Explain the significance of the canary, the quilt, and the appearance of the kitchen in "A Jury of her Peers" by Susan Glaspell.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell was based on an actual murder which the author covered as a newspaper reporter.  Originally written as a one-act play, Glaspell rewrote the play into a more detailed story. 

At the heart of the story is the murder of John Wright by his wife Minnie.  No one understands the motive for the murder until the women who have come to the farm with their husbands discover some important clues which the men fail to notice.

The motive for the murder and the different perspectives of the men and women----these ideas represent the crux of the story.  From the insinuation that women are interested only in trivialities. The women have to decide if they hand over their discoveries or protect an abused wife.


One of the first degrading remarks concerning women comes from the County Attorney.  He attacks Minnie Wright’s housekeeping skills.

"Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?"

He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.

She looked around the kitchen. Certainly it was not "slicked up." Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Things begun--and not finished

The importance of this discussion indicates the kind of person that Minnie Wright was.  The women could see that Minnie cared about her home and the details of housekeeping. Something had disturbed her as she was finishing her cleaning.

In addition, a person should not be judged on outside appearances which might not be an actual picture of the accused’s housekeeping. The implication is that the attorney may be making an opinion about Minnie Wright which could cloud his interpretation of the clues.

The quilt

Mrs. Peters discovered a quilt that Minnie Wright was making.  Minnie’s sewing was very precise.  One block was uneven and unlike the other blocks.  It was apparent that something disturbed Minnie as she was working on this block. The difference between it and the other squares was startling. 

One of the men overheard Ms. Hale discussing whether Minnie was going to quilt or knot the quilt.  He made fun of the women discussing something so trivial. Actually, this is a good indication of Minnie’s state of mind and her nervousness. 

"The sewing," said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way, "All the rest of them have been so nice and even--but--this one. Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!"

Something caused Minnie to be unable to continue her sewing as usual.  What had happened with John?

The canary

Mrs. Peters discovers a bird cage with its door roughly torn from its hinges.  The door was pulled off in a fit of temper. John Wright must have done it because it would take strength to have done this angry thing.

Where was the bird? Last year, a salesman had come around selling birds. Since Minnie had no children, it would have been nice to have the singing bird to keep her company. 

 Mrs. Peters finds a pretty box and opens it.  In the box, there was a piece of satin with the bird wrapped in it.  It had its neck wrung. Undoubtedly, John disliked the bird’s noise and the attention that Minnie gave it.  He broke its neck to hurt Minnie. 

This was the motive that Minnie needed to kill her abusive husband.  She paid him back in the same way that he killed her bird.