“A Jury of her Peers” by Susan Glaspell is based on her one-act play Trifles. The story in both genres was based on an actual murder case that Glaspell reported on when she worked as a newspaper reporter covering trials. The story takes place in about 1918 in rural America.
The story covers a murder mystery. A man is murdered in his bed at home by tightening a rope around his throat. According to his wife, she was in bed when he was murdered. She heard nothing, and there were no other witnesses.
The victim was John Wright. His neighbor Mr. Hale comes over to talk to him and discovers his wife sitting in the living room in her rocking chair. She tells him about her husband being dead in his bed upstairs. Minnie Wright is charged with the murder and taken to jail.
The next day the county attorney, Mr. and Mrs. Hale, and Sheriff and Mrs. Peters come to the Wright’s home to investigate. The women have come to get things to take to Minnie to make her more comfortable in jail.
The men go upstairs and occupy themselves with the rope and discussing the motives and crime. The women are left to look around the kitchen and living room. Through their search, the women discover clues and the motive for the murder.
- The shabby clothes which Minnie is forced to wear. When she was a girl, she was well-dressed and pretty.
- The quilt which Minnie is making is sewn with perfect stitching. Mrs. Hale discovers that the last few stitches are skewed and obviously done under some kind of duress.
- The bird cage is found empty. Mrs. Hale remembers a man who came around selling canaries. Since the Wrights had no children, the silence around the house may have added to Minnie’s loneliness.
- The door of the cage is torn from its hinges. Obviously, someone angrily ripped the door off. The only possible way this happened was probably by John Wright.
- The bird is found in a pretty red box covered with a red cloth. The bird’s neck is broken and appears to have been wrung by someone. When the bird is found, the women are able to put the crime scene together and understand why John Wright was killed.
Mrs. Hale tells Mrs. Peters that John Wright was not a particularly nice man. Apparently, he was hard working; but he was not someone anyone would want to spend much time with.
"He didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man. Just to pass the time of day with him--." She stopped, shivered a little. "Like a raw wind that gets to the bone." Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: "I should think she would've wanted a bird!"
Minnie had been a lovely, young girl who sang in the choir. Why had she changed so much?
The women came to the conclusion that Minnie had been lonely and the bird gave her company. The noise annoyed John; he may have told her to keep the bird quiet. When that did not happen, John took the situation into his own hands and tore the cage from Minnie, ripping open the cage door. Then, he grabbed the bird and wrung its neck. John Wright had pushed Minnie too far, and she sought revenge by killing him in a similar way to the bird’s death.
The women choose not to give their information to the men who would never understand. Remember the women were only good at trifles.