What important lesson does "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell develop regarding gender roles?
In the short story "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell, five people--three men and two women--investigate the farmhouse of Minnie Wright, a woman accused of murdering her husband. While the three men (the county attorney, the sheriff, and the victim's neighbor) seem eager to find evidence of the accused woman's guilt, the women investigating the scene (who are the wives of the prosecutor and attorney) believe that there is evidence that could exonerate Minnie Wright. The lesson the story imparts is that men and women judge women who defend themselves against men differently.
The men investigating the crime don't understand the motive--the reason why Minnie Wright would want to kill her husband: "The sheriff too looked all around, as if to re-convince himself. 'Nothing here but kitchen things,' he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things" (page numbers vary according to the edition). The men can't figure out why Minnie Wright killed her husband, but the women understand. Mrs. Hale says:
"'Wright was close!' she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black skirt that bore the marks of much making over. 'I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself. I s'pose she felt she couldn't do her part; and then, you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively--when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that--oh, that was twenty years ago'" (page numbers vary according to edition).
The women understand why Mrs. Wright killed her husband. Although the men say that the women can't find any clues, the women look around the farmhouse and understand that Mrs. Wright worked very hard and that her husband did not give her any nice clothes, as she used to have when she was young. When the men leave the house, the women find a dead bird that they believe was killed by Mrs. Wright's husband, and they understand the motivation for the murder. They hide the dead bird from the men, who conclude that there is no incriminating evidence against Mrs. Wright.
The women clearly understand the psychological reasons behind Mrs. Wright's actions, and they are able to piece together the suspect's life in a way the men can't. They are more sympathetic to the plight of a hard-working farm woman than the men are.