Themes and Meanings
Adapted from Susan Glaspell’s popular one-act play, Trifles (1920), “A Jury of Her Peers” is about sisterhood. Women’s roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers do not make them totally passive, unintelligent, or subordinate to men. Mrs. Peters, for example, being small, thin, and soft-spoken, did not strike Martha Hale as a sheriff’s wife when they first met; however, Mrs. Peters reveals her inner strength in defying her husband by suppressing evidence that would surely convict Minnie Wright of murder. Because they understand how John’s killing the canary must have been the last straw in killing his wife’s love of life, Martha and Mrs. Peters “knot” the criminal investigation. They shift their loyalty from their husbands, and the male-dominated legal system, to a woman who mirrors their own lives. As Martha wistfully says of her regret in abandoning her neighbor Minnie, “We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of same thing!” Because the legal defense of justifiable homicide by an abused wife might not have succeeded in the early twentieth century, the women take matters into their own hands.
They also retaliate against the men’s arrogant air of superiority. The men’s supposedly logical, intelligent methods of investigation lead to naught, whereas the women’s intuitive, emotional responses to their “sister” probably will save Minnie’s life. A climactic moment occurs when the attorney laughingly says that the ladies would not gather dangerous things to take to Mrs. Wright in jail, unaware that they are concealing crucial evidence. When Henderson says that Mrs. Peters does not need supervising because “a sheriff’s wife is married to the law,” she responds that she does not think of it that way. Rejecting the way the men think about Mrs. Wright’s guilt, the women also reject the men’s control over their lives. This assertion of power to think and act independently reiterates a strong feminist theme: Their allegiance to sisterhood is stronger than that to marriage.
Much of the tension in ''A Jury of Her Peers'' results from what the women understand and what the men are blind to. The kitchen, during the time the story takes place, was the sole domain of the wife. Wives themselves, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are able to determine Mrs. Wright's frame of mind from how she left her kitchen. The men are scornful of the messy kitchen, and ultimately dismissive of what it contains. The sheriff comments that there's "nothing here but kitchen things," and when Mrs. Peters laments that the jars of preserves have burst from the cold, Mr. Hale says that' 'women are used to worrying over trifles." Yet the women know that Mrs. Wright would not choose to have such a shabby or ill-kept kitchen. When the attorney notices the filthy dish towels and says, "Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?" Mrs. Hale replies that "Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be."
Because both women have been farmer's wives themselves, they understand the loneliness of living in isolation on a farm, and they can understand how upset Mrs. Wright would be over the death of her canary. They also recognize that the erratic stitching on her quilting squares, which contradicts her earlier, neater stitching was the result of a...
(The entire section is 894 words.)