bird. Mrs. Hale cries to Mrs. Peters, “‘Look at it! Its necklook at its neck! It’s allthe other side to'” (198). “‘Somebody wrung its neck,'” says Mrs. Peters. Just then, the men are back at the door, and Mrs. Hale stuffs the box into the sewing basket. Again, the men only make fun of the women, as the county attorney asks, “‘Well, ladies,  have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it? ‘” (198). This remark illustrates what the men think of the ladies.
Instead of asking if the women have found any clues, the men tease the women about “trifles. ” The county attorney sees the birdcage but does not notice that it is broken. The women tell him the cat must have gotten the bird. The county attorney asks, “‘Is there a cat? ‘” (199). “‘Well, not now,’ said Mrs. Peters. They’re superstitious, you know; they leave'” (199). The men, who think they are so much smarter than the women, do not even notice how nervous the women seem to be, nor do they notice when the women are just making up a story. Mrs. Hale thinks about Mrs. Wright and what her husband would think about having a bird. ‘No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird,’ she said a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too. ‘ Her voice tightened” (199). Mrs. Hale imagines how hard it must have been to live with such a man and tries to convince Mrs. Peters that John Wright got what he deserved. However, Mrs. Peters replies, “‘The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale,’  in her tight little way” (199). “That the loss of her music, in the shape of a bird, should have triggered murderous behavior in Minnie Wright is  neither gratuitous nor melodramatic, as is sometimes charged against Glaspell’s story.
In the monotonous expanses of the prairie and the plains, the presence of one small spot of color, or a bit of music, might spell the difference between sanity and madness…. ” (Hedges, par. 16). Mrs. Hale reflects on the past, “‘I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster  when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang'” (200). Mrs. Hale feels guilty about not visiting Minnie Wright and thinks she “let her die for lack of life” (200). Mrs. Wright was, in a sense, a caged bird herself. Mrs.
Hale says, “‘I might a’ known she needed help! I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same thingsit’s all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren’twhy do you and I understand? Why do we knowwhat we know this minute? ‘” (200). As the men head back downstairs, the women overhear the county attorney tell Mr. Peters, “‘it’s all perfectly clear, except the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thingsomething to show.
Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it'” (200). The women, of course, have more than one definite thing that could be used to make up a story. However, because the women can understand why Minnie Wright killed her husband, they opt not to share any of this information with the men. The sheriff asks the county attorney if he wants to see what Mrs. Peters is going to carry to Mrs. Wright. “‘Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out,'” (200) says the county attorney.
The men just assume that the women are harmless and do not even look at any of the items. Mrs. Peters gets the box and tries to put it in her purse but it will not fit. The women can hear the door knob turn as the men are heading back into the kitchen. Mrs. Hale grabs the box from Mrs. Peters and stuffs it into the pocket of her big coat, just as the men reenter the kitchen. “‘Well, Henry,’ said the county attorney facetiously, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going towhat is it you call it, ladies? ‘” (201). “‘We call itknot it, Mr. Henderson,'” replies Mrs. Hale. Throughout much of the 19th century married women were defined under the law as “civilly dead,” their legal existence subsumed within their husbands, their rights to their own property, wages, and children either nonexistent or severely circumscribed. Nor did they participate in the making and administering of the law” (Hedges, par. 27). Being treated as second class citizens, the women already feel resentment toward men in general. Therefore, the women get a little revenge by withholding the evidence they find from the men. The women ultimately solve the murder of John Wright and act as the judge and jury for Minnie Wrightcase dismissed.