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...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
The story begins with Mrs. Martha Hale being hurried along by her husband, Lewis Hale. She leaves her kitchen in the middle of making bread, hating the fact that she is leaving things half done She accompanies George Henderson, the county attorney, Sheriff Henry Peters, and his wife, Mrs. Peters, to the scene of a crime at the home of the "Wrights, a couple they all knew. Mrs. Hale has been asked along to keep Mrs. Peters company, even though the two women have met only once before. The crime they are investigating is the murder of Mr. John Wright. His wife, Mrs. Minnie Wright, whom the women refer to by her maiden name, Minnie Foster, is being held at the jail as a suspect. The Hales, the Peters, and Attorney Henderson all meet at the scene to determine what might have happened the day before.
Mr. Hale and his son, who are the Wrights' closest neighbors, were the first to see Minnie and her dead husband. Mr. Hale tells how they arrived at the Wright home to find Minnie in her rocking chair looking ''queer'' and pleating her apron. When Mr. Hale asked to see John, she calmly told him he was upstairs and had been strangled to death; she claimed that someone had slipped a rope under her husband's neck and killed him while they were sleeping. Mr. Hale explained that he was there to inquire if John wanted a telephone installed; a request that caused Minnie to laugh. Shortly afterward, the coroner arrived with the sheriff to begin investigating the scene and...
(The entire section is 834 words.)