A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell is a short story published in 1917. The short story covers an investigation regarding the homicide of Mr. Wright, who had been found murdered in his matrimonial bed. The story’s setting is in the farmhouse of the Wright’s, which doubles up as the crime scene. There are five main characters in the story; the county attorney, George Henderson, the local Sherriff, Henry Peters and his wife, Mrs. Peters, Lewis Hale, and Martha Hale. Mrs. Wright had been accused as the main suspect in the murder of her husband; thus, the five protagonists were tasked with looking for clues that would implicate Mrs. Wright of the murder. The story’s primary theme is about women and feminism in the modern period where there were social changes regarding the roles of women in society. This essay’s thesis analyses why the Jury of her peers’ story should be included in future English 102 classes. The three reasons include; the role of feminism during the rise of women suffrage, domestic and animal violence and women empowerment.
Role of Feminism
The story is a good example of teaching students about the changing gender roles from the 20th century until today. The story was set in the early 20th century, where gender roles were very distinct. The division of gender roles meant that women were isolated in the private sphere and were mainly regarded as home markers. On the other hand, men were mainly regarded as breadwinners thus held distinguished positions in law and business. The kitchen and farmland were the primary domains of women in this era. The story is set in the farmhouse, particularly the kitchen; thus, the men were in unfamiliar territory. This assumption of unfamiliar territory led the men who had extensive law knowledge to dismiss the kitchen territory in disarray as an area where they would uncover the evidence. However, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters uncovered Mrs. Wright’s state of mind by analyzing the state of her kitchen while the men scorn at the sight of the messy kitchen, thus dismiss its contents. The kitchen work that Mrs. Wright had left unfinished led the women to believe that something was amiss in the house while the men were still analyzing the crime scene without regard to the women’s input to the case. The women concluded that the unfinished housekeeping pointed to an unsettled mind, while the men viewed the dirty kitchen towels and dishes as a sign of inferior housekeeping skills. The teacher can use these examples to show how women’s rights were demeaned in the early 20th century.
The most significant imagery of domestic and animal violence was the image of a dead bird and a broken cage. Mrs. Wright’s motive for killing her husband is his domestic violence and subsequent killing of her pet. The story should be taught to help students understand the perspective of women in abusive marriages and how they behave when provoked, such as killing their pets. In addition, the story can also be used to analyze the interpretation of the law regarding the response when a battered woman reacts violently following domestic abuse.
Mr. Wright had died of strangulation by a rope in his matrimonial bed; thus, the main suspect of the murder was Mrs. Wright. The search of evidence in Wright’s farmhouse revealed indications of domestic abuse and animal cruelty towards Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters came across a birdcage whose doors had been forcibly broken. Inside the cage, they found a canary with its neck broken. Mrs. Hale then reminisces that Mrs. Wright used to sing in the choir during her youthful days and how lively she was in her pretty clothes (Glaspell, 150). The broken cage, rope, and broken jars show that Mrs. Wright was trying to escape the failed marriage. The rope symbolizes how Mrs. Wright felt when she was strangled emotionally by her cold-hearted husband. The fruit jars show that Mrs. Wright took care of her husband, who responded by treating her badly. The last nail on the coffin was the animal abuse that led Mrs. Wright to snap and kill her husband. The teacher should engage the students to discuss whether the law should justify the murder since it was primarily for Mrs. Wright’s protection.
The theme of women’s empowerment is manifested in the investigation work where the women acted as Mrs. Wright’s Jury. The teacher can emphasize how women’s empowerment in a male-dominated society has helped achieve democracy, such as women’s right to vote. In the story, the women uncover the motive that led Mrs. Wright to kill her husband, but they do not share the evidence with the men and agree to cover up the murder since they relate to Mrs. Wright’s predicament. In the setting, the women are viewed as only interested in trivial things; thus, the men ignore their statements, a feature that led the women to be the Jury of the case. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters’s views were viewed as irrelevant hence they were not taken seriously. The theme of women empowerment is symbolic, where the women protect one of their own through hiding evidence such as the dead bird. The deception is borne out of loyalty to women’s perspective regarding marriage.
This essay’s thesis analyses why the Jury of her peers’ short story should be included in future English 102 classes. The three reasons include; the role of feminism during the rise of women suffrage, domestic and animal violence and women empowerment. In addition, the three themes show the importance of egalitarianism since the murder could have been solved with the help of the women.
Glaspell, Susan. “A jury of her peers.” Images of Women in Literature (1917): 370-85.