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.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

Martha Hale is baking bread one cold March morning when the county’s most extraordinary scandal forces her out of her kitchen. She has been asked by Sheriff Peters to assist his wife in gathering personal belongings for Minnie Wright, whom he has jailed on suspicion of murdering her husband. Martha approaches the Wrights’ isolated farmhouse with her husband, Lewis, Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and George Henderson, the county attorney. She pauses before crossing the threshold, overwhelmed with guilt because she had never visited in the twenty years Minnie, her girlhood friend, has been married. She nervously listens to her husband describe coming to the Wright place on their isolated country road the night before, because he wanted to convince John Wright to get a telephone and share the installation costs. Martha hopes her husband will not incriminate Minnie, but his remarks imply the Wrights were not happily married.

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George Henderson takes notes as Mr. Hale tells how Mrs. Wright sat unemotionally rocking in her chair and responded oddly to his request to see her husband. She calmly replied that although he was home, he could not talk because he was dead. Pleating her apron, she said he died of a rope around his neck while he was sleeping in bed with her; she did not know who did it because she was sleeping on the inside and she slept soundly.

That Minnie has murdered her husband seems clear to the attorney, but without her confession, he knows that a jury will want definite evidence, especially when trying a woman for murder. Seeking evidence of a motive, the sheriff looks around at the kitchen things, and Mr. Hale comments with a tone of superiority that women worry over trifles. Reacting defensively to the men’s condescension, Martha and Mrs. Peters instinctively move closer together and defend their neighbor as if she were a close friend. After Mr. Hale questions whether the women would even know a clue if they came on it, the men leave the kitchen to solve the mystery.

Now alone to piece together the puzzle, the two women deduce from small details, such as spilled sugar not cleaned off the table, what must have happened the day John Wright was killed. They conclude that John was stingy because of Minnie’s broken stove and much-repaired clothes. Martha suddenly understands that Minnie, once a lively girl who wore pretty clothes and sang in the choir, kept to herself after marriage because she was ashamed of her shabby appearance. Mrs. Peters realizes that a person gets discouraged and loses heart after years of loneliness. Turning their attention to Minnie’s unfinished quilting, Martha asks Mrs. Peters whether she thought it was to be quilted or knotted. At that moment, the men come in. Laughing at the trifling question about the quilt, Mr. Hale mockingly repeats it.

When the three men leave for the barn, the women discover more clues. Mrs. Peters sees erratic stitches, so different from the even sewing of the other pieces. Martha immediately pulls out the uneven stitches, despite Mrs. Peters’s warning about touching anything. They recall how Mrs. Wright once sang so beautifully, and they think she no doubt had a canary because they see a birdcage. While looking for Minnie’s sewing things to bring to her in jail, they find her canary wrapped up in a piece of silk with its neck wrung. Just as they figure out that John must have violently ripped off the birdcage door hinge and silenced the chirping canary by wringing its neck, the men return. Without plotting any collaboration, the women instinctively conceal the dead bird in the sewing basket and make excuses to divert the men’s attention. When she is again alone with Mrs. Peters, Martha describes her rage when a boy once took a hatchet to her kitten when she was a girl. Then Mrs. Peters admits her loneliness while homesteading in remote Dakota after her baby died. How the men would laugh to hear their talk about such trivia as a dead canary, she says.

The story concludes as Henderson, who has failed to come up with incriminating evidence, facetiously remarks that at least they found out Mrs. Wright was not going to quilt the material; he asks the ladies to repeat the exact quilting technique mentioned earlier. With her hand against her coat pocket, hiding the dead canary, Mrs. Hale responds, “We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson.”

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