illustration of a dead bird lying within a black box

A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

Start Free Trial

A Jury of Her Peers Summary

Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” depicts two different groups of people searching through the house of Minnie Wright, a woman accused of murdering her husband.

  • The county prosecutor, the sheriff, and one of Minnie’s neighbors examine her house for evidence pertaining to the murder. Meanwhile, the wives of the sheriff and the neighbor collect personal effects to bring to Minnie in prison.
  • The women conclude that Minnie must have been driven to murder by her abusive husband based on a series of “trifles” that the men overlook. They decide not to tell the men out of respect for Minnie’s suffering.

A Jury of Her Peers Study Tools

Take a quiz Ask a question Start an essay

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Mrs. Martha Hale, a farmer’s wife, finds her work in the kitchen interrupted one cold morning when the sheriff stops by to pick up her husband to assist with an investigation. Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, has asked Mrs. Hale to join her, and the sheriff chuckles about his wife “getting scarey” because of the current investigation.

The group—composed of Mr. and Mrs. Hale, the county attorney, the sheriff, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife—arrives at the Wright home and convenes in the kitchen. The county attorney, Mr. Henderson, asks Mr. Hale to explain what happened the day prior.

Mr. Hale explains that when he and his son Harry arrived to visit Minnie and John Wright the day before, they found Minnie sitting oddly inside the house and repetitively “pleatin’ her apron.” When Mr. Hale asks to see John, Minnie reveals that her husband is dead, shocking Mr. Hale with her “quiet and dull” tone. Minnie further revealed that his body was in their bedroom upstairs, and when asked how he died, she explained that he had “died of a rope round his neck.” Mr. Hale investigates Minnie’s claim and finds John’s body exactly as his wife had described.

Minnie is thus the focus of the investigation, and she has been legally detained. Looking around the kitchen, the attorney scoffs at the “nice mess” in Minnie’s cupboard. Mrs. Hale offers “sympathetic understanding” as she explains that Minnie had been worried about her preserves bursting in the cold without a fire to keep the house warm. The sheriff bursts into laughter that a woman who is being held for murder would be “worrying about her preserves.” Mr. Hale adds that “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The men continue to dishevel Minnie’s kitchen as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters quietly watch them. Mrs. Hale explains that women have “a great deal of work to . . . [do] on a farm” and that “men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.”

The men continue laughing at the oddities of women’s behavior, and Mrs. Hale regrets losing touch with Minnie. They had once been closer, and Minnie had once worn “pretty clothes” and had a “lively” personality. Over the twenty years she had been married to John Wright, Minnie’s disposition had grown “discouraged.” Mrs. Hale also confesses that she avoided visiting Minnie because the home “never seemed a very cheerful place.” John Wright was a “hard man” whose presence was “like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”

As the men proceed upstairs to investigate the crime scene, the women are left alone downstairs. The town attorney instructs them to “keep an eye out” for clues to assist their investigation. Mr. Hale questions whether the women could recognize a clue if they stumbled across it.

Left alone, the women begin to tidy up Minnie’s kitchen. They then stop to admire a quilt that Minnie was in the midst of assembling. They are so captivated by the quilt’s beautiful details that they don’t hear the men approaching. When Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Peters whether she thinks Minnie will quilt or knot the design, the sheriff throws up his hands in laughter. Mrs. Hale fails to see the humor in the question.

As the men continue their investigation, the women are left alone again. They discover that part of the quilt has been hastily constructed, and its stitches reflect a distracted and unsteady mind. Mrs. Hale immediately begins pulling out those stitches and correcting them.

Continuing to tidy up Minnie’s house in her absence, the women are intrigued by their discovery of a bird cage. Their suspicions are heightened when they notice its door is broken, and they speculate about what might have happened to the bird.

Hoping to cheer Minnie, the women pack up her quilting materials and take them to her in prison, hoping to distract her mind from such unfortunate circumstances. As Mrs. Hale digs around in a box to locate Minnie’s quilting scissors, she discovers a dead bird. Mrs. Peters points out that someone has “wrung its neck.” The women exchange “a look of dawning comprehension” that reflects their understanding of what has transpired in this house.

Suddenly the men reappear, and their first question is whether the women have decided whether Minnie planned to “quilt it or knot it.” Without hesitation, Mrs. Peters replies that she had planned to “knot it.”

When the men leave, the women discuss what likely occurred the night of the murder. Mrs. Hale insists that Minnie’s husband would not have enjoyed birdsong and that he had killed that bird much as he had killed Minnie’s “song” over the years. Mrs. Peters insists that killing a sleeping man by choking him is an “awful thing.”

Mrs. Hale is tormented with guilt for not visiting Minnie over the years because women “all go through the same things” and understand each other’s struggles. As the men approach, Mrs. Peters grabs the box containing the dead bird, whose discovery “would make certain the conviction” of Minnie, and tries to stuff it into her purse. Paralyzed with fear, she is unable to touch the bird itself. The door opens, and Mrs. Hale grabs the box and stuffs it into her coat pocket as the men return. Mr. Henderson again asks what Minnie had planned to do with the quilt, and Mrs. Hale responds that she had planned to “knot it.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Themes