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A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell
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How is suspense created in "A Jury of Her Peers"?

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The short story "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell tells of an investigation into the murder of John Wright. His wife, Minnie Wright, has been arrested and is in jail as a suspect. The story mainly takes place at the Wright farmhouse as five people go there to find clues to prove or disprove that Mrs. Wright murdered her husband. The characters include Sheriff Peters, Lewis Hale (a local farmer), and Henderson (the county attorney). While the men go about the house and property, the two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, wait in the kitchen.

Suspense in the story is not created by the murder itself but by the investigation into the murder. Specifically, Glaspell shows that even though the women are demeaned and their talents are minimized by the men, through their understanding of how a household runs and their empathy for Minnie Wright they are able to uncover clues that prove that Mrs. Wright probably did in fact commit the murder. However, the women ultimately withhold the evidence from the men because they conclude that Mrs. Wright was justified in what she did.

Glaspell creates suspense in the narrative immediately in her atmospheric description of the cold ride to the "lonely-looking" farmhouse. After they arrive, Mr. Hale gives an account of his visit during which he found Mrs. Wright in the kitchen and Mr. Wright upstairs dead with a rope around his neck. Mr. Hale says that Mrs. Wright was acting strangely, but she did not confess to the murder. Readers wonder at this point whether she actually did it or not.

Most of the rest of the story concerns the two nervous women in the kitchen. Small things that they notice cause them to have sympathy for Mrs. Wright and her lonely life in the remote farmhouse. For instance, the dish towel is dirty, most of the fruit jars have broken from the cold, and a quilt that Mrs. Wright was working on has a sewing mistake. The biggest clues that they find, though, are a broken bird cage and a dead canary with its neck broken. They deduce that Minnie Wright must have bought the bird to keep her company and cheer her up, but Mr. Wright must have killed it. All the clues together show the women that Mr. Wright was very abusive towards his wife, and that's why she killed him. The women do not share what they have uncovered with the men because they do not think that the men have sufficient empathy to understand Mrs. Wright's situation.

We see, then, that the suspense that Glaspell creates in this fascinating story is quiet suspense that builds up through the setting, atmosphere, and one clue discovered at a time.

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