Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers: Summary & Analysis

Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:03 A Jury of Her Peers
  • 0:27 Summary
  • 2:17 Analysis: Impact of Setting
  • 3:16 Analysis: Men Vs. Women
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

A man has been murdered, and it seems his wife is to blame in Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers.' In this lesson, we'll summarize the plot before looking at how Glaspell uses setting and characters to create meaning in her story.

''A Jury of Her Peers''

Can a crime ever be justified? This is one of the questions at the heart of ''A Jury of Her Peers,'' the expanded short story version of Susan Glaspell's one-act play Trifles. In ''A Jury of Her Peers,'' Glaspell examines several themes tied to ideas of justice. Let's go through a brief summary of the plot before diving into some analysis of how setting and characters work in the story.

Summary

When Lewis Hale visited the Wright farm to ask John Wright again about chipping in on a telephone for their country road, the last thing he expected was to find a disheveled Minnie Wright in her rocking chair and John's corpse, strangled by a rope, still in their bed. Now Sheriff Peters and Henderson, the county attorney, have asked Mr. Hale to accompany them to the Wright farm to tell his story and help them look for clues. The sheriff's wife, Mrs. Peters, has to come along to pick up some things Minnie's asked for, and she's requested that Martha Hale come along, too.

We spend most of our time in the Wright kitchen with Mrs. Peters and Martha while the men go through the rest of the house looking for any kind of evidence of a motive. The men, especially Henderson, find Minnie's housekeeping skills somewhat lacking and scoff at the idea that women's work around the house could be considered anything more than ''trifles.'' Martha tries to stand up for her former friend, even as she is feeling guilty for never coming over to the house because it ''never seemed a cheerful place'' due to John's cold attitude and penny-pinching. Martha remembers how Minnie used to be a happy girl with a beautiful singing voice.

As the men search other areas of the house, the women stay in the kitchen. They find a quilt Minnie had been working on; most of the stitches are neat, but the latest sewing is haphazard. The men, passing through on their way to the barn, laugh when they overhear the women wonder whether Minnie was going to ''quilt it or just knot it.'' Alone again, the women find an empty birdcage with a broken door hinge and no sign of a bird. That bird's body shows up inside a decorative red box in Minnie's sewing box, dead from a wrung neck - very similar to John's. Seeing this bird makes it all click for the women: how the bird's singing must have brightened Minnie's life, and how devastated she must have been when it was killed. Neither knows what to do, but a little while later when the men come in declaring they've found no clues, the women quickly hide the dead bird.

Analysis: Impact of Setting

The setting of Glaspell's story helps to highlight Minnie's lonely situation. While there's physical distance between all the neighbors on their country road, the Wrights are especially secluded. This is evident in the fact that John has no interest in installing a telephone. Through Martha's comparisons of a younger, brighter Minnie with the withdrawn, gloomy woman she became over the years, we are shown the devastating effects of this remoteness. Minnie's physical isolation mirrors the emotional loneliness we know she feels by reading about Martha's guilt over not visiting.

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