illustration of a dead bird lying within a black box

A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

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What is the climax of the story "A Jury of Her Peers"?

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The climax of Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers," the moment of highest emotional intensity, occurs when Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale decide to hide the damning evidence of the dead bird.

Because of the remarks of the rather flippant county attorney and the chiming in by the other men, Mrs. Peters who is the wife of the sheriff, and Mrs. Hale who is a neighbor of the suspect, Minnie Foster, are rather resentful of the attitude that there are "just kitchen things" on the first floor. Other patronizing remarks such as Sheriff Peter's sarcasm about the women's being worried about Mrs. Foster's preserves also prompts the action of the climax.

In the course of looking around, Mrs. Hale finds a quilt that Minnie Foster was making which has neat stitching except for the last part that has erratic stitches. A perfectionist with regard to sewing, Mrs. Hale feels compelled to resew this part despite Mrs. Peters's fear that they should not touch things. Then, while Mrs. Peters looks for some paper with which to tie up the clothes and articles that Mrs. Foster has requested be brought to the jail, she finds a damaged bird cage whose one hinge has been pulled apart.

Their eyes met--startled, questioning, apprehensive. For a moment neither stirred or spoke.

Further, as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale search in the kitchen cupboards for quilt pieces because of their decision to give the quilt to Mrs. Foster so that she can finish it, the women discover a pretty red box. Inside this box is something wrapped in a piece of silk. "It's the bird," Mrs. Peter whispers. "Somebody wrung its neck."

Clearly, the women have discovered subtle, but damning evidence regarding the murder of Mr. Foster. For, he was choked to death by a rope around his neck in the same fashion in which the poor bird has died. This bird's death has most likely been avenged by Mrs. Foster because it was the one thing in her desperate and lonely life that brought her any joy.

Soon after this discovery by the women left in the kitchen, the men descend the stairs. Once again, the county attorney jokes about the kitchen and its contents when the sheriff asks him if he needs to look through what Mrs. Peters has gathered to take to Mrs. Foster at the jail. In fact, it is with dramatic irony that the attorney facetiously replies, "I guess they're not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out."


The county attorney's remarks precipitate the climax of the story:
After the attorney and the sheriff leave the kitchen to examine the windows and Mr. Hale goes out to tend the horses who have been waiting in the cold, the tension of the thoughts and emotions between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters is high as they look into each other's eyes, and Mrs. Hale turns her eyes to the red box. Mrs. Peters rushes to the box, covering it with the quilt; she tries to put it in her purse, but the purse is too small. At the sound of a door knob turning,

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 country attorney came back into the kitchen.

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