Historical Context in A Jury of Her Peers

“A Jury of Her Peers” was written and situated in early 1900s America. During this time, women were bound by strict societal expectations, and largely restricted to the domestic sphere. Various instances of language in the narrative serve as indicators of this time. Glaspell uses her narrative to criticize sexism and female subordination. In this way, Glaspell’s narrative remains relevant to issues of gender and sexism that still exist today.

Historical Context Examples in A Jury of Her Peers:

A Jury of Her Peers 6

"trifles..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

A Jury of Her Peers was adapted from Glaspell’s 1916 play [Trifles] (https://www.owleyes.org/text/plays/ "Trifles"). The play features the same general characters, themes, and plot, with very minor differences in dialogue or details. It is uncertain why Glaspell changed the title from Trifles to A Jury of Her Peers, but Mr. Hale’s dialogue here is an exact quote taken from the original play.

"telephone..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The telephone was invented in 1876, and A Jury of Her Peers is set somewhere around the time of its publication in 1917. As such, the telephone was still a rather exciting invention, and was now affordable for many. Note that Mr. Hale says that the telephone was of particular interest to “women-folks” because of the “lonesome stretch of road” in this rural area. He suggests that women in particular did not get many opportunities for social interaction. Women were expected to be homemakers, while men went to work. Life on a rural farm could thus be particularly lonely for women. That Minnie’s husband refused to install one might indicate to the careful reader that Mr. Wright did not take his wife’s feelings into consideration.

"queer..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The term “queer” means something different today than it did in the time that Susan Glaspell was writing. During the early 1900’s in America, “queer” meant “odd” or “peculiar.”

"She hated to see things half done..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This sentence emphasizes the sexism of this time, by revealing the social and domestic pressures that women faced. Women were expected to cook, clean, and carry out all of the various domestic tasks. The fact that Martha Hale is flustered at being asked to leave the home unkempt because she “hated to see things half done,” speaks to the way in which women internalize the social expectations of their time and setting.

""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.

"two-seated buggy...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

A “two-seat buggy” is a light horse-drawn carriage for two people that has four wheels and a light folding top hood. It was used mostly in North America before cars became mass consumer products.