Though men and women are now recognized as generally equal in talent and intelligence, when Susan Glaspell wrote "A Jury of Her Peers" in 1917, it was not so. In this turn-of-the-century, rural midwestern setting, women were often barely educated and possessed virtually no political or economic power. And, being the "weaker sex," there was not much they could do about it. Relegated to home and hearth, women found themselves at the mercy of the more powerful men in their lives. Ironically, it is just this type of powerless existence, perhaps, that over the ages developed into a power with which women could baffle and frustrate their male counterparts: a sixth sense - an inborn trait commonly known as "women's intuition." In Glaspell's story, ironic situations contrast male and female intuition, illustrating that Minnie Wright is more fairly judged by "a jury of her peers."
"A Jury of Her Peers" first uses irony to illustrate the contrast between male and female intuition when the men go to the farmhouse looking for clues to the murder of John Wright, but it is the women who find them. In the Wright household, the men are searching for something out of the ordinary, an obvious indication that Minnie has been enraged or provoked into killing her husband. Their intuition does not tell them that their wives, because they are women, can help them gain insight into what has occurred between John and his wife. They bring Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters along merely to tend to the practical matters, considering them needlessly preoccupied with trivial things and even too unintelligent to make a contribution to the investigation, as Mr. Hale's derisive question reveals:...
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...or her motivation; therefore, in hiding the bird, by their silence, they acquit Minnie Wright.
Through the ironic situations in "A Jury of Her Peers," Glaspell clearly illustrates a world in which men and women vary greatly in their perception of things. She shows men as often superficial in the way they perceive the world, lacking the depth of intuition that women use as a means of self-preservation to see themselves and the world more clearly. Without the heightened perspective on life that this knowledge of human nature gives them, women might not stand a chance. Against the power and domination of men, they often find themselves as defenseless and vulnerable as Minnie's poor bird.
Glaspell, Susan. "A Jury of Her Peers." L~fted Masks and Other Works. Ed. Eric S. Rabkin. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan p, 1993.
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