In "A Jury of Her Peers," what significance do you see in the womens' names?
The names of the characters from the story "A Jury of Her Peers" are significant, lending added meaning to Glaspell's narrative. It is interesting, too, that all three of the female characters have names derived from the Hebrew language; that is, they are traditional names.
The name Martha means "bitterness" in Hebrew. This meaning can easily apply to Mrs. Hale, who certainly harbors bitter feelings toward Mr. Wright for having figuratively caged Minnie Foster after he married her. He kept her at the isolated house and denied her the enjoyment of a telephone. Mrs. Wright has also been deprived of a badly-needed new stove as well as new clothes (judging from the worn clothing that Mrs. Peters gathers to take to the jail). Finally, Mrs. Wright has been deprived of socialization as she no longer has had opportunities to go to town and visit with friends.
The only name given to the sheriff's wife is the genitive form of her husband's surname. The author's manner of naming this character suggests that Mrs. Peters comes to the Wrights' house only as the wife of a public servant who has the assignment of performing some minor tasks for her husband. Mrs. Peters gathers the items which Mrs. Wright has requested be brought to her at the jail. When Mrs. Hale takes the initiative to correct the erratic sewing on one of Mrs. Wright's quilts, Mrs. Peters becomes nervous and fearful, saying, "I don't think we ought to touch things." Later, however, Mrs. Peters asks Mrs. Hale, "What do you suppose she was so--nervous about?" as she considers the environment in which Mrs. Wright has lived. Then, when they find the poor bird whose neck has been wrung, Mrs. Peters becomes stronger and is complicit in hiding the bird from the men. Perhaps, then, Mrs. Peters's hesitations and denials are somewhat similar to the denials of Peter the apostle, who later fulfills the meaning of his name as he becomes strong in his faith and is the "rock" upon which Christ builds His church (Matthew 13:18).
--Minnie Foster Wright
Like the other women's names, Minnie's is also an old name from the Hebrew language. The Hebrew meaning of this name is "rebellion." Another meaning comes from Minnie as the diminutive of Wilhemina, the feminine form of William, which means "warrior" and "resolute protection." Certainly, the meaning of "rebellion" applies to the recent actions of Mrs. Wright against her husband. Mrs. Wright's love and enjoyment of life have not been fostered after years in a loveless marriage with her husband, whom Mrs. Hale calls "close." As a result, Minnie may have become rather resentful about her repressed condition, and when her only joy, the little songbird, was killed, she rebelled against the repression of Mr. Wright. Perhaps, in her desperate grief at the loss of her one joy in life, she became "resolute" in rebelling. We could also say that she was resolute in protecting what was left of her spirit when she repaid Mr. Wright for ending the life of her pet.
The names of the women in "A Jury of Her Peers" give insight into how Susan Glaspell wants readers to view them. Martha Hale, the neighbor to the suspected murderer, seems to be a "hale and hearty" type of woman, straightforward and capable. "Martha" is a strong name, perhaps bringing to mind "Martha Washington," our country's first first lady. Mrs. Peters, on the other hand, tends toward weakness, as if she is about to "peter out." Unlike Martha, Mrs. Peters does not receive a first name, but is only called Mrs. Peters or "the sheriff's wife." Mr. Peters even says of her, "she's one of us," implying that she does not have her own identity as a woman. We can see it is harder for her to make a decision to protect Mrs. Wright than it is for Mrs. Hale.
Mrs. Wright's names are also revealing. First, she is "Wright," suggesting that the murder she probably committed was not as wrong as it might appear at first glance. Also, the issue of her "rights" is an important theme of the story. When she married Mr. Wright, she subjugated her own rights to his, and as a woman, she did not merit the same "rights" that men did at that time, namely, the right to a "jury of her peers." (Women did not serve on juries at that time, so a trial for Mrs. Wright would not have been completely just under that standard.) Her first name was "Minnie," again indicating that she was a lesser creature, a "mini" person, not entitled to full human rights. Her maiden name was Foster. When she was single, she sang in the choir and had a voice of her own, so evidently her parents had "fostered" her individuality to some degree. But when she married, that became a thing of the past. When she tried to regain her individuality by "fostering" the canary, Mr. Wright again usurped his authority over her--breaking the canary's neck and silencing it as he had squelched Minnie's individuality.
We can see that the names of Martha Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Minnie Foster Wright all give us meaningful insights into these characters.