“A Jury of her Peers” by Susan Glaspell


“A Jury of her Peers”
by Susan Glaspell
Summary: This is a 3 page paper that suggests the story
A Jury of her Peers is one that shows the generalization present in the
society of the early twentieth century and provides two perspectives of law,
This story offers two radically different responses
to the world: how one connects to it, reasons about it, understands or
diagnoses what happens in it. It constructs these responses from the men’s
point of view, as professional and unprofessional, strong and weak, male and
female, and from the women’s point of view, as simply different.


On the
surface, Susan Glaspell’s story focuses on the death of an oppressive husband
at the hands of his emotionally abused wife in an isolated and remote farm in
the midwest. Although Glaspell brings new vigor to the myth, the attention
given to Mrs. Hale’s resewing the quilt, the change in Mrs. Peters’s
perspective on law and justice, and the rope placed by Mrs. Wright around her
husband’s neck are nonetheless grounded in the control the fate of men.

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“A
Jury of Her Peers,” was written by Susan Glaspell in the early 20th
century, before women could serve on juries, this story is about the aftermath
of a murder. A farmer has been found strangled in his bed, and a group of men
(sheriff, prosecutor, and the man who discovered the crime) go to the farmhouse
to look for evidence to help them convict the farmer’s wife, who has been
charged with the murder.


The men take their wives along, and while they are
looking for evidence upstairs in the bedroom, the women remain in the kitchen,
remembering the accused woman they once knew, and talking about their
connections to her life. As they talk and look around the kitchen, they find a
strangled bird, which provides a motive for the murder. The story ends as the
women decide to conceal this evidence.
I wish I’d come over here once in a while,”
Mrs. Hale, the neighbor, exclaims. “That was a crime! Who’s going to
punish that?” Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, recalls that when she was a
girl and a boy killed her cat, “If they hadn’t held me back I would have
-” and realizes that there had been no one to restrain Minnie Foster. John
Foster was known as “a good man. . . . He didn’t drink, and he kept his
word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts.” But he was also
“a hard man,” Mrs. Hale explains, “like a raw wind that gets to
the bone.” (Glaspell 1927, quoted in Gilligan 1987, 29-30)
The women in society at that time were the weaker
sex. They had few rights and had to quietly bear the abuse of the men. While
today we have words like ‘battery and abuse’ at that time women were the
property of men. The murder of the farmer by his wife and reactions of the
genders associated with it allow the reader to focus on this aspect of society.


The way in which the women in this story try to
understand what could have motivated Minnie Foster to kill her husband
illustrates the way in which the care perspective proceeds from attachment.

Mrs. Peters, especially, tries to establish an empathic connection between
herself and Minnie Foster by recalling a time when she herself had felt
impulses similar to those she imagines drove Minnie Foster to murder.
Furthermore, the information concerning the domestic
life of the Wrights is supplied, or spun, mainly by Mrs. Hale; she describes
Mr. Wright as “a hard man,” and, with her recollections of the young
Minnie Foster (now Mrs. Wright) as “kind of like a bird” (82), she
establishes the connection of Mr. Wright’s involvement in the physical death of
the canary and spiritual death of his wife. The condescending manner in which
the men joke about the women’s concern regarding Mrs. Wright’s intention
“to quilt or just knot” the quilt evokes a defensive remark from Mrs.

Hale in which she hints that it is unwise to tempt fate; she asserts, “I
don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about” (79-80). Finally, by “just
pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good” and replacing it
with her own stitching (80), Mrs. Hale symbolically claims her position as the
person who spins the thread of life.


But the women not only succeed in understanding what
led Minnie Foster to kill her husband, they also realize that the sheriff and
the prosecutor would fail to understand, would not be able to see things in the
same light, for they are looking only for the sorts of motivation which would
constitute public, general, criteria for the justification of an action. So the
women remove the canary, which, for them, explains and thereby mitigates the
action of Minnie Foster but which would provide evidence to condemn her in the
eyes of the law. The story was simple yet, seen from two perspectives it
provided different interpretations shwoing the division in society on basis of
gender.
Works Cited
1.

Glaspell,
Susan. 1927. A jury of her peers. London: E. Benn.