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.
Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty Theme Icon

The two female characters in the story, Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale, have conflicting commitments to Minnie Wright and the male-dominated legal system. Their commitment to Minnie Wright is due to their realization that all women have experienced isolation because of oppressive gender roles. Their commitment to the law is due to their status as citizens, but also, at a time when women could not vote, due to their position as wives subjected to their husbands’ wills. Mrs. Peters, the Sherriff’s wife, is told that she is “married to the law,” which shows that her responsibility to the law and to her husband are the same in the minds of men.

The male characters feel a strong responsibility to uphold the law. Yet because the law is controlled, designed, and enforced by men, the law also gives men power. Men control institutions like the legal system, which means that Minnie Wright will not have the opportunity to be judged, in a legal court, by a jury of her peers, as the title of the short story explains. A jury of her peers, other women, can only exist in the domestic sphere where Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale conceal the evidence of her crime. In the official legal system, men, not women, will judge Minnie Wright’s crime and assign her punishment, without ever understanding or even caring about her situation. The women, at first, also feel this same responsibility, yet over the course of the story they come to see how the male-dominated law has failed Minnie—and, by extension, themselves. When Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale make the active choice to hide the dead bird, they are restricting this evidence from appearing in the legal court controlled and judged by men. Therefore, this act is a rebellion against the power of the male-dominated institution.

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Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty 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 Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty.
A Jury of Her Peers Quotes

“I’d hate to have men comin’ into my kitchen…snoopin’ round and criticizin’.” “Of course it’s no more than their duty.”

Related Characters: Lewis Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters (speaker), George Henderson, Henry Peters
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

The kitchen in the Wrights' house is messy, and George Henderson comments on this, mocking Mrs. Wright’s poor housekeeping abilities. As soon as the men leave the room, Mrs. Hale makes her frustration at Henderson’s comments clear. She explains how unhappy she’d be to be treated in this way because she knows much labor goes into caring for a household. Men, who have not done this type of work, should not belittle the effort involved in running a farming household single-handedly. Mrs. Hale is willing to be critical of Henderson, but Mrs. Peters is not (at this point). She is quick to excuse her husband's behavior, whether or not she thinks it is unfair to Minnie Wright.

The women in this society face a strict set of expectations for their behavior. They resent this to varying degrees, but cannot fully escape from it. This passage shows how the women's thinking has been shaped by the way society has always treated them. Mrs. Hale sees the kitchen as the domain of a woman. She sees her kitchen as hers, and not the joint space of herself and her husband. Also, Mrs. Peters sees an investigation for evidence as the duty of the men. Their process is beyond her reproach. Early in the story, the women are not inclined to stand up against the men, their own gender roles, and the expectations of society. Over the course of the story, however, they reach mental and emotional states that allow them to rebel and defy their husbands.


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“‘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.

“‘When I was a girl…my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—’ She covered her face an instant. ‘If they hadn’t held me back I would have’—she caught herself, looked upward where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—‘hurt him.’”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dead Bird
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

The women discover Mrs. Wright’s strangled song bird, and Mrs. Peters immediately recalls a similar experience in her past when her kitten was killed by a neighborhood boy. This traumatic memory creates a link between Mrs. Peters and Minnie Wright because Mrs. Peters is able imagine the pain Minnie would have felt when her pet was ruthlessly killed (presumably by Mr. Wright). Furthermore, Mrs. Peters knows how she reacted to this pain: she wanted to lash out at the perpetrator and punish him. Minnie’s reaction, it is implied, could very easily have been the same. When Mrs. Peters "catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly,” it is as if she is confessing to the very crime the men are seeking to punish. She knows that she too would be capable of violence if she was hurt as Minnie was hurt.

Early in the story, the two women differ in their understanding of their traditional roles as women. Mrs. Peters is more subdued and subservient, refusing to speak out against the actions of the men. On the other hand, Mrs. Hale criticizes Mr. Wright and the men, although not within their hearing. It seems to take Mrs. Peters extra time to side with Minnie Wright over Minnie’s husband and her own husband. She has more of a hurdle to overcome when defying her husband’s wishes (particularly because he's the sheriff), but in this moment she finds that she has strong empathy for Minnie because of their shared experience of suffering at the hands of men.

“‘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.

“We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing!”

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

Mrs. Hale universalizes Minnie’s, Mrs. Peters's, and her own experiences as she realizes that all these examples of suffering have the same source: the subjugation of women. She includes herself in the same group as Minnie Wright, and the “we” she uses encompasses all women. There are differences among the specific examples of suffering that women face, but these experiences are “different kinds of the same thing” because they are the result of inequality. Minnie Wright was deeply lonely and the one thing that mattered most to her (her pet bird) was taken from her. Mrs. Peters suffered at the whim of a cruel boy. Mrs. Hale works tirelessly without appreciation, while facing constant belittlement of her work as "trifles." But all three women are suffering for the same reason: the oppression placed on them by a patriarchal society.

This is a key moment in the story, because here the women make a decisive choice between their legal obligation to present any evidence pertaining to the crime and their loyalty to another woman who has suffered as they have suffered. They choose the latter. When they acknowledge that all women are subjugated and that their various experiences of abuse, neglect, and belittlement stem from this inequality, they feel they must stand together. They see themselves as having more in common with Minnie Wright, an aggrieved murderer, than with their husbands, who believe, however kindly or subconsciously, in the inferiority of women.

“No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law.”

Related Characters: George Henderson (speaker), Henry Peters, Mrs. Peters
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Peters asks the county attorney if he would like to look through the items that his wife and Mrs. Hale have selected to deliver to Minnie Wright at the court house. Henderson dismisses this idea, because he cannot imagine that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale would have intentionally selected anything threatening. He doesn’t think they would go against the wishes of their husbands, and he also doesn’t think they’re intelligent enough to do any real damage if they tried to help Minnie. He doesn’t believe them capable of any kind of deception worth noting.

George Henderson also considers Mrs. Peters, in particular, to be a harmless woman because she is the sheriff’s wife. This assumption is based on Henderson’s understanding that a woman obeys the wishes of her husband in all things, and that a good wife like Mrs. Peters must be particularly law-abiding because she respects and obeys her law-enforcing husband. This shows just how much Mrs. Peters stands to lose in choosing to conceal evidence, which is not only illegal, but against the wishes and ideals of a husband who works for the law. In choosing to support and protect Minnie Wright, Mrs. Peters has prioritized gender loyalty above her commitments as a law-abiding citizen and obedient wife. Together, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are challenging male authority—their husbands’ authority and the authority of the male-dominated legal system.