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A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell

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What differentiates Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in status, background, and character in "A Jury of Her Peers"?

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The story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Hale is a large woman, bigger than Mrs. Peters, and more forthright. She is a farm woman and a neighbor of Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale, unlike Mrs. Peters, has known Minnie all her life.

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a higher status woman in the community than Mrs. Hale. She lives in town, and unlike Mrs. Hale, she wears a "fur tippet," suggesting she has money. Mrs. Peters doesn't know the Wrights.

Mrs. Hale repeatedly notes that Mrs. Peters seems timid and nervous. We learn that Mrs. Peters:

was small and thin and didn't have a strong voice.

Mrs. Hale is invited to come to Minnie's farm to keep Mrs. Peters company:

"I'm glad you came with me," Mrs. Peters said nervously.

But despite seeming timid, Mrs. Peters's "eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things."

In other words, Mrs. Hale can tell that Mrs. Peters is a sensitive, perceptive woman.

While Mrs. Hale offers the insights of a neighborhood insider who has long know both the Wrights, Mrs. Peters is empathetic toward Minnie because she has been in a similar situation of isolation:

"I know what stillness is," she said, in a queer, monotonous voice. "When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died—after he was two years old—and me with no other then—"

Mrs. Peters also knows what is it like to have a pet killed and to be helpless to stop it.

By the end of the story, the thin, small, timid, and higher-status Mrs. Peters and the robust, large, and forthright Mrs. Hale have bonded over shared sympathy for Minnie Wright. Both show themselves to be strong women.

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In "A Jury of Her Peers," although they share sympathies in their womanhood, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters differ in social status, background, and character.

Even though Martha Hale is the neighbor of Minnie Wright, she has not visited Mrs. Wright often. This neglect of Mrs. Wright has not been because Mrs. Hale has been unneighborly. In Iowa around 1916, few people in rural areas had phones or cars, although the farmers usually had trucks for work purposes. Since Midwestern farms were hundreds of acres, the houses were miles apart. On a day-to-day basis, all able members of the family were involved in many tasks. "There was always something to do" on the farm, and Mrs. Hale has a son to care for as well. Added to this, Mr. Wright seemed a cold man. "It never seemed a cheerful place," Mrs. Hale tells the County Attorney.

Despite her neglect of Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale still retains sympathy for her neighbor. For she remembers the vibrant Minnie Foster, who sang in the church choir and wore new and attractive clothes. When Mrs. Hale sees the drab, worn-out clothing that Mrs. Wright now has and the dirty towels and cheerless kitchen, her heart aches for the woman. Mrs. Hale regrets not having visited her more. So, in an act of kindness, she redoes the stitching on a quilt that Mrs. Wright was making.

In contrast to the life that Mrs. Hale leads, Mrs. Peters has opportunities to interact with many more people since she probably knows other wives from the Sheriff's Department. Also, since she does not live on a farm and lives nearer the town, she would have more time to socialize. Because of her social contacts and the fact that her husband is the sheriff, Mrs. Peters is more cautious about what she says and does than Mrs. Hale would need to be. Underscoring this fact, the County Attorney remarks of her, "Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us," adding to her,

"And keep your eye out, Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive—and that's the thing we need."

These words of the County Attorney's are, indeed, significant, because they are direct instructions to Mrs. Peters to become a part of his investigation. In this "timid acquiescence" to the attorney, she cautions Mrs. Hale to not remove Mrs. Wright's erratic stitching out of her quilt, because nothing should be changed. Surprisingly, then, when she does a figurative U-turn from her earlier wifely compliance and assists Mrs. Hale in hiding from the men the dead canary with its twisted neck—a certain clue—Mrs. Peters exerts more independence and feminine rebellion than does Mrs. Hale.

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Mrs Hale is an astute investigator as well as being a farmer’s wife like Minnie Wright. She has known Minnie for most of her life and looks to the changes that have happened to her life under the influence of her cruel husband John Wright. She pieces together the crime, like the quilt Minnie was working on, despite the derision of the men.

Mrs Peters is a loyal wife, of higher social status as a sheriff's wife. She is less able to see the influence and control of a husband as objectively –and perhaps cynically – as Mrs Hale. It is Mrs Peters who is most like Minnie in that she acquiesces to her husband. However, the end of the story unites her with Mrs Hale in defending Minnie Wright from punishment as she rushes to hide the evidence from the men:

For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag.

However, it is Mrs Peters who has the strength to complete the subterfuge:

 Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff's wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.

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What are the similarities and the differences between Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale in "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell?

In Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers" there is a feminine communion between the two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, but because of their interpersonal relationships and their ways of thinking, their perspectives differ at first.

Similarities 

Both women accompany their husbands to the Wrights' house as their husbands are the key players in the investigation of John Wright's murder. They are only brought to gather things for Mrs. Wright, who is now in jail as a suspect. The previous day, Mr. Hale, who came to ask if Wright would share the cost of a party line for phones, is the one who discovered that Wright was dead.

The two women are relegated to the kitchen while the men search for clues upstairs in the bedroom. When Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale hear county attorney Mr. Henderson making some comments about the "mess" in the kitchen, "[T]he two women moved a little closer together" and seeing this, Mr. Henderson says, "Ah, loyal to your sex, I see."

After Mrs. Peters is in the kitchen for a while, she begins to understand what life for Mrs. Wright has been like; when she witnesses the erratic stitches in her quilting, "[T]heir eyes met--something flashed to life, passed between them."
With the discovery of the bird cage and the dead canary in the pretty box, Mrs. Peters starts to feel sorry for Mrs. Wright, and she begins to realize, as has Mrs. Hale already, the repression that Mrs. Wright must have suffered for a long time. So, she starts to share Mrs. Hale's sympathies. Moreover, they both are complicit in hiding the dead canary from the county attorney.

Differences

Mrs. Peters does not know Mrs. Wright, and has no understanding of what Mrs. Wright's marriage and lonely life are like; she is disconnected from the situation, at first. On the other hand, Mrs. Hale feels guilty for not having visited her distant neighbor in a year.
Mrs. Hale feels defensive of Mrs. Wright and wants her husband to be careful about what he says to the county attorney; Mrs. Peters feels no involvement.

Mrs. Peters exhibits "a timid acquiescence" while Mrs. Hale keeps her eyes fixed on her husband so that he will not say "unnecessary things that would go into that notebook and make trouble."

To Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters does not seem to care about Minnie Wright when told about how pretty Mrs. Wright's clothes were before she was married.

"She don't care," she [Mrs. Hale] said to herself. "Much difference it makes to her whether Minnie Foster has pretty clothes when she was a girl."

Unlike Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters has eyes that "looked as if they could see a long ways into things."

When Mrs. Hale complains of the men going through things upstairs, Mrs. Peters replies, "But, Mrs. Hale...the law is the law." She also protests when Mrs. Hale pulls the erratic stitches from the quilting and says, "I'll just finish up this end."

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