In the early 1900’s Susan Glaspell wrote many works. Two of her works stand out as true feminist tells, including the play Trifles and the short story “A Jury of Her Peers”. Trifles was written in 1920, while “A Jury of Her Peers” was written the following year. Trifles was written in only ten days. These works were not truly recognized until the 1970’s though. Glaspell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “Alison’s House” in 1931 (Maillakias 2). Glaspell was born on July 1, 1876 in Davenport, Iowa. Glaspell was the middle child and the only daughter. She was an excellent student through high school and graduated with honors.
She also graduated from Drake University with a Ph. B in Philosophy. Throughout her college tenure, she wrote for the Drake paper, The Delphic. Following graduation, she began working for the Des Moines News. While working as a reporter for the Des Moines news, she ran across a murder that involved a woman on a farm. This murder gave her an idea for her story. The play was Trifles and the short story was “A Jury of Her Peers”(2). In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers” a woman named Minnie Wright is accused of the murder of her husband. Minnie Wright is a farmer’s wife and is also isolated from the out side world.
There is an investigation that takes place in the home of the murder. There are three men that are involved on the case and two women accompany, but are not there to really help solve the murder. These two women will solve the murder and protect Mrs. Wright of any wrongdoing. The women will dispose and justify to themselves, that the murder was justifiable. The three men seek out to find motive, but they never do and the case will go unsolved. Glaspell uses symbolism as her a literary device to illuminate her theme. The symbols include: a jar of cherries, a bird, a quilt, kitchen, an even the type of knot that was used for her quilt.
All of these details will help the two women justify the murder of Mr. Wright. I wish to show how Glaspell uses symbolism to justify the murder. I also wish to show how a disturbed farmwomen will get away with murder because of two farmwomen helping her, by getting rid of valuable evidence. In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers” Glaspell first uses the kitchen as her first use of symbolism, to show disarray. According to one critic Amari Verastegui “The kitchen is described as being in disorder with unwashed pans under the sink, a dishtowel left on table, a loaf of bread outside the breadbox, and other disarray.
This gives the impression of no attention having been paid to cleaning up either recently or usually”(Verastegui 3). The room has faded wallpaper, an old black stove, and an old iron sink with a hand pump and no curtains at the one window. The unpainted table at the center sounds old and utilitarian. The description suggests a very uninviting room with no frills or anything to brighten the area. Nothing frivolous or feminine, like flowers or colorful plates are described as being in the room. Now these are details that were very thought out to help give the reader more ambition to find their own explanation of the symbols.
According to critic Beverly Smith, “From their entrance, the women stand part from the men, clustered at the stove. The men talk with a rough familiarity born working together and knowing one another. The women seem less acquainted and don’t ever call each other by their first names. But at the men’s first disparaging remarks about Minnie’s housekeeping and women ‘worrying over trifles,’ the women move closer together” (Smith 177). This is what set up the women to try and find the evidence that they need to protect Minnie Wright from being charged with her husband’s murder. This murder is one that the two women can identify with.
The reason is that both of the women were farmers’ wives and had very similar lifestyles. Mrs. Hale describes John Wright as a hard man, and never let Mrs. Wright do anything. I feel that this is just how she is describing her own life perhaps. The two women also find a quilt that is not stitched very well. This adds to the fact Minnie Wright was under some stress when sewing this quilt. At this moment Mrs. Hale begins sewing the quilt, the way it should have been sewn in the first place. I feel that Glaspell is giving the women a lot of symbols to justify the women’s findings, and making it easy for them to foil the investigation.
There are some other clues symbols that relate to Minnie Wright’s feeling, emotional like the jar of cherries on the shelf. One critic named Linda Ben-Zvi says, “Minnie herself stayed on the shelf, alone and unbefriended on the farm, until the coldness of her marriage, her life in general, broke her apart” (Ben-Zvi 154). Ben-Zvi also says, “Her secrets kept under pressure burst from their fragile containers . . . .The single intact jar symbolizes the one remaining secret, the motive to complete the prosecutor’s case” (Smith 175). So this helps Minnie Wright when the women take the jar of cherries as well.
Another critic Ben-Zvi comments on Smith’s statement with,” ‘Preserves’ explode from lack of heat, a punning reminder of casual relationship between isolation and violence” (Ben-Zvi 154). This justifies even more that the women are helping Minnie Wright get away with murder. Glaspell has the two women contemplating what to do next. One of the women is with Mrs. Wright all the way and she is Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Peters is a little undecided at this point. Now Mrs. Hale must justify the murder to Mrs. Peters to get her to go along with the murder. The next symbol that Glaspell uses is a canary.
The canary is found dead, hidden in the sewing basket. At the beginning the two women find a cage but no bird. Now the bird has been found and this is even more motive, that Minnie Wright had. This now gives the two women more evidence to dispose of now also. Mrs. Peters tries to put the dead canary in her purse but it will not fit, so Mrs. Peters puts it in her purse. The two women have made the decision to protect Minnie Wright and make sure that there will be no evidence that could have her convicted of murdering her husband. The bird is important because Mrs.
Wright does not have any children, so this is like child-substitute. John Wright killed the canary and also restricted Minnie Wright’s contact with the outside world. “But Mrs. Wright did not kill her husband just because he killed her bird, but because Minnie herself was a caged birdand he strangled her by preventing her from communicating with others”(Alkalay-Gut 8). I feel that the bird was the thing that pushed Minnie over the edge, and made her feel even more alone then what she was. When the bird died, I felt that Minnie’s spirit died with it.
She was fed up with her husband bulling her around like she was his property. Glaspell uses the bird to justify the Minnie Wright’s murder of her husband. The bird was just the extra push that Minnie needed to have her commit the murder. In the last few moments of the story the two women have help save Minnie Wright by with holding evidence and by going along with the trail that Minnie left for them to follow. The last symbol that is used is the knotted quilt. The knotted quilt symbolizes the rope she used, to murder her husband. The men come back to find things undisturbed and intact, so they think.
The county attorney even asks the women what kind of stitch was used on the quilt. Then he is told by Mrs. Hale says, “We call it-knot it, Mr. Henderson”(Hedges 94). This is the last part of the story, and the case is never solved and Minnie will get away with murder. In “A Jury of Her Peers” the name is fitting to the story, because it puts the two women on the jury in a sense and have them dictate what should happen to Minnie Wright. The whole investigation was done entirely wrong, and was conducted by imbeciles. I still find it hard to believe that the two women find the clues come so easy.
The two women were there to keep each other company and that’s all. The women also took it on themselves to protect Mrs. Wright and keep her from harms way. I still don’t see the murder justified. The two women with hold evidence and say that it’s ok to murder your husband if things are not the way that you feel they should be. I do feel that Minnie was mistreated, but I don’t think that Minnie is in the right. I feel that this is just like saying that if your wife doesn’t cook or clean (at the time of the story) for the husband, and not let him go out with his friends that she should be murdered for it.
This is just an analogy of mine. Glaspell’s symbolism helps paint a picture that is clear to see, and lets the reader see things through the eyes of farmwomen. The picture that was painted was that of a farmwoman who was fed up with her husband, and murdering her husband was away out for her. The two women effectively dispose of evidence and foil a murder investigation without the men even knowing it. The only problem I had really with the story was that Glaspell justified a murder and didn’t give the right of justice to take place.
The right of justice was that Minnie Wright never stood trial for a crime that she committed in cold blood. I feel that if there would have been a trial against Minnie Wright and she was acquitted then justice took place because it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she did murder her husband John Wright. All of Glaspell’s literary devices like: the jar of cherries, bird, quilt, kitchen, and the knot that was used for her quilt. I am sympathetic to Minnie being abused by her husband, but I still think that murder was not the answer to her problems.