illustration of a dead bird lying within a black box

A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

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What evidence does the jury have against Mrs. Wright in "A Jury of Her Peers"?

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In Susan Glaspell’s short story “A Jury of Her Peers,” the murder of John Wright is being investigated by Sheriff Peters. He brings along Mr. Hale, a neighboring farmer, and George Henderson, the county attorney, to go through the Wright house looking for evidence. Their wives come along to see what is going on and end up cleaning the kitchen and picking up around the house.

Before the story begins, John’s wife, Minnie, is already the suspect. Hale, who discovered John, explains to the sheriff when he arrived at the Wright house Minnie was acting strange, and when he pressed her, she finally responded that he couldn’t see John “Cause he's dead.” Not sure how to handle this information, he presses her further and reports she told him John “died of a rope around his neck.” Minnie is emotionless as she tells about her deceased husband; Hale remembers that she “just went on pleatin' at her apron" while talking to him. Because she’s the only one at the house, and so unmoved by the event, everyone assumes that she killed her husband.

As the men search through the house, they do not find any evidence, but the women, who spend time paying attention to the details, find the needed proof. As they enter the house, the men mock the small messes left behind and her concerns over her preserves. As they look around, the women begin to put together the true story of Minnie Wright. They notice that all of her clothes were worn and old because John wouldn’t let her buy new ones and that he was a “hard man” to live with.

The hard evidence comes when they notice a birdcage with no bird in it. They wonder if a cat got it or if it flew away. They realize the door’s hinge is pulled apart.

Looks as if someone must have been—rough with it.

As they put away Minnie’s sewing materials, they find the bird in her box—it had been strangled. When they found the dead bird, they knew what happened in the Wright House.

And then again the eyes of the two women met—this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror. Mrs. Peters looked from the dead bird to the broken door of the cage. Again their eyes met.

The men notice the empty cage, but the women lie and say the cat must have gotten to the bird. Mrs. Peters reminds Mrs. Hale, “of course we don't know who killed the bird,” but the two know John’s tendencies and believe he killed the bird, the only thing Minnie loved, and so Minnie killed John.

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The short story "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell concerns a murder investigation at a remote farmhouse. Minnie Wright, the woman of the farmhouse, has been accused of killing her husband, taken into custody, and is now awaiting trial in jail. Sheriff Peters,...

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a local farmer named Lewis Hale, and Mr. Henderson, who is the county attorney, go about the house searching for clues while Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale wait in the kitchen.

The men are condescending to the women and obviously consider their only worthwhile talents to be household skills. These two women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, are the jury of her peers referred to in the title. Because they are similar in mindset to Mrs. Wright, they are able to sympathize with what she has been going through and piece together various bits of evidence about what probably happened.

The evidence that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale come up with has to do with motivation. In other words, it concerns why Mrs. Wright would kill her husband. First of all, Mrs. Hale remarks upon the loneliness of the place and the fact that Mr. Wright was not a friendly man and was hard to get along with. He was also tight-fisted with money, and as a result, Mrs. Wright's clothes are old and shabby. The women find half-finished work that suggests Mrs. Wright was going through emotional distress. These details are not necessarily evidence, but they give an indication of Mrs. Wright's state of mind and what she had to go through on a daily basis. Mrs. Hales fixes some stitching on a quilt because she realizes that it is another indication of Mrs. Wright's stress.

The real pieces of evidence that the two women find are the broken bird cage and the dead bird. They perceive that the bird was the only spot of joy that Mrs. Wright had in her destitution and loneliness, and Mr. Wright killed it. Mrs. Wright must have felt so much anguish at this cruel deed that she in turn killed her husband. The two women hide the evidence of the dead bird, knowing that it could be used against Mrs. Wright.

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Minnie (Foster) Wright is suspected of killing her husband, John, but she hasn't been arrested yet. This is why the men and their wives are at the Wright home, to collect evidence. The story reflects the roles of women and the attitudes of men toward women in the early twentieth century. The "jury" in the story is the two women who find enough evidence to get Minnie convicted, and her "peers" are the two women who feel a sisterhood with Minnie as women.

The women find enough evidence to convict Minnie, but they don't give it to their husbands.  They notice how Minnie changed from who she was before marriage to who she had become after marriage--a lonely woman who never got new clothes or got to go out and be with people. She had no friends. They remember she had a beautiful voice, see the bird cage, and conclude Minnie's only "friend" was a canary. The two women find the dead bird in Minnie's sewing things and figure John, her husband, must have killed the canary because he was a cruel, abusive man. Since the canary was Minnie's only friend, she had snapped and killed John for all of the years he had abused her and kept her isolated.

The men find no incrimnating evidence against Minnie and don't even consider that the two women would ever find anything since they're women. They don't share their findings with the men because their feelings of sisterhood are stronger than their loyalty to their husbands.

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