Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Adapted from Susan Glaspell’s popular one-act play, Trifles (1920), “A Jury of Her Peers” is about sisterhood. Women’s roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers do not make them totally passive, unintelligent, or subordinate to men. Mrs. Peters, for example, being small, thin, and soft-spoken, did not strike Martha Hale as a sheriff’s wife when they first met; however, Mrs. Peters reveals her inner strength in defying her husband by suppressing evidence that would surely convict Minnie Wright of murder. Because they understand how John’s killing the canary must have been the last straw in killing his wife’s love of life, Martha and Mrs. Peters “knot” the criminal investigation. They shift their loyalty from their husbands, and the male-dominated legal system, to a woman who mirrors their own lives. As Martha wistfully says of her regret in abandoning her neighbor Minnie, “We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of same thing!” Because the legal defense of justifiable homicide by an abused wife might not have succeeded in the early twentieth century, the women take matters into their own hands.
They also retaliate against the men’s arrogant air of superiority. The men’s supposedly logical, intelligent methods of investigation lead to naught, whereas the women’s intuitive, emotional responses to their “sister” probably will save Minnie’s life. A climactic moment occurs when the attorney laughingly says that the ladies would not gather dangerous things to take to Mrs. Wright in jail, unaware that they are concealing crucial evidence. When Henderson says that Mrs. Peters does not need supervising because “a sheriff’s wife is married to the law,” she responds that she does not think of it that way. Rejecting the way the men think about Mrs. Wright’s guilt, the women also reject the men’s control over their lives. This assertion of power to think and act independently reiterates a strong feminist theme: Their allegiance to sisterhood is stronger than that to marriage.