Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Most critics agree that Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” is, by far, her best short story. First published in Everyweek on March 5, 1917, the work is a faithful adaptation of her play Trifles, produced the year before by the Provincetown Players. Cook had decided to stage two one-act plays for the company. He already had O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff (wr. 1913-1914, pr. 1916, pb. 1919) but needed another, and he told Glaspell to write one. She protested because of her lack of experience as a dramatist and the pairing with O’Neill. Reaching into her past as a courthouse reporter in Iowa, she remembered covering a murder trial and her impressions of entering the kitchen of the accused. She had meant to write about the experience as a short story but had never gotten to it.
So I went out on the wharf . . . and looked a long time at that bare little stage. After a time the stage became a kitchen—a kitchen there all by itself. I saw just where the stove was, the table, and the steps going upstairs. Then the door at the back opened, and people all bundled up came in—two or three men, I wasn’t sure which, but sure enough about the two women, who hung back, reluctant to enter that kitchen.
The play was a big success for Glaspell and the Provincetown Players. It is considered one of the finest short pieces written for the American theater and is frequently anthologized.
(The entire section is 473 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Martha Hale is baking bread one cold March morning when the county’s most extraordinary scandal forces her out of her kitchen. She has been asked by Sheriff Peters to assist his wife in gathering personal belongings for Minnie Wright, whom he has jailed on suspicion of murdering her husband. Martha approaches the Wrights’ isolated farmhouse with her husband, Lewis, Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and George Henderson, the county attorney. She pauses before crossing the threshold, overwhelmed with guilt because she had never visited in the twenty years Minnie, her girlhood friend, has been married. She nervously listens to her husband describe coming to the Wright place on their isolated country road the night before, because he wanted to convince John Wright to get a telephone and share the installation costs. Martha hopes her husband will not incriminate Minnie, but his remarks imply the Wrights were not happily married.
George Henderson takes notes as Mr. Hale tells how Mrs. Wright sat unemotionally rocking in her chair and responded oddly to his request to see her husband. She calmly replied that although he was home, he could not talk because he was dead. Pleating her apron, she said he died of a rope around his neck while he was sleeping in bed with her; she did not know who did it because she was sleeping on the inside and she slept soundly.
That Minnie has murdered her husband seems clear to the attorney, but without her confession, he knows that a jury will want definite evidence, especially when trying a woman for murder. Seeking evidence of a motive, the sheriff looks around at the kitchen things, and Mr. Hale comments with a tone of superiority that women worry over trifles. Reacting defensively to the men’s condescension, Martha and Mrs. Peters instinctively move closer together and defend their...
(The entire section is 747 words.)