A Jury of Her Peers

When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably farther from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

She hated to see things half done; but she had been at that when the team from town stopped to get Mr. Hale, and then the sheriff came running in to say his wife wished Mrs. Hale would come too—adding, with a grin, that he guessed she was getting scarey and wanted another woman along. So she had dropped everything right where it was.

"Martha!" now came her husband's impatient voice. "Don't keep folks waiting out here in the cold."

She again opened the storm-door, and this time joined the three men and the one woman waiting for her in the big two-seated buggy.

After she had the robes tucked around her she took another look at the woman who sat beside her on the back seat. She had met Mrs. Peters the year before at the county fair, and the thing she remembered about her was that she didn't seem like a sheriff's wife. 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. But if Mrs. Peters didn't look like a sheriff's wife, Peters made it up in looking like a sheriff. He was to a dot the kind of man who could get himself elected sheriff—a heavy man with a big voice, who was particularly genial with the law-abiding, as if to make it plain that he knew the difference between criminals and non-criminals. And right there it came into Mrs. Hale's mind, with a stab, that this man who was so pleasant and lively with all of them was going to the Wrights' now as a sheriff.

"The country's not very pleasant this time of year," Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men.

Mrs. Hale scarcely finished her reply, for they had gone up a little hill and could see the Wright place now, and seeing it did not make her feel like talking. It looked very lonesome this cold March morning. It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees. The men were looking at it and talking about what had happened. The county attorney was bending to one side of the buggy, and kept looking steadily at the place as they drew up to it.

"I'm glad you came with me," Mrs. Peters said nervously, as the two women were about to follow the men in through the kitchen door.

Even after she had her foot on the door-step, her hand on the knob, Martha Hale had a moment of feeling she could not cross that threshold. And the reason it seemed she couldn't cross it now was simply because she hadn't crossed it before. Time and time again it had been in her mind, "I ought to go over and see Minnie Foster"—she still thought of her as Minnie Foster, though for twenty years she had been Mrs. Wright. And then there was always something to do and Minnie Foster would go from her mind. But now she could come.

The men went over to the stove. The women stood close together by the door. Young Henderson, the county attorney, turned around and said, "Come up to the fire, ladies."

Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. "I'm not—cold," she said.

And so the two women stood by the door, at first not even so much as looking around the kitchen.

The men talked for a minute about what a good thing it was the sheriff had sent his deputy out that morning to make a fire for them, and then Sheriff Peters stepped back from the stove, unbuttoned his outer coat, and leaned his hands on the kitchen table in a way that seemed to mark the beginning of official business. "Now, Mr. Hale," he said in a sort of semi-official voice, "before we move things about, you tell Mr. Henderson just what it was you saw when you came here yesterday morning."

The county attorney was looking around the kitchen.

"By the way," he said, "has anything been moved?" He turned to the sheriff. "Are things just as you left them yesterday?"

Peters looked from cupboard to sink; from that to a small worn rocker a little to one side of the kitchen table.

"It's just the same."

"Somebody should have been left here yesterday," said the county attorney.

"Oh—yesterday," returned the sheriff, with a little gesture as of yesterday having been more than he could bear to think of. "When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy—let me tell you, I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by to-day, George, and as long as I went over everything here myself—"

"Well, Mr. Hale," said the county attorney, in a way of letting what was past and gone go, "tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning."

Mrs. Hale, still leaning against the door, had that sinking feeling of the mother whose child is about to speak a piece. 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. He didn't begin at once, and she noticed that he looked queer—as if standing in that kitchen and having to tell what he had seen there yesterday morning made him almost sick.

"Yes, Mr. Hale?" the county attorney reminded.

"Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes," Mrs. Hale's husband began.

Harry was Mrs. Hale's oldest boy. He wasn't with them now, for the very good reason that those potatoes never got to town yesterday and he was taking them this morning, so he hadn't been home when the sheriff stopped to say he wanted Mr. Hale to come over to the Wright place and tell the county attorney his story there, where he could point it all out. With all Mrs. Hale's other emotions came the fear now that maybe Harry wasn't dressed warm enough—they hadn't any of them realized how that north wind did bite.

"We come along this road," Hale was going on, with a motion of his hand to the road over which they had just come, "and as we got in sight of the house I says to Harry, 'I'm goin' to see if I can't get John Wright to take a telephone.' You see," he explained to Henderson, "unless I can get somebody to go in with me they won't come out this branch road except for a price I can't pay. I'd spoke to Wright about it once before; but he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet—guess you know about how much he talked himself. But I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, and said all the women-folks liked the telephones, and that in this lonesome stretch of road it would be a good thing—well, I said to Harry that that was what I was going to say—though I said at the same time that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—"

Now, there he was!—saying things he didn't need to say. Mrs. Hale tried to catch her husband's eye, but fortunately the county attorney interrupted with:

"Let's talk about that a little later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but I'm anxious now to get along to just what happened when you got here."

When he began this time, it was very deliberately and carefully:

"I didn't see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up—it was past eight o'clock. So I knocked again, louder, and I thought I heard somebody say, 'Come in.' I wasn't sure—I'm not sure yet. But I opened the door—this door," jerking a hand toward the door by which the two women stood, "and there, in that rocker"—pointing to it—"sat Mrs. Wright."

Every one in the kitchen looked at the rocker. 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.

"How did she—look?" the county attorney was inquiring.

"Well," said Hale, "she looked—queer."

"How do you mean—queer?"

As he asked it he took out a note-book and pencil. Mrs. Hale did not like the sight of that pencil. She kept her eye fixed on her husband, as if to keep him from saying unnecessary things that would go into that note-book and make trouble.

Hale did speak guardedly, as if the pencil had affected him too.

"Well, as if she didn't know what she was going to do next. And kind of—done up."

"How did she seem to feel about your coming?"

"Why, I don't think she minded—one way or other. She didn't pay much attention. I said, 'Ho' do, Mrs. Wright? It's cold, ain't it?' And she said, 'Is it?'—and went on pleatin' at her apron.

"Well, I was surprised. She didn't ask me to come up to the stove, or to sit down, but just set there, not even lookin' at me. And so I said: 'I want to see John.'

"And then she—laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh.

"I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said, a little sharp, 'Can I see John?' 'No,' says she—kind of dull like. 'Ain't he home?' says I. Then she looked at me. 'Yes,' says she, 'he's home.' 'Then why can't I see him?' I asked her, out of patience with her now. ''Cause he's dead,' says she, just as quiet and dull—and fell to pleatin' her apron. 'Dead?' says I, like you do when you can't take in what you've heard.

"She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin' back and forth.

"'Why—where is he?' says I, not knowing what to say.

"She just pointed upstairs—like this"—pointing to the room above.

"I got up, with the idea of going up there myself. By this time I—didn't know what to do. I walked from there to here; then I says: 'Why, what did he die of?'

"'He died of a rope round his neck,' says she; and just went on pleatin' at her apron."

Hale stopped speaking, and stood staring at the rocker, as if he were still seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before. Nobody spoke; it was as if every one were seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.

"And what did you do then?" the county attorney at last broke the silence.

"I went out and called Harry. I thought I might—need help. I got Harry in, and we went upstairs." His voice fell almost to a whisper. "There he was—lying over the—"

"I think I'd rather have you go into that upstairs," the county attorney interrupted, "where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story."

"Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked—"

He stopped, his face twitching.

"But Harry, he went up to him, and he said, 'No, he's dead all right, and we'd better not touch anything.' So we went downstairs.

"She was still sitting that same way. 'Has anybody been notified?' I asked. 'No,' says she, unconcerned.

"'Who did this, Mrs. Wright?' said Harry. He said it businesslike, and she stopped pleatin' at her apron. 'I don't know,' she says. 'You don't know?' says Harry. 'Weren't you sleepin' in the bed with him?' 'Yes,' says she, 'but I was on the inside.' 'Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him, and you didn't wake up?' says Harry. 'I didn't wake up,' she said after him.

"We may have looked as if we didn't see how that could be, for after a minute she said, 'I sleep sound.'

"Harry was going to ask her more questions, but I said maybe that weren't our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff. So Harry went fast as he could over to High Road—the Rivers' place, where there's a telephone."

"And what did she do when she knew you had gone for the coroner?" The attorney got his pencil in his hand all ready for writing.

"She moved from that chair to this one over here"—Hale pointed to a small chair in the corner—"and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so 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."

At sound of a moving pencil the man who was telling the story looked up.

"I dunno—maybe it wasn't scared," he hastened; "I wouldn't like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that's all I know that you don't."

He said that last with relief, and moved a little, as if relaxing. Every one moved a little. The county attorney walked toward the stair door.

"I guess we'll go upstairs first—then out to the barn and around there."

He paused and looked around the kitchen.

"You're convinced there was nothing important here?" he asked the sheriff. "Nothing that would—point to any motive?"

The sheriff too looked all around, as if to re-convince himself.

"Nothing here but kitchen things," he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things.

The county attorney was looking at the cupboard—a peculiar, ungainly structure, half closet and half cupboard, the upper part of it being built in the wall, and the lower part just the old-fashioned kitchen cupboard. As if its queerness attracted him, he got a chair and opened the upper part and looked in. After a moment he drew his hand away sticky.

"Here's a nice mess," he said resentfully.

The two women had drawn nearer, and now the sheriff's wife spoke.

"Oh—her fruit," she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding. She turned back to the county attorney and explained: "She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst."

Mrs. Peters' husband broke into a laugh.

"Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worrying about her preserves!"

The young attorney set his lips.

"I guess before we're through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about."

"Oh, well," said Mrs. Hale's husband, with good-natured superiority, "women are used to worrying over trifles."

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke. The county attorney seemed suddenly to remember his manners—and think of his future.

"And yet," said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, "for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?"

The women did not speak, did not unbend. He went to the sink and began washing his hands. He turned to wipe them on the roller towel—whirled it for a cleaner place.

"Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?"

He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.

"There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm," said Mrs. Hale stiffly.

"To be sure. And yet"—with a little bow to her—"I know there are some Dickson County farm-houses that do not have such roller towels." He gave it a pull to expose its full length again.

"Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be."

"Ah, loyal to your sex, I see," he laughed. He stopped and gave her a keen look. "But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too."

Martha Hale shook her head.

"I've seen little enough of her of late years. I've not been in this house—it's more than a year."

"And why was that? You didn't like her?"

"I liked her well enough," she replied with spirit. "Farmers' wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then—" She looked around the kitchen.

"Yes?" he encouraged.

"It never seemed a very cheerful place," said she, more to herself than to him.

"No," he agreed; "I don't think any one would call it cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the home-making instinct."

"Well, I don't know as Wright had, either," she muttered.

"You mean they didn't get on very well?" he was quick to ask.

"No; I don't mean anything," she answered, with decision. As she turned a little away from him, she added: "But I don't think a place would be any the cheerfuler for John Wright's bein' in it."

"I'd like to talk to you about that a little later, Mrs. Hale," he said. "I'm anxious to get the lay of things upstairs now."

He moved toward the stair door, followed by the two men.

"I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does'll be all right?" the sheriff inquired. "She was to take in some clothes for her, you know—and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday."

The county attorney looked at the two women whom they were leaving alone there among the kitchen things.

"Yes—Mrs. Peters," he said, his glance resting on the woman who was not Mrs. Peters, the big farmer woman who stood behind the sheriff's wife. "Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us," he said, in a manner of entrusting responsibility. "And keep your eye out Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive—and that's the thing we need."

Mr. Hale rubbed his face after the fashion of a show man getting ready for a pleasantry.

"But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?" he said; and, having delivered himself of this, he followed the others through the stair door.

The women stood motionless and silent, listening to the footsteps, first upon the stairs, then in the room above them.

Then, as if releasing herself from something strange, Mrs. Hale began to arrange the dirty pans under the sink, which the county attorney's disdainful push of the foot had deranged.

"I'd hate to have men comin' into my kitchen," she said testily—"snoopin' round and criticizin'."

"Of course it's no more than their duty," said the sheriff's wife, in her manner of timid acquiescence.

"Duty's all right," replied Mrs. Hale bluffly; "but I guess that deputy sheriff that come out to make the fire might have got a little of this on." She gave the roller towel a pull. "Wish I'd thought of that sooner! Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up, when she had to come away in such a hurry."

She looked around the kitchen. Certainly it was not "slicked up." Her eye was held by a bucket of sugar on a low shelf. The cover was off the wooden bucket, and beside it was a paper bag—half full.

Mrs. Hale moved toward it.

"She was putting this in there," she said to herself—slowly.

She thought of the flour in her kitchen at home—half sifted, half not sifted. She had been interrupted, and had left things half done. What had interrupted Minnie Foster? Why had that work been left half done? She made a move as if to finish it,—unfinished things always bothered her,—and then she glanced around and saw that Mrs. Peters was watching her—and she didn't want Mrs. Peters to get that feeling she had got of work begun and then—for some reason—not finished.

"It's a shame about her fruit," she said, and walked toward the cupboard that the county attorney had opened, and got on the chair, murmuring: "I wonder if it's all gone."

It was a sorry enough looking sight, but "Here's one that's all right," she said at last. She held it toward the light. "This is cherries, too." She looked again. "I declare I believe that's the only one."

With a sigh, she got down from the chair, went to the sink, and wiped off the bottle.

"She'll feel awful bad, after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer."

She set the bottle on the table, and, with another sigh, started to sit down in the rocker. But she did not sit down. Something kept her from sitting down in that chair. She straightened—stepped back, and, half turned away, stood looking at it, seeing the woman who had sat there "pleatin' at her apron."

The thin voice of the sheriff's wife broke in upon her: "I must be getting those things from the front room closet." She opened the door into the other room, started in, stepped back. "You coming with me, Mrs. Hale?" she asked nervously. "You—you could help me get them."

They were soon back—the stark coldness of that shut-up room was not a thing to linger in.

"My!" said Mrs. Peters, dropping the things on the table and hurrying to the stove.

Mrs. Hale stood examining the clothes the woman who was being detained in town had said she wanted.

"Wright was close!" she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black skirt that bore the marks of much making over. "I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself. I s'pose she felt she couldn't do her part; and then, you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively—when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was twenty years ago."

With a carefulness in which there was something tender, she folded the shabby clothes and piled them at one corner of the table. She looked up at Mrs. Peters and there was something in the other woman's look that irritated her.

"She don't care," she said to herself. "Much difference it makes to her whether Minnie Foster had pretty clothes when she was a girl."

Then she looked again, and she wasn't so sure; in fact, she hadn't at any time been perfectly sure about Mrs. Peters. She had that shrinking manner, and yet her eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things.

"This all you was to take in?" asked Mrs. Hale.

"No," said the sheriff's wife; "she said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want," she ventured in her nervous little way, "for there's not much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. If you're used to wearing an apron—. She said they were in the bottom drawer of this cupboard. Yes—here they are. And then her little shawl that always hung on the stair door."

She took the small gray shawl from behind the door leading upstairs, and stood a minute looking at it.

Suddenly Mrs. Hale took a quick step toward the other woman.

"Mrs. Peters!"

"Yes, Mrs. Hale?"

"Do you think she—did it?"

A frightened look blurred the other thing in Mrs. Peters' eyes.

"Oh, I don't know," she said, in a voice that seemed to shrink away from the subject.

"Well, I don't think she did," affirmed Mrs. Hale stoutly. "Asking for an apron, and her little shawl. Worryin' about her fruit."

"Mr. Peters says—." Footsteps were heard in the room above; she stopped, looked up, then went on in a lowered voice: "Mr. Peters says—it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech, and he's going to make fun of her saying she didn't—wake up."

For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, "Well, I guess John Wright didn't wake up—when they was slippin' that rope under his neck," she muttered.

"No, it's strange," breathed Mrs. Peters. "They think it was such a—funny way to kill a man."

She began to laugh; at sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped.

"That's just what Mr. Hale said," said Mrs. Hale, in a resolutely natural voice. "There was a gun in the house. He says that's what he can't understand."

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

"Well, I don't see any signs of anger around here," said Mrs. Hale. "I don't—"

She stopped. It was as if her mind tripped on something. Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Her eyes made a slow, almost unwilling turn to the bucket of sugar and the half empty bag beside it. Things begun—and not finished.

After a moment she stepped back, and said, in that manner of releasing herself:

"Wonder how they're finding things upstairs? I hope she had it a little more red up up there. You know,"—she paused, and feeling gathered,—"it seems kind of sneaking: locking her up in town and coming out here to get her own house to turn against her!"

"But, Mrs. Hale," said the sheriff's wife, "the law is the law."

"I s'pose 'tis," answered Mrs. Hale shortly.

She turned to the stove, saying something about that fire not being much to brag of. She worked with it a minute, and when she straightened up she said aggressively:

"The law is the law—and a bad stove is a bad stove. How'd you like to cook on this?"—pointing with the poker to the broken lining. She opened the oven door and started to express her opinion of the oven; but she was swept into her own thoughts, thinking of what it would mean, year after year, to have that stove to wrestle with. The thought of Minnie Foster trying to bake in that oven—and the thought of her never going over to see Minnie Foster—.

She was startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: "A person gets discouraged—and loses heart."

The sheriff's wife had looked from the stove to the sink—to the pail of water which had been carried in from outside. The two women stood there silent, above them the footsteps of the men who were looking for evidence against the woman who had worked in that kitchen. That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff's wife now. When Mrs. Hale next spoke to her, it was gently:

"Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. We'll not feel them when we go out."

Mrs. Peters went to the back of the room to hang up the fur tippet she was wearing. A moment later she exclaimed, "Why, she was piecing a quilt," and held up a large sewing basket piled high with quilt pieces.

Mrs. Hale spread some of the blocks out on the table.

"It's log-cabin pattern," she said, putting several of them together. "Pretty, isn't it?"

They were so engaged with the quilt that they did not hear the footsteps on the stairs. Just as the stair door opened Mrs. Hale was saying:

"Do you suppose she was going to quilt it or just knot it?"

The sheriff threw up his hands.

"They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just knot it!"

There was a laugh for the ways of women, a warming of hands over the stove, and then the county attorney said briskly:

"Well, let's go right out to the barn and get that cleared up."

"I don't see as there's anything so strange," Mrs. Hale said resentfully, after the outside door had closed on the three men—"our taking up our time with little things while we're waiting for them to get the evidence. I don't see as it's anything to laugh about."

"Of course they've got awful important things on their minds," said the sheriff's wife apologetically.

They returned to an inspection of the block for the quilt. Mrs. Hale was looking at the fine, even sewing, and preoccupied with thoughts of the woman who had done that sewing, when she heard the sheriff's wife say, in a queer tone:

"Why, look at this one."

She turned to take the block held out to her.

"The sewing," said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way. "All the rest of them have been so nice and even—but—this one. Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!"

Their eyes met—something flashed to life, passed between them; then, as if with an effort, they seemed to pull away from each other. A moment Mrs. Hale sat her hands folded over that sewing which was so unlike all the rest of the sewing. Then she had pulled a knot and drawn the threads.

"Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?" asked the sheriff's wife, startled.

"Just pulling out a stitch or two that's not sewed very good," said Mrs. Hale mildly.

"I don't think we ought to touch things," Mrs. Peters said, a little helplessly.

"I'll just finish up this end," answered Mrs. Hale, still in that mild, matter-of-fact fashion.

She threaded a needle and started to replace bad sewing with good. For a little while she sewed in silence. Then, in that thin, timid voice, she heard:

"Mrs. Hale!"

"Yes, Mrs. Peters?"

"What do you suppose she was so—nervous about?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Hale, as if dismissing a thing not important enough to spend much time on. "I don't know as she was—nervous. I sew awful queer sometimes when I'm just tired."

She cut a thread, and out of the corner of her eye looked up at Mrs. Peters. The small, lean face of the sheriff's wife seemed to have tightened up. Her eyes had that look of peering into something. But next moment she moved, and said in her thin, indecisive way:

"Well, I must get those clothes wrapped. They may be through sooner than we think. I wonder where I could find a piece of paper—and string."

"In that cupboard, maybe," suggested Mrs. Hale, after a glance around.

One piece of the crazy sewing remained unripped. Mrs. Peters' back turned, Martha Hale now scrutinized that piece, compared it with the dainty, accurate sewing of the other blocks. The difference was startling. Holding this block made her feel queer, as if the distracted thoughts of the woman who had perhaps turned to it to try and quiet herself were communicating themselves to her.

Mrs. Peters' voice roused her.

"Here's a bird-cage," she said. "Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?"

"Why, I don't know whether she did or not." She turned to look at the cage Mrs. Peter was holding up. "I've not been here in so long." She sighed. "There was a man round last year selling canaries cheap—but I don't know as she took one. Maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself."

Mrs. Peters looked around the kitchen.

"Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here." She half laughed—an attempt to put up a barrier. "But she must have had one—or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it."

"I suppose maybe the cat got it," suggested Mrs. Hale, resuming her sewing.

"No; she didn't have a cat. She's got that feeling some people have about cats—being afraid of them. When they brought her to our house yesterday, my cat got in the room, and she was real upset and asked me to take it out."

"My sister Bessie was like that," laughed Mrs. Hale.

The sheriff's wife did not reply. The silence made Mrs. Hale turn round. Mrs. Peters was examining the bird-cage.

"Look at this door," she said slowly. "It's broke. One hinge has been pulled apart."

Mrs. Hale came nearer.

"Looks as if some one must have been—rough with it."

Again their eyes met—startled, questioning, apprehensive. For a moment neither spoke nor stirred. Then Mrs. Hale, turning away, said brusquely:

"If they're going to find any evidence, I wish they'd be about it. I don't like this place."

"But I'm awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale," Mrs. Peters put the bird-cage on the table and sat down. "It would be lonesome for me—sitting here alone."

"Yes, it would, wouldn't it?" agreed Mrs. Hale, a certain determined naturalness in her voice. She had picked up the sewing, but now it dropped in her lap, and she murmured in a different voice: "But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I wish—I had."

"But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale. Your house—and your children."

"I could've come," retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. "I stayed away because it weren't cheerful—and that's why I ought to have come. I"—she looked around—"I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road. I don't know what it is, but it's a lonesome place, and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—" She did not put it into words.

"Well, you mustn't reproach yourself," counseled Mrs. Peters. "Somehow, we just don't see how it is with other folks till—something comes up."

"Not having children makes less work," mused Mrs. Hale, after a silence, "but it makes a quiet house—and Wright out to work all day—and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?"

"Not to know him. I've seen him in town. They say he was a good man."

"Yes—good," conceded John Wright's neighbor grimly. "He didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. 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." Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: "I should think she would've wanted a bird!"

Suddenly she leaned forward, looking intently at the cage. "But what do you s'pose went wrong with it?"

"I don't know," returned Mrs. Peters; "unless it got sick and died."

But after she said it she reached over and swung the broken door. Both women watched it as if somehow held by it.

"You didn't know—her?" Mrs. Hale asked, a gentler note in her voice.

"Not till they brought her yesterday," said the sheriff's wife.

"She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change."

That held her for a long time. Finally, as if struck with a happy thought and relieved to get back to every-day things, she exclaimed:

"Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don't you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind."

"Why, I think that's a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale," agreed the sheriff's wife, as if she too were glad to come into the atmosphere of a simple kindness. "There couldn't possibly be any objection to that, could there? Now, just what will I take? I wonder if her patches are in here—and her things."

They turned to the sewing basket.

"Here's some red," said Mrs. Hale, bringing out a roll of cloth. Underneath that was a box. "Here, maybe her scissors are in here—and her things." She held it up. "What a pretty box! I'll warrant that was something she had a long time ago—when she was a girl."

She held it in her hand a moment; then, with a little sigh, opened it.

Instantly her hand went to her nose.

"Why—!"

Mrs. Peters drew nearer—then turned away.

"There's something wrapped up in this piece of silk," faltered Mrs. Hale.

"This isn't her scissors," said Mrs. Peters, in a shrinking voice.

Her hand not steady, Mrs. Hale raised the piece of silk. "Oh, Mrs. Peters!" she cried. "It's—"

Mrs. Peters bent closer.

"It's the bird," she whispered.

"But, Mrs. Peters!" cried Mrs. Hale. "Look at it! Its neck—look at its neck! It's all—other side to."

She held the box away from her.

The sheriff's wife again bent closer.

"Somebody wrung its neck," said she, in a voice that was slow and deep.

And then again the eyes of the two women met—this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror. Mrs. Peters looked from the dead bird to the broken door of the cage. Again their eyes met. And just then there was a sound at the outside door.

Mrs. Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces in the basket, and sank into the chair before it. Mrs. Peters stood holding to the table. The county attorney and the sheriff came in from outside.

"Well, ladies," said the county attorney, as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries, "have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?"

"We think," began the sheriff's wife in a flurried voice, "that she was going to—knot it."

He was too preoccupied to notice the change that came in her voice on that last.

"Well, that's very interesting, I'm sure," he said tolerantly. He caught sight of the bird-cage. "Has the bird flown?"

"We think the cat got it," said Mrs. Hale in a voice curiously even.

He was walking up and down, as if thinking something out.

"Is there a cat?" he asked absently.

Mrs. Hale shot a look up at the sheriff's wife.

"Well, not now," said Mrs. Peters. "They're superstitious, you know; they leave."

She sank into her chair.

The county attorney did not heed her. "No sign at all of any one having come in from the outside," he said to Peters, in the manner of continuing an interrupted conversation. "Their own rope. Now let's go upstairs again and go over it, piece by piece. It would have to have been some one who knew just the—"

The stair door closed behind them and their voices were lost.

The two women sat motionless, not looking at each other, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they spoke now it was as if they were afraid of what they were saying, but as if they could not help saying it.

"She liked the bird," said Martha Hale, low and slowly. "She was going to bury it in that pretty box."

"When I was a girl," said Mrs. Peters, under her breath, "my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—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 upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—"hurt him."

Then they sat without speaking or moving.

"I wonder how it would seem," Mrs. Hale at last began, as if feeling her way over strange ground—"never to have had any children around?" Her eyes made a slow sweep of the kitchen, as if seeing what that kitchen had meant through all the years. "No, Wright wouldn't like the bird," she said after that—"a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too." Her voice tightened.

Mrs. Peters moved uneasily.

"Of course we don't know who killed the bird."

"I knew John Wright," was Mrs. Hale's answer.

"It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale," said the sheriff's wife. "Killing a man while he slept—slipping a thing round his neck that choked the life out of him."

Mrs. Hale's hand went out to the bird-cage.

"His neck. Choked the life out of him."

"We don't know who killed him," whispered Mrs. Peters wildly. "We don't know."

Mrs. Hale had not moved. "If there had been years and years of—nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still—after the bird was still."

It was as if something within her not herself had spoken, and it found in Mrs. Peters something she did not know as herself.

"I know what stillness is," she said, in a queer, monotonous voice. "When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died—after he was two years old—and me with no other then—"

Mrs. Hale stirred.

"How soon do you suppose they'll be through looking for the evidence?"

"I know what stillness is," repeated Mrs. Peters, in just that same way. Then she too pulled back. "The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale," she said in her tight little way.

"I wish you'd seen Minnie Foster," was the answer, "when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang."

The picture of that girl, the fact that she had lived neighbor to that girl for twenty years, and had let her die for lack of life, was suddenly more than she could bear.

"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?"

"We mustn't take on," said Mrs. Peters, with a frightened look toward the stairs.

"I might 'a' known she needed help! I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it's all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren't—why do you and I understand? Why do we know—what we know this minute?"

She dashed her hand across her eyes. Then, seeing the jar of fruit on the table, she reached for it and choked out:

"If I was you I wouldn't tell her her fruit was gone! Tell her it ain't. Tell her it's all right—all of it. Here—take this in to prove it to her! She—she may never know whether it was broke or not."

She turned away.

Mrs. Peters reached out for the bottle of fruit as if she were glad to take it—as if touching a familiar thing, having something to do, could keep her from something else. She got up, looked about for something to wrap the fruit in, took a petticoat from the pile of clothes she had brought from the front room, and nervously started winding that round the bottle.

"My!" she began, in a high, false voice, "it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a—dead canary." She hurried over that. "As if that could have anything to do with—with—My, wouldn't they laugh?"

Footsteps were heard on the stairs.

"Maybe they would," muttered Mrs. Hale—"maybe they wouldn't."

"No, Peters," said the county attorney incisively; "it's all perfectly clear, except the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing—something to show. Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it."

In a covert way Mrs. Hale looked at Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters was looking at her. Quickly they looked away from each other. The outer door opened and Mr. Hale came in.

"I've got the team round now," he said. "Pretty cold out there."

"I'm going to stay here awhile by myself," the county attorney suddenly announced. "You can send Frank out for me, can't you?" he asked the sheriff. "I want to go over everything. I'm not satisfied we can't do better."

Again, for one brief moment, the two women's eyes found one another.

The sheriff came up to the table.

"Did you want to see what Mrs. Peters was going to take in?"

The county attorney picked up the apron. He laughed.

"Oh, I guess they're not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out."

Mrs. Hale's hand was on the sewing basket in which the box was concealed. She felt that she ought to take her hand off the basket. She did not seem able to. He picked up one of the quilt blocks which she had piled on to cover the box. Her eyes felt like fire. She had a feeling that if he took up the basket she would snatch it from him.

But he did not take it up. With another little laugh, he turned away, saying:

"No; Mrs. Peters doesn't need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff's wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?"

Mrs. Peters was standing beside the table. Mrs. Hale shot a look up at her; but she could not see her face. Mrs. Peters had turned away. When she spoke, her voice was muffled.

"Not—just that way," she said.

"Married to the law!" chuckled Mrs. Peters' husband. He moved toward the door into the front room, and said to the county attorney:

"I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows."

"Oh—windows," said the county attorney scoffingly.

"We'll be right out, Mr. Hale," said the sheriff to the farmer, who was still waiting by the door.

Hale went to look after the horses. The sheriff followed the county attorney into the other room. Again—for one final moment—the two women were alone in that kitchen.

Martha Hale sprang up, her hands tight together, looking at that other woman, with whom it rested. At first she could not see her eyes, for the sheriff's wife had not turned back since she turned away at that suggestion of being married to the law. But now Mrs. Hale made her turn back. Her eyes made her turn back. Slowly, unwillingly, Mrs. Peters turned her head until her eyes met the eyes of the other woman. There was a moment when they held each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no evasion nor flinching. Then Martha Hale's eyes pointed the way to the basket in which was hidden the thing that would make certain the conviction of the other woman—that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through that hour.

For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag. It was too big. Desperately she opened it, started to take the bird out. But there she broke—she could not touch the bird. She stood there helpless, foolish.

There was the sound of a knob turning in the inner door. Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff's wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.

"Well, Henry," said the county attorney facetiously, "at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to—what is it you call it, ladies?"

Mrs. Hale's hand was against the pocket of her coat.

"We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson."

Footnotes

  1. Mrs. Hale’s comments reveal her capacity for empathy. In her consideration of Minnie’s life, Mrs. Hale finds a great deal of common ground. The vexing thing about this particular passage is that Mrs. Hale does not specify who “we” refers to. In the context of the scene, it would appear that “we” means women. The story conveys an underlying separation between men and women, one often reinforced by the male characters. Thus by “we” Mrs. Hale might be referring to women in general, who “all go through the same things” with slight variations. From a broader perspective, it is also possible that the “we” includes all of humanity. All humans “go through the same things” in a vast array of different permutations. It is for this reason that works of literature, such as “A Jury of Her Peers,” can succeed.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Mr. Henderson’s search for a motive underscores the conventional sense of crime and punishment at play among the male investigators. As the story unfolds and the nature of the crime reveals itself, the piece of evidence “to show anger” turns out to complicate any standard notions of justice.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. This passage foreshadows the lack of predictability or standard sense underlying the case. The use of the noose, despite the presence of the more reliable gun, suggests that there is a personal or emotional logic to the particulars of the murder. Once again, the typical investigatory frameworks fall short: a theme throughout the story.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. This is a strange moment in the story. Mrs. Peters reports that the men consider the strangling a “funny way to kill a man.” The word “funny” seems to mean “peculiar” or “odd,” and yet Mrs. Peters then bursts into a brief fit of laughter, as if she had interpreted the word to literally mean “comedic.” Perhaps the word invited Mrs. Peters to take a comedic look at the events, triggering a fit of laughter in the face of the grimness and absurdity at hand.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. To knot a quilt is to thread together its various layers with simple knots rather than elaborately sewn patterns, a method known as quilting. Mrs. Wright’s decision to “knot it” is symbolic in a couple of different ways. For one thing, the decision to “knot it” represents a departure from the toils and duties of domestic life. On another note, the process of knotting evokes the tying and knotting of the rope Mrs. Wright used to hang her husband.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The theme of incrimination is central to the story and very nuanced. As the story establishes itself, the crime at hand seems clear: Mr. Wright has been killed; his murderer needs identification. As the investigation unfolds, Mrs. Hale begins to point to another crime: her own abandonment of Mrs. Wright. It is more an act of empathy than of guilt. The issue Mrs. Hale finds is not so much her own inaction as the neglect Mrs. Wright has experiences over the course of the preceding two decades. As the nature of the original crime becomes clear, Mrs. Hale’s concerns take on a heightened relevance.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This phrase is cryptic and multilayered. First, it is clear that the death Mrs. Hale refers to is figurative. Literally speaking, Mrs. Hale did not “let [Mrs. Wright] die” because Mrs. Wright isn’t dead. Things get stranger if we note that the figurative death occurred “for lack of life.” Clearly, life and death are figures for something else, perhaps liveliness and its lack. One way of interpreting Mrs. Hale’s phrase would be to say that Mrs. Wright’s life had become empty and unfulfilled to the point that she experienced a kind of inner, soul-level death.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The canary carries a great deal of symbolic meaning. On one level, the canary represents Mrs. Wright’s life—or, more accurately, her liveliness and vivacity. The canary is the remaining thread of Minnie Foster, the girl who sang in the choir and dressed in bright clothing. Mr. Wright’s choking of the canary is a figure for the way he drained the liveliness out of Mrs. Wright. The canary is also a figure for Mr. Wright, who was similarly choked to death.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The word “flurried” serves as a double entendre. On the surface, the word denotes a kind feeling of agitation or anxiety. On a literal level, “flurried” means “moved by a flurry,” which draws on the stormy language from the story’s start. Thus, “flurried” brings in the metaphorical material of the storm—most pressingly, the conflict of the sexes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. This phrase draws on motifs established early on in the story. For example, the story’s opening sentence includes a strikingly similar image in which Mrs. Hale “got a cut of the north wind.” These threads of stormy weather and violence weave their way throughout the story, and cross in this moment. On a metaphorical level, the “raw wind that gets to the bone” evokes Mr. Wright’s capacity for psychological coldness and violence.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Mrs. Hale’s description of the Wright home is telling. That the home is “down in a hollow” operates as a combination of metaphor and metonymy—a technique by which the object is compared to its surroundings. In this case, the home’s location in a hollow bespeaks the hollow quality of the home itself. There is an emotional hollowness and emptiness in the Wright home, as becomes increasingly clear as the story unfolds.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The unfinished quilt is a fascinating image, rich with metaphorical meaning. The piled-up pieces of quilt represent a puzzle to be solved, much like the scattered evidence of the murder case itself. The quilt also represents Mrs. Wright’s domestic life, an analogy made concrete by the quilt’s log-cabin design. As Mrs. Hale suggests, Mrs. Wright’s home life was broken—fragmented into pieces, one might say.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Mrs. Wright’s oven is an example of synecdoche, a literary device in which a small detail metaphorically represents the greater whole which contains it. Here, the broken oven, with its rent lining, represents the entire Wright household and the home life of the Wrights. Like the oven, the household is broken, its lining—the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Wright—irrevocably torn. Mrs. Wright’s years spent struggling with a broken oven is merely a metaphor for the years she spent struggling in a broken marriage.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. 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.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. This is an interesting use of the pathetic fallacy—a technique by which an object is given human qualities or emotions. The attorney’s foot “had deranged” the cookware. “Deranged” literally means “disarranged,” thrown out of order. The word, however, is much more often used to mean “driven insane.” Thus, the phrase not only carries connotations of mental instability, but also of men driving women to such a state. By metonymy, the kicked cookware stands in for Mrs. Wright’s mental state.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. The opening sentence establishes the tone of the story. The sentence is laced with stormy language, from Mrs. Hale’s name to the “storm-door” to the “north wind.” As a metaphor, the storm alerts the reader to the conflicts brewing at the story’s heart—the gruesome case to be solved and the tensions between the men and women. The “cut” Mrs. Hale receives from the wind is figurative, but announces the story’s undercurrent of violence.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. Throughout the story we have seen numerous examples of men underestimating women’s capabilities and intelligence. Ironically, this very obliviousness (intentional or not) actually works in Minnie’s favor here. Although Minnie may be suspect, because the jury wrongly assumes women to be less capable or threatening, her conviction demands more solid evidence.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. The bird’s innocence and powerlessness underscores the horror of its murder. Mrs. Hale reaching her hand out to the bird cage as if to touch the deceased bird, is a strong image for the careful reader. This small gesture indicates Mrs. Hale’s compassion and empathy for Minnie. This sentence and the following also present the first more blatant admission of Minnie’s guilt. However, the imagery used here acknowledges Minnie’s heartache, desperation, and anger. We now see that she was trapped in an abusive relationship.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. Note that Mrs. Peters “caught herself” mid-sentence. This indicates a calculated change in wording, which we can assume is replacing the word “kill” with “hurt.” Mrs. Peters empathizes with Minnie’s situation, and we are led to wonder if Mrs. Peters reaction to this kind of abuse would have been the same.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. The county attorney’s comment again belittles the women, suggesting that they are only concerned with domestic “pleasantries” like sewing. Ironically, it is precisely the women’s attention to seemingly small details that has given them a better understanding what happened than the men. It is especially ironic that the sewing itself is ultimately what tips the women off. Something that seems a “trifle” is an extremely important and telling clue that goes unnoticed by the men because they completely underestimate the significance of women’s activities or work.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. Notice that Minnie is inadvertently compared to a canary in this passage. The past-tense phrase “used to sing” ominously suggests that Minnie no longer sings for some unknown reason. Consider, too, that Mrs. Hale says that Minnie must have had a canary: otherwise, “why would she have a cage?” The use of the pronoun “she” is deliberate here, further associating Minnie with a caged bird. This comparison foreshadows coming events and leads us to reflect on the nature of the Wrights’ married life.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. The imagery in this line subtly foreshadows that there might be more to the story of this murder than meets the eye. Notice that Minnie is not present here, but that her thoughts seem to be “communicating themselves” to Mrs. Hale. Minnie’s presence is ghostly and almost palpable. The reader if left wondering what exactly Minnie is trying to communicate.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. The Middle English verb “redden” means “to free from” or “to clear.” The phrase “red up” comes from this verb, and today means “to clear up” or “to tidy up.”

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  29. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  30. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  31. This sentence has sexist connotations, suggesting that women are silly and unintelligent in comparison to men. Notice that the women have also proven themselves to be observant and intelligent, which has gone completely unnoticed or intentionally ignored by the men in the story. This sentence illustrates the kind of microaggressions that communicate hostile and derogatory meanings, under the guise of “humor” and “joking.” This is one of the primary, insidious ways that women and other marginalized groups are oppressed, and these seemingly “harmless” quips have big, lasting effects.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. The county attorney’s comment here underscores the sexism of this time. Women’s domestic work was a social expectation, but it was also thought to be closely tied to genetics and femininity. Women were viewed as “naturally” domestic, and any woman who deviated from this “inherent trait” was seen as less feminine. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters jump to Minnie’s defense because they understand the hard work that goes into keeping a home, and the pressure that men and society at large places on women as homemakers.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  36. “Knot it” could symbolically stand for how the women “knot” the men’s investigation. Without a motive, the county attorney notes that it is likely that Minnie will not be found guilty. Thus, in not turning over the bird, the women protect Minnie from the law. Because the men discount women’s affairs as trivial, Mrs. Hale can tell him that they decided to “knot it,” both the investigation and the quilt, and the significance will be lost on him.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. 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.”

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  38. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  39. Notice that the first instance of direct dialogue that we get in the story is a command issued by a husband to his wife, establishing the theme of female subservience to men. Mr. Hale’s “impatient” command also comes directly after emphasizing that, “[Mrs.Hale] dropped everything where it was,” immediately after the sheriff asked her to come along. Small details like this throughout the story will continue to underscore the way in which women were expected to be obedient to men.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  40. Notice that the county attorney judges Mrs. Peters’ personality and disposition based on her marriage. Remember that at the beginning of this story, Mrs. Hale evaluated Mrs. Peters based on her individual features and decided that her small stature and weak voice made Mrs. Peters look like she was not a sheriff's wife. While Mrs. Hale can see Mrs. Peters as an individual, the male county attorney can only see her through her relationship to her husband.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  41. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  42. In this statement Mrs. Hale recognizes the main theme of this story: these women are able to determine what happened because they experience a similar plight. These women are connected by their gender and the oppressive social situation in which they live. This experience allows these women to not only know what happened in the house but also exonerate Minnie. Their empathy for her situation acquits her crime.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  43. Mrs. Hale feels guilty that she never went to Minnie’s house and kept her company. She asks why no one will punish her for neglecting her neighbor. This exclamation touches on the theme of social law vs. written law. These two women have a social obligation to Minnie because she is a woman who was abused by her husband. In Mrs. Hale’s mind, this obligation is much stronger than her obligation to the letter of the law.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  44. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  45. To Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, the uneven stitches reveal Minnie’s deteriorating mental state. While they do not know why Minnie was so nervous, they do believe that this evidence of nervousness is potentially dangerous for Minnie. Thus, Mrs. Hale automatically takes to replacing the stitches and covering up this evidence. Ironically, because the men do not value women’s work or believe that these women are capable of detecting evidence, it is unlikely that they would find significance in the uneven stitches even if Mrs. Hale did not correct them.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  46. Notice that the word “scary” is spelled “scarey” here, but that it still means “frightened.” This spelling of the word mostly common in 19th to 20th century North America, and thus helps establish the setting. This spelling also indicates a dialect, that suggests that the setting might be rural mid-west or south-west.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  47. Notice that when the men enter the room, the narrator goes from looking at the room through the women’s eyes to considering the men’s perspective. This abrupt change in tone shows the stark differences between the way men and the women think in this story. While the women pay attention to details, the men are “brisk” and unable to look past their own perspectives.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  48. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  49. The county attorney uses the law to justify collecting evidence from Minnie’s house. Mrs. Hale suggests that there should be a relationship between the letter and the spirit of the law. She recognizes that Minnie’s “bad stove” symbolizes Mr. Wright’s refusal to take care of his wife and sees this behavior as a breach of social laws: a man is supposed to take care of his wife in exchange for her care of the house. Mrs. Hale argues that Mr. Wright’s sin, his defiance of social laws while forcing his wife to uphold them, should be taken into consideration when discussing his murder.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  50. It is unclear what state this Dickson County is in, but we know that it must be a rural farming community in early 20th-century United States. Glaspell’s assertion that Mrs. Hale is called away by something “farther from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County,” establishes this town as quiet and small. Glaspell thus creates a mysterious, suspenseful tone at the very start of the story.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  51. Mrs. Hale personifies the house in this statement in order to show a relationship between Minnie and her home. In Mrs. Hale’s opinion, the house should be “loyal” to its mistress rather than used as evidence against her. This personification creates a solid bond between Minnie and her house, one that is absent in descriptions of Minnie and her husband.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  52. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  53. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  54. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  55. To “slick up” is an informal colloquial phrase meaning to make fresh or ready, to spruce up. The narrator puts quotation marks around this phrase when she repeats it in order to point out its colloquial nature and signal that Mrs. Hale speaks in a particular country dialect.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  56. Mrs. Hale’s comment touches on the theme of gender loyalty. The men believe that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale will present them with any clues they find in order to support the incrimination of Minnie. This comment makes it clear, however, that Mrs. Hale is personally offended that the county attorney would criticize Minnie’s kitchen. This reaction suggests that her alliance is with Minnie, not the men and the law, because Minnie is a fellow woman and farmer’s wife.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  57. This claim could be read as a metaphor that underscores the themes of the story. “Clean hands” is an English idiom that implies innocence, or guiltlessness. The sheriff and county attorney are there looking for motives so that they can convict Minnie of the murder of her husband. Mrs. Hale’s suggestion that men’s hands are not “clean” suggests that Minnie’s husband, or men in general, are not guiltless for the murder.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  58. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  59. Notice that in the face of the men’s misogyny, these women “move closer together.” Though they have little in common at the beginning of the story, this movement suggests that this type of oppression breeds female camaraderie.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  60. Mr. Hale once again asserts the patriarchal perception that women’s work is insignificant and frivolous. The men fail to recognize that these so called “trifles” are the grueling work that sustain the farm household and keep the members of that household clothed and fed. The “superiority” with which Mr. Hale speaks these lines suggests that this opinion is socially reinforced by the same privileged position that allows him to say it.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  61. “Can you beat the women” is an expression that rhetorically asks the question “can you do better than that?” or “can you exceed that?” In using this expression, Mr. Peters is not sincerely complimenting the women for worrying about Minnie’s jars. Instead, he is saying that “you cannot exceed women in their ridiculousness.” He expresses this disbelief because he does not value the hard work that went into making those jars. He does not believe that this is a serious matter to worry about.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  62. Mrs. Peters’ sympathetic response to the sticky mess in the cupboard sharply contrasts the county attorney’s disdain. Mrs. Peters looks to Mrs. Hale because the men do not seem to understand the tragedy in the woman’s broken jars. This look underscores the stark divide between the men and the women in the story. The male characters frequently bond by joking at the women’s expense, and the female characters band together as allies.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  63. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  64. The sheriff and county attorney discount the importance of the kitchen in their murder investigation. In the patriarchal culture in which this story is set, the kitchen was solely the space of women. In laughing about the “insignificance of kitchen things,” the sheriff discounts women and all of the work they do on a daily basis. The careful reader will hear these words as condescending and dismissive.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  65. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  66. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  67. “Pleatin’” or “pleating” is a verb that means to gather into folds or interlace strands of something to form a plait. In this context, Mr. Hale probably uses the word to say that Minnie was playing with or picking at her apron. Minnie’s movement is absent-minded and it makes it clear that she is focusing on something else.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  68. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  69. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  70. Notice that when the narrator jumps in with this exposition it is in the same narrative style in which Mr. Hale recounts his experience. This rhetorical device keeps the audience engaged in the story while providing the opportunity for the narrator to fill them in on the events that happened before the tale began. This narrative technique also makes it unclear whether or not the narrator is summarizing Mr. Hale’s speech with this aside. Since all of these things that would have been unnecessary or known to the characters in the scene, this speech would make Mr. Hale seem more ridiculous.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  71. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  72. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  73. The Wright house is lonely, shaded by trees, and removed from the road. This description of the setting creates an ominous tone and suggests that there is something amiss about this home.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  74. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  75. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  76. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  77. Notice that the sheriff assumes that his wife is scared and makes this joke to Mrs. Hale. This assumption suggests that the sheriff never actually asked his wife why she would want another woman along at the house, choosing instead to mockingly speculate about her motives to others. This introduction to the sheriff and his wife underscores the male and female relationships that will be explored throughout the story.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff