What are the differences between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in terms of status, background, and strength of character?
In "A Jury of Her Peers," although they share sympathies in their womanhood, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters differ in social status, background, and character.
Even though Martha Hale is the neighbor of Minnie Wright, she has not visited Mrs. Wright often. This neglect of Mrs. Wright has not been because Mrs. Hale has been unneighborly. In Iowa around 1916, few people in rural areas had phones or cars, although the farmers usually had trucks for work purposes. Since Midwestern farms were hundreds of acres, the houses were miles apart. On a day-to-day basis, all able members of the family were involved in many tasks. "There was always something to do" on the farm, and Mrs. Hale has a son to care for as well. Added to this, Mr. Wright seemed a cold man. "It never seemed a cheerful place," Mrs. Hale tells the County Attorney.
Despite her neglect of Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale still retains sympathy for her neighbor. For she remembers the vibrant Minnie Foster, who sang in the church choir and wore new and attractive clothes. When Mrs. Hale sees the drab, worn-out clothing that Mrs. Wright now has and the dirty towels and cheerless kitchen, her heart aches for the woman. Mrs. Hale regrets not having visited her more. So, in an act of kindness, she redoes the stitching on a quilt that Mrs. Wright was making.
In contrast to the life that Mrs. Hale leads, Mrs. Peters has opportunities to interact with many more people since she probably knows other wives from the Sheriff's Department. Also, since she does not live on a farm and lives nearer the town, she would have more time to socialize. Because of her social contacts and the fact that her husband is the sheriff, Mrs. Peters is more cautious about what she says and does than Mrs. Hale would need to be. Underscoring this fact, the County Attorney remarks of her, "Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us," adding to her,
"And keep your eye out, Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive—and that's the thing we need."
These words of the County Attorney's are, indeed, significant, because they are direct instructions to Mrs. Peters to become a part of his investigation. In this "timid acquiescence" to the attorney, she cautions Mrs. Hale to not remove Mrs. Wright's erratic stitching out of her quilt, because nothing should be changed. Surprisingly, then, when she does a figurative U-turn from her earlier wifely compliance and assists Mrs. Hale in hiding from the men the dead canary with its twisted neck—a certain clue—Mrs. Peters exerts more independence and feminine rebellion than does Mrs. Hale.
Mrs Hale is an astute investigator as well as being a farmer’s wife like Minnie Wright. She has known Minnie for most of her life and looks to the changes that have happened to her life under the influence of her cruel husband John Wright. She pieces together the crime, like the quilt Minnie was working on, despite the derision of the men.
Mrs Peters is a loyal wife, of higher social status as a sheriff's wife. She is less able to see the influence and control of a husband as objectively –and perhaps cynically – as Mrs Hale. It is Mrs Peters who is most like Minnie in that she acquiesces to her husband. However, the end of the story unites her with Mrs Hale in defending Minnie Wright from punishment as she rushes to hide the evidence from the men:
For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag.
However, it is Mrs Peters who has the strength to complete the subterfuge:
Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff's wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.