illustration of a dead bird lying within a black box

A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

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In "A Jury of Her Peers," why do Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale hide crucial evidence of Mrs. Wright's motive?

Quick answer:

In "A Jury of Her Peers," Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters relate to Minnie Wright and understand her motive for killing her husband. They realize that John killed Minnie's bird, which was the only source of happiness in her lonely life. They know she will not be judged fairly by men because of their lack of understanding of women. They decide to stray from their prescribed gender roles and rebel against the men and patriarchal legal system by protecting Minnie.

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In Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers," a group of people search the farmhouse of a woman who is believed to have murdered her husband. The short story examines and illuminates differences in gender roles, as well as the inequality of power between men and women.

Throughout the story, the men continuously mock and dismiss the women, as well as all things they associate with femininity, including fruit canning and quilting. The men view these activities in the same manner that they view the women who engage in them: silly, ridiculous, insignificant, and trivial.

George Henderson asks the women for help in finding evidence to establish Minnie's motive—and by extension, her guilt—in the killing of her husband, John. Mr. Hale doubts that the women would have the sense to know a clue if they found one. This doubt contributes to the situational irony that occurs after the women find the dead bird: the men continue to search for what they believe the women are too incompetent to find after the women have already found it.

Based on their observations of Minnie's home and belongings, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize how lonely and unhappy Minnie is. Mrs. Hale remembers the Minnie she knew decades ago and notes the dramatic change Minnie underwent after her marriage to John: she was once a lively, animated woman and has since become a quiet, isolated recluse. The women know that the bird was the only source of happiness in Minnie's life, and it was killed in the same manner as Minnie's husband. This leads them to the conclusion that John killed Minnie's bird and in doing so, also killed her only joy.

The women ultimately decide to hide the dead bird from the men, and in doing so, they appoint themselves Minnie's jury. The women sympathize with Minnie and understand her motive for killing her husband. Even Mrs. Peters, who defends the men throughout the story and seems unable to break free from the ingrained need to remain within the confines of the prescribed gender roles of the time, sympathizes with Minnie and wants to protect her.

Upon seeing that Minnie's stove does not light, Mrs. Peters has an epiphany and says, "A person gets discouraged—and loses heart." The dead bird reminds Mrs. Peters of the death of her childhood kitten at the hands of a cruel boy. This memory, as well as the memory of the loss of her baby, allows her to further relate to Minnie.

Mrs. Hale regrets not visiting Minnie and being a better friend to her. She feels that Minnie might not have been so lonely and unhappy if she had a friend. Mrs. Hale resents the way the men criticized Minnie's housekeeping. She knows men do not understand the lives or hardships of women.

Realizing that Minnie will not be judged fairly by the men, as they do not have any desire to see things from a woman's point of view, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters break from their gender roles and decide to hide the bird and protect Minnie. They rebel against the men and the male-dominated legal system and choose sisterhood and loyalty to a fellow woman instead.

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