Character Analysis in A Jury of Her Peers

Mrs. Peters: Mrs. Peters undergoes one of the most compelling developments in the story. At the beginning, Mrs. Peters is introduced as meek and submissive. As the narrative progresses she demonstrates superior skills of observation that allow her to notice key details and clues missed by others. However, Mrs. Peters feels beholden to the societal rules and expectations of her gender. Tellingly, Mrs. Peter’s powers of observation become ‘blurred’ by her fear of overstepping her limited role at the scene of the crime.

Mrs. Hale: Mrs. Hale demonstrates a strong capacity for empathy. While the other characters focus on the details of the crime, Mrs. Hale feels an emotional connection to the victim’s wife, Minnie Foster. Like Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Hale also possesses superior observational skills. While traditional gender expectations detail women as inferior and frivolous, Mrs. Hale’s perceptiveness is further evidence that women possess a number of overlooked skills and talents.

Minnie Foster / Mrs. Wright: Various details throughout the narrative suggest Minnie Foster was the victim of an abusive relationship. The evidence that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters uncover show that Minnie feared her late husband and a lacked control over her own life. While the male characters see the disarray of Minnie’s home as a sign of her failings as a wife, Mrs. Hale is able to view the unkempt house as a reflection of Minnie’s troubled mental state. This abusive marriage explains Minnie’s lack of outward emotion over her husband’s death and provides a motive for his murder.

Character Analysis Examples in A Jury of Her Peers:

A Jury of Her Peers 25

""A person gets discouraged—and loses heart."..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Peters’ utterance surprises Mrs. Hale in the middle of her stream of thought as the two women survey the kitchen in the Wright home. The most striking feature of the sentence is its impersonal nature. The subject is “a person,” which allows Mrs. Peters’ observations of the kitchen to touch upon a broader truth. One senses that Mrs. Peters is speaking about herself through her encounter with the artifacts of Mrs. Wright’s life. Mrs. Peters’ own experience of discouragement and diminishment is evident throughout the story.

""Married to the law!" chuckled Mrs. Peters' husband...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The reference to Mr. Peters as “Mrs. Peters’ husband” is telling. After Mrs. Peters is defined as “married to the law,” the narrative voice reverses, perhaps even corrects, that definition. First Mrs. Peters is defined in terms of her husband. Then, through the narration, Mr. Peters is defined in terms of his wife.

"That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff's wife now...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

One of the most compelling threads in the story is Mrs. Peters’s development, the revealing of her latent, though initially concealed, gifts. Mrs. Peters possesses a quality of vision, that which Jonathan Swift defines as “the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” In this scene, Mrs. Peters scans the room, correctly landing on the quilt as an object laden with telling details.

"A frightened look blurred the other thing in Mrs. Peters' eyes...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The “other thing in Mrs. Peters’ eyes” is a quality Mrs. Hale noted previously: “her eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things.” While Mrs. Peters is introduced as a meek personality, her remarkable perceptiveness reveals itself more and more. As Mrs. Hale notices, it is fear which “blur[s]” that perceptiveness. The implicit suggestion is that Mrs. Peters’ intelligence and intuition are not valued in the world of men; her fear of stepping out of line “blurs” and fogs her talents.

"She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively—when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

As the men attempt to uncover the story of the murder, Mrs. Hale takes interest in a different story: that of Minnie’s adult life. Driven by a capacity for empathy and a sense of guilt for having lost touch with her neighbor, Mrs. Hale wants to understand what has happened to Mrs. Wright since “she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir.”

"What had interrupted Minnie Foster?..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Consider that Mrs. Hale compares herself to Minnie here. Mrs. Hale empathizes with Minnie because she too was “interrupted” from her housework and forced to leave things undone. Note that Mrs. Hale wonders in the next sentence what had brought Minnie away from her work. This cryptic sentence sets a mysterious tone, leading the reader to wonder if what “interrupted” Minnie was more sinister.

"the fire might have got a little of this on..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Hale once again shows herself to be one of the most observant characters in the story. The men have just gone around the entire kitchen, and managed to accomplish nothing but criticize Minnie’s housekeeping. Mrs. Hale is able to consider all possibilities when assessing her surroundings for context and clues which the men largely ignore, intentionally or not.

"as if releasing herself from something strange..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that Mrs. Hale is able to immediately “[release] herself from something strange” after the men leave the room. Their oppressive, powerful presence keeps her from acting on her feelings, in this case especially, since the men were criticising Minnie’s homemaking and being generally condescending towards the women. Their “joking” is obviously harmful, and keeps Mrs. Hale from feeling allowed to act in the way that she naturally would.

""Ah, loyal to your sex, I see," he laughed...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The county attorney also assumes that the reasoning behind the women’s defensiveness is mere loyalty to their gender. This certainly is part of it, and women as allies for one another will become a theme as the story progresses. But the county attorney’s assumption is reductive, and his laughter indicates that he dismisses these women as mere silly protectors, rather than intelligent, logical, and observant individuals.

"difference between criminals and non-criminals..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Martha Hale’s description of Mrs. Peters in this passage highlights the power differences between Mrs. Peters and her husband. Mrs. Peters is “small and thin” and does not have “a strong voice.” But the sheriff is characterized as “heavy” with a “big-voice” and a disposition that made it “plain that he knew the difference between criminals and non-criminals.” The sheriff’s large stature and big personality completely overshadow Mrs. Peters, emphasizing both his physical and metaphorical power over his wife.

"She—she may never know whether it was broke or not." ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The halting way in which Mrs. Hale speaks in this line shows that she has an emotional connection to Minnie and her situation. Mrs. Hale fears that Minnie will be convicted of the murder and this demonstrates that she has exonerated Minnie in her mind.

"She covered her face an instant. "If they hadn't held me back I would have"—she caught herself, looked upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—"hurt him."..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Throughout the story, Mrs. Peters is reluctant to take Minnie’s side against the law. However, when the women realize that Mr. Wright killed Minnie’s bird, Mrs. Peters tells this story to show that her opinion of the situation is changing: she empathizes with Minnie’s anger over her murdered bird because she experienced a similar feeling.

"Things begun—and not finished...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

When discussing the presence of a motive, Mrs. Hale notices that Minnie did not finish putting away the sugar or wiping down the table. From her own feelings about leaving her kitchen messy, Mrs. Hale sees that there is something amiss in these details. Mr. Hale is able to empathize with and understand Minnie because she too is a woman and a farmer's wife.

""Wright was close!"..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

In this context, “close” means stingy or oppressive. Mrs. Hale sees Minnie’s tattered skirt as evidence that her husband was so stingy that he would not buy her new clothes. In the patriarchal society in which these women live, women are supposed to take care of the house and men are supposed to take care of the women. Minnie’s shabby clothes and kitchen are signs that Mr. Wright did not keep up his end of this social contract: he did not take care of his wife.

""This is cherries, too."..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

When Mrs. Peters goes to look at Minnie’s fruit, she finds that all of the jars have burst except for one. The tone of this discovery is somber. Unlike the county attorney and sheriff who laugh at the women for worrying over the fruit, the two women recognize the tragedy in ruined preserves. Mrs. Peters becomes slightly more optimistic that the jar that survived was full of “cherries” which not only suggests that this fruit is hard to preserve but also that these women know how much work goes into making preserves. Thus, the survival of the cherry preserves is a consolation for Minnie’s situation. Mrs. Peters’ recognition of this fact shows the camaraderie these women feel over their shared work.

"Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The county attorney seems to miss Mrs. Hale’s suggestion here that the towels are dirty not because women do not clean them, but because men carelessly wipe their dirty hands on them. This claim defends Minnie by offering equal blame to her husband for her messy kitchen. The attorney’s inability to understand the implications of this claim also shows that he does not believe Mrs. Hale capable of an intelligent insult.

""Here's a nice mess," he said resentfully. ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The county attorney’s resentful tone suggests that he has already drawn a conclusion about Minnie’s character and guilt in this crime. To him, the “sticky mess” in her cupboard signals that she is not a good housekeeper and therefore not a good woman.

"I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone; and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me—scared." ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Minnie’s response to the suggestion that John would install a telephone in their house signals to the reader that they did not have a safe or happy relationship. She laughs at the proposition that John would accept anything in the house that connects them to the outside world, then she becomes scared of her reaction. These two signals point to an abusive relationship.

"and went on pleatin' at her apron...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that Mr. Hale mentions this detail multiple times throughout his story. Mr. Hale seems to believe that Minnie should have a more emotional response to this situation. He uses “pleatin’ her apron” as a symbol for Minnie’s inappropriate response to her husband’s death and diminished mental state. In his story, Minnie seems to have gone insane.

"It came into Mrs. Hale's mind that that rocker didn't look in the least like Minnie Foster—the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side. ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Hale compares the furniture she sees in the Wright house to the Minnie Foster that she knew 20 years ago. Since Mrs. Hale has not visited Minnie in her home or kept in contact with her, she looks to the furniture of the place to draw conclusions about Minnie’s life. In this way, the setting can be read as a metaphorical representation of both Minnie’s circumstances and identity.

""Let's talk about that a little later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Rather than hearing what Mr. Hale has to say and drawing conclusions or observations from it, the county attorney cuts Mr. Hale off mid-sentence in order to control the story that he is telling. This foreshadows that his arrogance and superior attitude will cause him to miss clues and discount evidence from people he does not value.

"Lewis often wandered along and got things mixed up in a story. She hoped he would tell this straight and plain, and not say unnecessary things that would just make things harder for Minnie Foster...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Hale characterizes Lewis as slightly dimwitted. He does not seem to have the intelligence to understand the consequences of what he says, or be able to craft a narrative around his experiences. Notice also that Mrs. Hale is protecting Minnie Foster: she does not want Mr. Hale to say anything that will incriminate the woman.

"Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. "I'm not—cold," she said...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that Mrs. Peters begins to follow instructions before she decides what she wants to do. This reinforces the previous impression of Mrs. Peters as someone who adheres to social obligations and male authority.

"Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that this conversation is characterized as obligatory. Mrs. Peters believes that they “ought to be talking” because the men are talking. This quality of speech suggests that Mrs. Peters adheres to social obligations and conventions.

"She was small and thin and didn't have a strong voice. Mrs. Gorman, sheriff's wife before Gorman went out and Peters came in, had a voice that somehow seemed to be backing up the law with every word...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Hale identifies these two wives, Mrs. Gorman and Mrs. Peters, by their individual characteristics rather than assigning them characteristics based on their marriage. This careful consideration of the woman and her husband demonstrate Mrs. Hale’s perceptive skills; skills that the speculative sheriff seems to lack.