A Jury of Her Peers

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Themes and Colors
The Subjugation of Women Theme Icon
Male Obliviousness to Women’s Importance Theme Icon
Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty Theme Icon
Crime and Punishment Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Jury of Her Peers, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Crime and Punishment Theme Icon

The story begins like a murder mystery, in which evidence is sought to convict a culprit. A murder mystery examines a crime, which, when the criminal is caught, is appropriately answered with a punishment. However, in this story, the ideas about what constitutes a crime and how a punishment can or cannot account for a crime are made more complicated. The jury of Minnie Wright’s peers—Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale—judges her to have been justified in her “crime.” Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale conceal the dead bird because they do not believe the legal system will be able to adequately judge and punish the “crime” that was committed. In their eyes, this was not a murder, not the crime one might assume based on that word, but instead was Minnie Foster’s only option given the long standing oppression and isolation she was forced into by her husband and by the social and economic subjugation that defines all the characters’ lives. The women are able to recognize that Minnie Foster’s situation is a special case because, as women, they have experienced these same crimes committed against themselves. Martha Hale says, “we all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”

Martha Hale further recognizes that many actions can be crimes that are not acknowledged by a legal system. Therefore, these crimes go unpunished. When she feels guilty for not having visited and assisted Minnie Wright for the last twenty years, she asks, “who’s going to punish that?” While Martha directs this question at herself, her quote also subtly points out that the many crimes of the men in the play also go unpunished because the legal system is blind to the crimes that arise from a system of gender-based oppression and injustice.

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Crime and Punishment ThemeTracker

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Crime and Punishment Quotes in A Jury of Her Peers

Below you will find the important quotes in A Jury of Her Peers related to the theme of Crime and Punishment.
A Jury of Her Peers Quotes

“They think it was such a—funny way to kill a man.”
“That’s just what Mr. Hale said….There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker), Martha Hale (speaker), Lewis Hale, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

John Wright’s murder was unusual because he was strangled with a rope, as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters quietly discuss out of earshot of the men. Mr. Wright might, more logically, have been shot with the nearby gun in the house, and the method of murder raises many questions. This discussion between the women highlights the unusual nature of this murder. It is followed quickly in the women’s conversation with the discussion of motive. This foreshadows that the mysterious nature of the crime will be important in understanding the motive behind it.

This passage presents a society in which women are accustomed to being considered less important than men. At first glance, this passage is a less explicit discussion of sexism, but its casual references to inequality are perhaps more disturbing. Notably, the women discuss and repeat important information from their husbands as unquestionable. Mrs. Hale directly quotes her husband, which shows her trust in his words and opinions. Men are the ones with access to information and with that information comes the opportunity to decide crimes and punishments. Women are only told second-hand about the important work of investigating the murder. Information is power in this story, and the established inequality in society is challenged when the two wives acquire the very information the men seek. In choosing to conceal this information, the women challenge the structure of a society that they subconsciously accept in this early scene of the story.


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“Mr. Henderson said, coming out, that what was needed for the case was a motive. Something to show anger—or sudden feeling.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker), George Henderson, John Wright, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

By sharing what George Henderson said, Ms. Peters foreshadows the climax of the story: the discovery of the critical evidence in the case against Mrs. Wright. This critical evidence shows “motive,” the murder’s reasons for committing her crime, which Henderson assumes must be “anger” or “sudden feeling.” Henderson’s statement that the killer acted out of passion, rather than cold calculation, might hint at his premature assumption of Mrs. Wright’s guilt. In this unequal society, men attribute passion and emotion, rather than intellect and rationality, to women.

Motive is key in a murder investigation because it can decisively sway the opinion of the jury. This is established early in the story when it is clear that Mrs. Wright is already the primary suspect. Evidence of her motive is presented as the necessary piece to seal the case against her, so it is clear how important this evidence is when Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover it.

This passage uses a legalistic understanding of crime and punishment. Punishment allocated by the American legal system is supposed to target the guilty, and the system is designed to protect the innocent. In order to do this, those running the legal system need evidence to delineate between the guilty and the not-guilty. This story asks the question: can the legal system effectively delineate between the guilty and the not-guilty? There is not always convincing evidence of a crime and some crimes (such as domestic emotional abuse) are not acknowledged by the legal system.

“‘But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—’She stopped, shivered a little. ‘Like a raw wind that gets to the bone’.”

Related Characters: Martha Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, John Wright
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Initially, it seems that Minnie must be her husband's killer and that nothing could possibly excuse such a horrendous crime. Yet, this moment begins to demonstrate that John Wright is not so innocent either. Mrs. Hale is critical of his coldness and harshness, and she shudders when imagining herself in Mrs. Wright’s shoes. Mrs. Hale has no reason to unfairly criticize Mr. Wright, and her words turn the reader’s sympathy away from John Wright, who was unkind and difficult. Questions begin to arise: what did John Wright do to Minnie before his death? Mrs. Hale's evocative metaphor—that being near John Wright was like being in a “raw wind that gets to the bone”—works on the reader on an emotional level. The experience is relatable, haunting, and even physically effective. By using this figurative language, Mrs. Hale persuasively makes her point that John Wright’s past treatment of his wife is worthy of suspicion—even if he's not "guilty" of any specific crime that the male-dominated law would convict.

In this moment, Mrs. Hale self-identifies with Mrs. Wright because she sees similarities between their experiences. By relating to the other woman in this way, Mrs. Hale is growing more sympathetic and understanding of Minnie’s situation, and starting to build up a feeling of solidarity with all women. Because she understands what Minnie went through, she will be inclined to support her rather than the murdered John Wright. She chooses to lie to defend Minnie because she sees that her husband will not be criticized for his cruelty in a society that subjugates women.

“‘Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while!’ She cried. ‘That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?’”

Related Characters: Martha Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale feels guilty when she realizes that she wasn’t aware of how much Minnie Wright suffered without the support of friends and neighbors. She sees Minnie’s isolation as having contributed to the situation she faces today. With the support of other women experiencing similar inequality and mistreatment, she might not have lashed out at her husband so drastically. Mrs. Hale might have protected Minnie from a court case and sentencing by providing her with emotional support and friendship, even if she couldn’t have rectified the larger societal issues of inequality leading to Minnie’s unhappiness.

Mrs. Hale uses the language of the legal system to categorizing her actions as a “crime.” This repeated term shows that Mrs. Hale is intentionally referring to her behavior as an illegal action, punishable by the law, rather than referring to her behavior as “wrong” or "immoral." This repurposing of the legal term “crime” expands what qualifies as a crime in the story. Mrs. Hale sees Minnie’s loneliness and presumed abuse as a "crime" committed against her, and thus there are many other “crimes” which are not understood or acknowledged as crimes. Instead, crime and punishment are defined by a male-dominated legal system, which will not consider the variety of “crimes” that Mrs. Hale considers when they judge Minnie’s case. By referring to Minnie’s loneliness and mistreatment at her husband’s hands as “crimes,” Mrs. Hale is arguing that these factors ought to be considered in judging Minnie’s case.