A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
In A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell we have the theme of connection, inequality, independence, control and oppression. Taken from her collection of the same name the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Glaspell may be exploring the theme of connection. On several occasions the reader notices that both Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters are able to make a connection with Minnie Foster. Mrs Hale, when seeing the unfinished housework in Minnie’s home is reminded of her own unfinished housework. Likewise when Mrs Peters remembers the incident of the young boy killing her cat (when Mrs Peters was a child) it brings her closer to understanding why Minnie may have killed John Wright. These connections are significant as it is through them that both Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters start to not only understand Minnie a little better but they also begin to feel sympathetic towards Minnie. In many ways both Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters connection with Minnie is stronger than any connection that they have with their husbands. Something that is more noticeable at the end of the story when rather than showing their husbands the dead canary, which would provide Henderson with the motive he is looking for (as to why Minnie killed Wright), they hide the canary ensuring or strengthening Minnie’s chances of being found not guilty of killing Wright.
What is also interesting about the story is the inequality that appears to exist between Mrs Hale, Mrs Peters and all three men in the story. At no stage is either woman taken seriously by any of the men. If anything each man, at different stages of the story, makes fun of (or belittles) both women considering any input that they may have into why Minnie may have killed Wright to be insignificant. This may be important as by introducing a sense of inequality into the story Glaspell may also be highlighting the inequality that existed between men and women at the time the story was published (1917) with many women being treated as inferior to men in a mainly male dominated society.
Glaspell also appears to be exploring the theme of independence. Through Mrs Hale the reader discovers that Minnie lived her life, prior to marrying Wright, as she would have liked to have lived it. She was part of the community (singing in the choir) and seems to have enjoyed her life or at least in Mrs Hale’s eyes appears to have been happy. However after marrying Wright, Minnie seems to have isolated herself from the community or at least lost her own individual voice (something that is more apparent by the fact that Minnie stops singing with the choir). It is possible that Glaspell is suggesting, again at the time the story was published, that many women after they had gotten married were no longer free to live their lives as they would have liked to. If anything they may have lost the independence that they once had, prior to getting married. No longer being in control of their own lives but rather having to live their lives being controlled by their husbands, which appears to be the case for Minnie. The fact that Henderson when talking to Mrs Peters tells her that ‘a sheriff’s wife is married to the law’ may also be important as by introducing this line to the story Glaspell may also be suggesting (again at the time the story was published) that many women were not free to think for themselves or be independent of their husbands.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be significant. The canary in many ways mirrors Minnie’s life. Just as a canary would sing, likewise the reader is aware that before marrying Wright, Minnie also liked to sing in the local choir. It is also possible that by introducing the canary’s cage to the story Glaspell is also suggesting that after marrying Wright, Minnie likewise has also been caged (or trapped) within her marriage. The fact that the canary is found dead may also be symbolically important as it may be a case that Glaspell is suggesting that Minnie too has had her spirit killed (or broken) throughout her marriage to Wright. The quilt may also be important. Symbolically it can be seen to represent Minnie’s life and the fact that there is one piece badly sewn may suggest that all was not right in Minnie’s life. Something that is clear to both Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters.
The ending of the story is also interesting as it not only serves to highlight the connection that both Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters have with Minnie but it also highlights the strong bond that exists between all three women, which appears to be stronger than any bond that either Mrs Hale or Mrs Peters have with their husbands. By hiding the canary Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters are also going against their husbands (or at least defying them) which may be the point that Glaspell is trying to make. It is possible that Glaspell is suggesting that women (again at the time the story was written) should unite and take a stand against a male dominated society. There is also a sense of irony that it is through Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters investigation rather than through Mr Peters and Henderson’s investigation that the reader discovers the reason as to why Minnie may have killed Wright. If anything, throughout the story both men appear to be going around in circles ignoring or at least not noticing how unhappy Minnie may have been in her marriage and at the same time not taking any input that either Mrs Hale or Mrs Peters have seriously.