In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, a group of people accompanying the sheriff go to their neighbors, the Wrights’, house after Mr. Wright has been murdered and Mrs. Wright has been detained. The men of the group look for evidence near the body while the women gather things to bring to Mrs. Wright for her stay in prison. In the process of collecting her things, they accidentally find evidence suggesting that Mrs. Wright has murdered Mr. Wright, but they also find evidence that Mr. Wright was most likely abusing her, so they find themselves in a moral dilemma of whether they should hand over evidence that will get an abused woman convicted, or if they should hide it to give her a better shot at freedom.
“A Jury of Her Peers” is the short story version of the play “Trifles,” which premiered on August 8, 1916 and was based on a murder trial Glaspell covered in Des Moines, Iowa (American Literature). Susan Glaspell was a famous feminist writer who wrote over fifty stories and won a nobel prize for one of her plays (Institute for International schools). Her writing emphasizes the roles of men and women during her lifetime.
During the time in which the play was written, there was blatant inequality between men and women. Women didn’t have the right to vote until 1920, and at this time, they were mostly expected to be housewives. The inequality highlighted by “A Jury of Her Peers” is seen in the viewpoints of the characters. The men explore the home looking to validate their assumptions about women, commenting on how the entire house is messy and write Mrs. Wright off as a lazy housewife and a slob. The women, on the other hand, are more sympathetic to Mrs. Wright. They are able to put themselves in Mrs. Wright’s shoes and they ask themselves why she would have left her work unfinished. As they continue to investigate, they find a bird cage that looks as though it has been ripped open, a sign of violence. They compare Mrs. Wright to the bird inside of the cage, who once could sing, but has had that ability taken away from it by Mr. Wright.
Upon a quick read, it could be argued that the women are in wrong for hiding evidence, or that they should have perhaps given the evidence to the sheriff and explained their concerns about the situation, but reading into the details of the story makes that seem like an infeasible plan of action. The men are so dismissive that they would likely chalk the women’s concerns down to “worrying over trifles.”
The story starts with things being left unfinished in Mrs. Hale’s kitchen, which immediately draws a parallel between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Wright. The writing style pulls the reader directly into the scene and makes them feel like they are watching and following the women as the scene unfolds. Since the narrator follows the women more closely, they seem to relate to, or at least be sympathetic to the women. The men come off as misogynistic and one-dimensional, whereas the women are more fleshed out as characters. Mrs. Hale admits to feeling regret since she got the feeling that something bad had been happening in the house and yet never came to visit, avoiding the situation. Her reason for hiding the evidence is pretty straightforward– she wants to make up for her past mistake. Mrs. Peters’ motives can be found in Mrs. Wright’s descriptions of Mrs. Peters and her husband that her motive seems the most justified. Mr. Peters, the sheriff, is a big, tough man that doesn’t see any value in Mrs. Peters’ opinions, while Mrs. Peters is “quiet” and “doesn’t seem like a sheriff’s wife.” Everything she does is mousy and timid, despite having an outgoing and charismatic husband. It seems as though she sympathizes with Mrs. Wright because she, too, is being mistreated by her husband, which emphasizes the author’s motive: to highlight the inequality between men and women and to call attention to domestic violence.
“A Jury of Her Peers — Full Text.” Annenberg Learner, www.learner.org/interactives/literature/story/fulltext.html.
History of New York City, The Institute for International Schools, blogs.shu.edu/glaspellsociety/about-susan-glaspell/.
“Trifles.” Short Stories and Classic Literature, americanliterature.com/author/susan-glaspell/play/trifles/summary.