A Jury of Her Peers

In the story A Jury of Her Peers two women casually inspect the home of a woman and her husband after the husband is found dead. Their examining of the house is contrasted with that of a group of men (two husbands and a prosecutor) who are actively investigating it, looking for clues that would implicate the recently widowed woman.

The difference between the men and womens probes is that the women actually approached the situation with empathy and an ability to take the widow/killer seriously. When they’re all in the kitchen the men belittle the women for worrying about preserves:

“Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!”

The young attorney set his lips.

“I guess before we’re through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.”

“Oh, well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

This just illustrates how quick the men are to mock the women, setting them up to miss the big clue later on. Just a few moments later the prosecutor makes light of the widows work around the house, making it even more clear how little the men think of the women:

“Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”

He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.

The women’s response to these things are a lot more empathetic. They want to bring the preserves to the widow to give her comfort, and even defend her against the men’s accusations of untidiness. This level of understanding leads the women to examine the house, but not as a way to build a case against the widow and more to understand her experience living with her husband.

Because of the compassion the women feel for her, they actually discover the possible motive for the murder, a bird the dead husband killed that belonged to the killer/widow. Also, it leads them to decide the widow does not deserve punishment for the crime of killing her husband. To sum it up the men in general just did’t take the women or the widow serious.

One thought on “A Jury of Her Peers

  1. Jody R. Rosen

    You’ve hit on some of the most convincing points to argue that the men and the women read the scene differently. It’s always striking that Mr. Henderson (the county attorney) and Mr. Peters (the sheriff), along with Mr. Hale, don’t seek the input of other women who live similar lives. Instead, they mock, as you say, the very details that were important to Mrs. Wright. They have no ability to see the importance of seeing things from Mrs. Wright’s point of view.

    Do we see things differently now that we are so inundated with crime shows? Have they changed the way we look at a crime scene so that we have more expertise than an amateur like Mr. Hale would have 100 years ago? What about the two other men, who are The Law? Do we understand how to process a crime scene better than they do?

    The women read the scene carefully, even though that isn’t their intention. They find small things–what Mr. Hale refers to as trifles–and ultimately piece them together to understand a different narrative than the one the men read from the scene. We can think of this story as a metaphor for reading. That is, we pay attention to details that help us understand backstory, motivation, action, help us anticipate what comes next, etc.

    Do you think that if the men didn’t mock the women, they would have been as likely to hide the bird and mislead them about what they understood happened? Why does the county attorney keep asking about whether Mrs. Wright was going to quilt or knot her quilt? What effect does it have on us as readers?

    Reply

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