In 'A Jury of Her Peers,' Susan Glaspell illustrates many social standards women experienced at the turn of the century. She allows the reader to see how a woman's life was completely ruled by social laws, and thus by her husband. Glaspell also reveals the ignorance of the men in the story, in particular the sheriff and the county attorney. I think some examples are rather extreme, but in Glaspell's day, they would have probably been common. Women did not have many rights at the turn of the century.
What few rights and freedoms they did have were dominated by social standards. They were expected to cater to their husbands' wishes and commands. I think their society oppressed them more often than their own husbands did. A good example of this in 'A Jury of Her Peers' is Martha Hale.
Lewis Hale treats his wife as an equal privately, but does not treat her as an equal in public. When Mrs. Hale attempts to interrupt her husband as he tells the county attorney what he experienced in the Wright household she does not treat him as a master, but as an equal (Glaspell 260). Clearly she is not afraid of him. Many women at this time would have never even attempted to distract or interrupt their husband while they talked.
Clearly defined gender roles are prevalent throughout 'A Jury of Her Peers.' Men are supposed to work outside of the home, and women are supposed to work inside the home. Neither the men nor the women seem to appreciate the other's work. The men do not realize the struggles women go through cooking, cleaning, and maintaining the house. The women seem to understand the hardships the men face, but feel that their own jobs are more difficult.
At that time, men, working outdoors, had set hours, whereas the women worked almost all of the time they were awake. The sheriff is particularly critical of Mrs. Wright. He does not consider her work to be of any worth. He dismisses her concerns about her preserves as pointless, not taking into consideration her time and effort put into them (Glaspell 264).
He laughs about her wanting an apron while in jail when she most likely wore an apron daily at home. The county attorney creates a mess of pans under the sink by kicking them without any regard (Glaspell 264). I wonder if he would appreciate someone entering his office with such little respect for his things? The deputy dirties the hand towel, which leads to the county attorney complaining about Mrs. Wright's house keeping (Glaspell 264). None of the men appreciate Mrs. Wright's efforts.
They are oblivious to her daily life whereas Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize what she had been put through. Only when I realized this did I fully understand the title, 'A Jury of Her Peers.' By protecting Mrs. Wright, Mrs.
Hale and Mrs. Peters are truly a jury of her peers. The county attorney, the sheriff, and his deputies in 'A Jury of Her Peers' all convey a n impression of ignorance and poor investigation to the reader. Sheriff Peters seems to be in complete control over the investigation. He refuses to take any blame for any of the mistakes, or admit that his deputy is not a perfect detective either. Mrs.
Hale notices on the trip to the Wright's house how 'pleasant and lively' the sheriff is (Glaspell 257). I too consider it odd for a noble man to be in a jovial mood under the circumstances. Considering that the prime suspect in the murder of John Wright is Mr. Wright's own wife, it was extremely ignorant to avoid searching throughout the kitchen. Sheriff Peters should have known that Mrs. Wright would have spent the majority of her day in her kitchen.
I can only imagine how terrifying it would be for a lady to enter a courtroom in a rural Iowa county facing a prosecutor such as the young Mr. Henderson in the story. In that day and time, a woman would surely have been convicted and most likely hung for murdering her own husband. Although I disagree with the pleas of insanity so common today, I think Mrs. Minnie Wright could have been driven to madness.
An all male jury would have never given a second thought to convicting her, for what if their wife had murdered them? I do not think that a person's circumstances make it acceptable for our society to allow them to literally 'get away with murder,' but their circumstances should be taken into consideration. Mr. Hale had intended to speak with Mr. Wright about having a telephone installed in his house (Glaspell 259). Would not this have been a luxury at this time? Glaspell makes several references to the sink at the Wright's house. In one, the sheriff washes his hands.
Did the Wright family have running water? Running water and telephone service seem odd to me at a rural farmhouse in a secluded valley. These two services took away a little of the authenticity that is present throughout 'A Jury of Her Peers.' I wonder how common these would have been in the area at the time. It is amazing how a story written decades ago can still be very applicable today. Many of the injustices in Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers' are all too common now. Men and women still do not see eye to eye on many issues, poor investigations lead to unfair trails, and everyone considers their own work much more difficult than anyone else's.
It is unfair to the law-abiding citizens to free a murderer, but in the case of Mrs. Wright, a jury of her peers may have done just that.