From the details provided, briefly describe the character of the murder victim.
Mr Hale tells the County Attorney the reason for his visit to the Wrights’ house the previous day. He wanted to persuade John Wright to have a telephone installed. From what he says we find out that the house is isolated—the word ‘lonesome’ is repeated frequently—and John liked ‘peace and quiet’. As Hale continues he says: ‘I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—‘. This suggests that John was not concerned for his wife’s happiness and from this we could say he is selfish.
Martha Hale comments that the rocking chair doesn’t look as if it belongs to Minnie Foster (John’s wife). The chair is described as shoddy and broken. This implies that Minnie is significantly changed from her former self and this begs the question: ‘what has caused her to become this way?’.
The discussion about poor housekeeping and Martha’s comments about work on a farm suggests that Minnie has been left to do much of the work in the house. We find out here that Minnie and John live on a farm. We might reasonably assume then that John is a farmer.
When the county attorney asks if Martha and Minnie are friends she tells him that she does not think the Wrights’ home ‘a very cheerful place’. She says that John Wright didn’t have ‘the home making instinct’ and that the house would not be ‘any cheerfuler for John Wright’s bein’ in it’. This leads us to believe that John was not particularly happy and thus not pleasant company. We see this idea of John being poor company repeated later when Martha tells Mrs Peters that Minnie was childless and that it must be lonely with Wright out at work all day and then ‘no company when he did come in’.
We find out that John is ‘close’ (or mean). The clothes Minnie has asked for are shabby and worn. There is a further reference to John’s meanness when Martha points out the broken cooker. John allows his wife to cook on a stove which the other women agree would be difficult (‘How’d you like to cook on this?’)
The idea of having been disturbed or having left things undone (or badly done in the case of the quilting) is repeated throughout the narrative. Minnie has been affected by something. If we infer from Martha’s statement: ‘I knew John Wright’ that John was responsible for damaging the bird cage and indeed breaking the bird’s neck, we can also suppose that he was an aggressive or violent man.
The outsider’s view of John Wright is given by Mrs Peters who says: ‘They say he was a good man’ and then by Martha who agrees and adds: ‘He didn’t drink and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man Mrs Peters’.
So now we have a list of characteristics for John Wright (the murdered man):
- On one level he was a law abiding farmer who—to all outward appearances—conducted himself properly.
- On another level and behind closed doors he was selfish, mean with his conversation and with his money and he had the tendency to be cruel and violent.
‘A Jury of her Peers’ in O’Brien, E.J. (Ed) The Best Short Stories of 1917, Small Maynard and Co.