A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell

 

 

 

About the Author

Playwright, novelist, and short story writer Susan Glaspell was born in 1876, in Davenport, Iowa, though some sources cite her birth year as 1882. She received a rural, middle-class public school education followed by a degree in journalism in 1899. Following her graduation, she began work as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily, writing on local crime and politics, an unusual occupation for a woman of her time.

 

In 1913 Glaspell married playwright George Cram Cook. In 1915 founded the Provincetown Players, an organization of playwrights and actors, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Recognized as a dramatist in her own right, Glaspell often acted in her own productions and provided artistic support for other young writers and performers, most notably Eugene O'Neill.

 

In her lifetime, Glaspell wrote thirteen plays, fourteen novels, and more than fifty essays, articles, and short stones. In 1931 she became only the second woman playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize. Trifles, the play upon which ''A Jury of Her Peers' is based, is Glaspel’s most anthologized work and accounts for much of her popularity as a twentieth-century American playwright. She died in Provincetown of pleural embolism in 1948. Glaspell had lived and worked during a time when ambition and independence characterized many women, whose newfound political power was a driving force behind the suffrage and the temperance movements. This strong sense of female identity challenged the perceptions of many who viewed the public realm as a "man's world" only.

 

About the Story

Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers," first published in 1917, is a short story adaptation of her one-act play Trifles. Since their first publication, both the story and the play have appeared in many anthologies of women writers and playwrights. Inspired by events witnessed during her years as a court reporter in Iowa, Glaspell crafted a story in which a group of rural women deduce the details of a murder in which a woman has killed her husband. Understanding the clues left amidst the trifles of the woman's kitchen, the women are able to outsmart their husbands, who are at the farmhouse to collect evidence, and thus prevent the wife from being convicted of the crime. The play was received warmly and Glaspell made only minor changes in adapting the play into a short story.

 

Glaspell claimed that A Jury of Her Peers was based on an actual court case she covered as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily. On December 2, 1900, sixty-year-old farmer John Hossack was murdered in Indianola, Iowa. His skull was crushed by an ax while he and his wife were asleep in bed. His wife, Margaret, was tried for the crime and eventually released due to inconclusive evidence. Like Minnie Wright, the main character of Glaspell's story, Mrs. Hossack claimed not to have seen the murderer. The trial was attended many of the town's women. Among them was the sheriff’s wife, who showed much sympathy to Mrs. Hossack throughout the trial despite having initially testified against her. Critics believe that Glaspell based the character of Mrs. Peters on this woman. Because women were not allowed to be jurors at the trial, Glaspell created a jury of those female peers in her short story.

 

A Jury of Her Peers is often regarded as an example of early feminist literature, because two female characters are able to solve a mystery aided by their knowledge of women’s psychology that the male characters cannot.

 

The following link will take you on an interactive journey through the story A Jury of Her Peers. Along the way during this interactive journey you will solve the mystery of whether Minnie Wright killed her husband and explore the story's literary elements. There are also many references to Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily. You can either click on the wooden door to have the complete texts of the story with interesting observations and questions or on the "Click here" further down in order to read about the elements of a good short story and to take part in activities related to "A Jury of Her Peers." Have a good journey!!

 

Please use this link: http://www.learner.org/interactives/literature/index.html

 

Questions

After reading and doing the activities on the Literature - What makes a good short story website, please answer the following questions:

 

1. Although inspired by a murder, A Jury of Her Peers is more of a/an

A. whodunit

B. trial report

C. mystery of motive

D. autobiography

 

2. For what reason did the townspeople go the Wright’s home?

A. to clean up the home before the Wright’s children arrived

B. to find evidence in a murder investigation

C. to find Mrs Wright knitting

D. to take Mr Wright’s body to the undertaker

 

3. What final action may have driven Minnie Wright to kill her husband?

A. he threatened to kill her

B. he forced her to take in laundry to support the family

C. he killed her bird

D. he tried to leave her again

 

4. What was the men’s attitude toward the women who accompanied them?

A. the intimated that the women were foolish and superfluous

B. they expected the women to clean the house and prepare everyone a meal

C. they were happy that the women had come with them since there was so much work to do

D. they were respectful toward them and asked their advice

 

5. What was the women’s memory of Minnie?

A. they remembered her as a fun-loving young girl who loved to dance

B. they remembered her as one of the best cooks in the county

C. they remembered her as a sullen, miserable woman who often complained

D. they remembered her as an excellent housekeeper and wife

 

6. How does the author describe the Wright home?

A. as a dilapidated old farmhouse

B. as a mansion befitting the Wright name

C. as a small, tidy cottage at the end of the woods

D. as a boarding house with several rooms to let

 

7. It is ironic that: 
A. the men find the birdcage, but no bird.
B. the men scoff at the triviality of "women's work," but it is the women who recognize the real evidence.
C. Minnie sang like a bird.

D. The house was left so untidy.

 

8. Explain the significance of the story's title.
A. Minnie has no real peers.

B. Minnie is exonerated by those who understand her and her situation. 
C. Minnie will not be tried and judged. 
D. Minnie will be tried and judged only by women in a court of law.

 

9. Give a description of four characters that are mentioned in A Jury of Her Peers.

 

10. Pick out five phrases, which you think are especially important to the story. Briefly describe why you chose each one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Short Stories