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A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

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How do the women's conversations in "A Jury of Her Peers" differ from the men's?

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The conversations of the men and those of the women differ significantly. The men - sheriff Peters, the county attorney Henderson, and Mr Hale - come across as loud, brisk and hearty, as they busy themselves with looking round the Wright house for clues to the murder of Mr Wright. By contrast, the two women - Martha Hale and Mrs Peters - are quieter, much more guarded in their conversation, both with each other and even more so with the men. 

The story reflects prevailing social notions of its time about gender differences. Men were seen to be logical, efficient, and capable of dealing with all manner of serious, weighty issues while women were thought to be less rational and more emotional, and almost exclusively concerned with matters of the home. The men in this story treat the women with superficial deference and thinly-disguised contempt for their supposed inferiority, something that is clearly reflected in their conversation with them. They address them in a bluff, hearty and even jovial manner, but they do not take them seriously. They believe them not to be really capable of aiding anything so serious as a murder investigation, thinking that they are too taken up with trivial matters such as looking after Minnie Wright's preserves.

What the men fail to realise is that these supposedly trivial matters are actually essential in providing clues to the murder. In looking round the Wright home the women can see what the men cannot: a picture of Minnie Wright's oppressed existence, her entrapment in a wholly loveless, stifling, emotionally abusive marriage which caused her to finally snap and turn on her husband.

The women, then, prove themselves far cleverer than the men in this story. However, because of the men's belittling attitude, they refuse to tell them anything and resolve between themselves to protect Minnie. They have to do this discreetly, so that generally they talk in low, hushed tones, quite unlike the men. 

The nature of the relationship between the men and the women in the story is neatly encapsulated in the following exchange:

'Oh well,' said Mrs Hale's husband, with good-natured superiority, 'women are used to worrying over trifles.'

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke. The county attorney seemed suddenly to remember his manners - and to think of his future.

'And yet,' said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, 'for all their worries, what woudl we do without the ladies?'

The men here display an ironical respect towards the 'ladies'; they remember to be polite to them in the interests of social propriety while dismissing their capabilities. The women, on their side, silently signal their intent to unite against the 'good-natured' mockery of the men by drawing closer together. They proceed to carry out their own investigation and arrive at the right conclusion; and for this they do not need the men. 

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