An Analysis of Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her
Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers'
Commentary by Karen Bernardo
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'A Jury of Her Peers' is a story taut with violence. At no time do we see blood; there is no screaming; there
are no corpses; there are none of the trappings our Gothic imaginations have come to expect. And yet in this homely
little story about quilting and canning and pet canaries, the psychological tension is almost unendurable -- and
much of the tension revolves around gender-specific ways of seeing the world.
The story concerns a farmer, John Wright, who is found strangled in his bed; his wife is arrested for the
murder. The story's action begins the following day, when the sheriff, the county attorney, the sheriff's wife, and
a neighbor couple return to the Wrights' house. The women are there to pick out some clothes for the accused wife
to wear in prison; the men, to check over the crime scene.
Although the story's purpose is to penetrate the motive for Mrs. Wright's murder of her husband, the sheriff's
wife, Mrs. Peters, and the neighbor Mrs. Hale occupy center stage -- and it is really their story. Sheriff Peters
and Mr. Hale wander in and out, mostly passing through as they move from one part of the house to the other,
commenting about the slovenly housekeeping and the general air of cheerlessness. At first it is clear that the
women do not want to be here, either; the house is too cold and too still, and what happened here the day before
was too awful. The women feel defensive in this house, partially because of the disparaging way the men refer to
the little details of Mrs. Wright's life. The men laugh at their wives' admiration of Mrs. Wright's fine stitching
on her quilt, and when the women express sadness over Mrs. Wright's broken jars of jam, Sheriff Peters finds this
tremendously humorous: 'Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves. . . . I
guess before we're through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.'
'Oh, well,' said Mrs. Hale's husband, with good-natured superiority, 'women are used to worrying over
But it is precisely these types of 'trifles' that eventually prove to them that Mrs. Wright did kill her
husband, and why. It also convinces the two women to keep that information to themselves, lest it prove
incriminating to this woman they barely know, but whom they feel certain was entirely justified in her act. The
language of these 'trifles' establishes a form of feminine communication that transcends words. For example, when
they find that the birdcage door has been broken, the women know this was a violent act. When they find a fabric
scrap with the uneven stitching in it, they instinctively recognize that as evidence of tremendous stress -- and
they also tacitly agree to rip the tell-tale evidence out. They probably needn't have bothered; no man would pick
up on such a 'trifle' -- but their act cements them together and bonds them to Mrs. Wright.
The most fascinating thing about this story is the way the two women manage to say the exact opposite of what
they really think, and yet understand each other perfectly. For example, Mrs. Peters laughs over the very idea that
anyone would think a dead canary had anything to do with a murder -- yet they both know it did. Similarly, when
Mrs. Hale pulls out Mrs. Wright's 'crazy' stitching, she says she's 'just pulling out a stitch or two that's not
sewed very good.' But they both know what that stitching means. Mrs. Hale's next remark is a rhetorical question
about why Mrs. Wright could have been so nervous -- but both she and Mrs. Peters know. Mrs. Hale later asks, just
as rhetorically, what could have happened to the bird -- but again, they both know. The violence done in the Wright
house was a repeated and systematic rape of Mrs. Wright's bright spirit, until at last she had to retaliate. Men
would never understand; but in the unspoken language of women, the secrets of the Wright house are abundantly
Glaspell's point in 'A Jury of Her Peers' (which was based on her play, Trifles, first produced in 1916)
is that women's worth has been sociologically devalued because men are incapable of understanding the subtlety of
women's communication. The story repeated back to its female readers many of the 'slings and arrows' they had heard
from men all their lives -- that they wouldn't recognize a clue if they saw it, that they were concerned only with
trifles, that the tools and implements of their lives were unimportant as their feelings and motivations were
unimportant -- and proved how untrue that could be. Glaspell in this story showed that the activities in which the
women of her day engaged were every bit as important as those of men. What's more, Glaspell showed that men do not
appreciate women, not because they are inherently valueless, but because men and women think and communicate
differently. Not better or worse -- just differently. In short, Glaspell glorified women's lives by laying them
bare for all to see.
This story can be found in the book of the same name.
It is available in paperback from Amazon here:
and as a Kindle download from Amazon here:
It is also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble here:
and as a Nook download here: