What is the function of laughter in "A Jury of Her Peers?"

Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Laughter serves two functions in Glaspell's otherwise dark story of a woman who kills her husband.  First, laughter shows nervousness and irony.  When Hale is relating his contact with Minnie Wright and her response to his asking about her husband, he says that

" 'she--laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh.' "

Of course, Minnie knows that no one will be talking to her husband again because she murdered him.  She most likely laughs out of irony and also nervousness, thinking about how she will be treated when it's discovered why her husband isn't available.

Mrs. Peters, the more timid of the two women who go to the farmhouse, also laughs nervously.  When Mrs. Hale and she discuss the manner in which Mr. Wright was killed, Mrs. Peters talks about how strange it is and then

"she [begins] to laugh; at sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped."

Obviously, Mrs. Peters does not laugh because she thinks that Mr. Wright's death is funny; she is simply nervous and rather frightened at the thought of someone killing another person in such a unique way.

Secondly, Glaspell employs laughter to illustrate the male characters' condescending attitude toward women.  When the sheriff discusses the crime scene, he disdainfully looks around the kitchen and says,

" 'Nothing here but kitchen things,' . . . with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things."

Shortly after this incident, he laughs again at his wife's foolishness at being concerned about "trifles"--which later end up being the evidence that men so desperately need but which the women cleverly hide.