In the article written by Catherine Lavender, a popular saying about women in the late 1800’s was “She does what she can, but she is conscious of her inferiority and therefore grateful for support” (Lavender 3). In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspel was written in 1917 based in Dickson County, where the characters Mr. Hale, Mr. Peters, and the county attorney are seeking the motive of the murder of John Wright. Minnie Wright is the suspect and eventually Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find the clues and figure out the motive of the murder. Throughout the story, women were seen as oppressed and the submissive figure. Glaspell represents women oppression through symbols. The use of trifles represented the role women played in society given by men. Minnie’s unorganized kitchen demonstrates the ridicule and inferiority women received by the men. Lastly, the use of the dead bird and the bird cage symbolizes the isolation faced by farm wives and the misery faced by Minnie Wright. Glaspell uses symbolism to demonstrate the oppression of women and the sufferings of Minnie Wright in a patriarchal society.
During the 19th century women were oppressed in a patriarchal society. Women lived in separate spheres with limited participation in society. Women had no say or influence in the justice system. Especially in Minnie Wright’s case of her murdering her husband, John Wright. Minnie Wright was abused and used self-defense, but in the law of this time period, it would “condemn her and would see John Wright as the only victim” (Keetley 5). In a case where the wife kills the husband, the women will always be blamed and have no defense because it was always seen as wrong. The society was patriarchal representing the man as dominant and the woman as submissive. The major problem was that abusing women was not a crime and was seen as normal. When there is evidence of abuse, it “disserves rather than serves the interest of the women”(West 5) causing the suffering of women. The law did not benefit nor have equal treatment for women. There wasn’t any justice for women or for Minnie Wright. Minnie is the perfect representation of Women oppression, especially in marriages. John Wright caused a multitude of anguish on her. John will not allow Minnie to have a telephone at home, he “denied his wife access to even the minimal contacts that town life might afford”(Hedges 2), leaving her in isolation. He has left his wife in loneliness away from human contact. This was not uncommon for wives who live on a farm to experience isolation. The husband controls every aspect of their wives life, thus shows the unfairness and trials wives faced from their husbands. This connects to the idea of male superiority over women and having total control. Glaspell demonstrates this idea of a male-dominated society through symbols.
Glaspell uses trifles to symbolize how women were perceived and affected in society. Women were viewed as incapable or not able to do the things a man can do. In “A Jury of Her Peers”, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters experience ridicule from the men in the story. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are worried about Minnie’s broken jars of fruit and Mr. Hale mockingly says that women are “used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell 299). Since the men are trying to figure out the motive of John’s murder, they see the women worried about the fruit and think that they are incapable of focusing on the investigation. They say this because women were perceived as being good at “womanly” things such as cleaning, cooking, sewing, etc. The men think the women has it easy and they don’t understand the physical labor while working around the house. Especially in Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters case where they are worried about the fruit. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale understand the “physical labor involved in boiling fruit in Iowa heat”(Hedges 4), while the men do not. The work of a woman is a long and tiresome day filled with working with your hands. The trifle of the jars of fruit represent the hard work of women and never being appreciated for any of it. Many women were affected by this, especially Minnie Wright. Minnie expressed her anguish in the quilt that was seen by Mrs. Hale and Mrs.Peters in her home. The women saw the clues that showed Minnie’s “erratic stitching”(Aarons 7) of the quilt that reveals her emotional state and that she’s trying to keep it together. This trifle symbolizes the noose that killed John Wright. Most importantly the quilt symbolizes women’s teamwork and it proved the men wrong in thinking they are not capable of doing a man’s job. Trifles represents the place of women in society given by men and the effects on women.
Minnie’s unorganized kitchen plays a role in the oppression of women by ridicule from the men. Since the woman stays home to take care of the house and children, it is assumed that the house is spotless. In Minnie’s case, “the kitchen: all is amiss”(Bendel-Simso 2), everything is open and half used. The sugar is half full and used, dirty dish towels are sitting on the table. It’s obvious that Minnie’s house is unclean but that doesn’t affect Minnie’s character. The county attorney finds dirty towels, “not much of a housekeeper, would you say ladies?” (Glaspell 299), said as a degrading remark. The county attorney finds Minnie to be a bad housekeeper because of her dirty kitchen. He never wonders why her kitchen is dirty, only assumes that she is a bad housekeeper. The kitchen is a stereotypically place for women so it isn’t normal for a woman’s house to be unclean. In the late 1800’s, it was thought that a house should be kept by a woman and if otherwise is seen as crazy. A common 19th century house had “beautiful, ornate objects–elaborate patterns in cloth covering walls, ornate furniture, pianos, paintings..”(Lavender 4), but Minnie’s house was the total opposite. Minnie’s house was old, dirty and gloomy with scratched furniture. The contrast between kitchens is drastic and reveals information about Minnie’s life with her husband. Minnie’s dirty kitchen symbolizes her tragic life and reveals the attitudes of men. It goes to show how John Wright acted towards Minnie and his true nature of violence. Minnie was mocked by her dirty kitchen but was never put into consideration how her life was at home, thus reveals the hardships of farm wives in the 19th century.
The dead bird and the bird cage symbolizes the misery faced by Minnie in her marriage and farm wives in the 19th century. Minnie and Mr. Peters find the dead bird and notice that “Somebody wrung its neck” (Glaspell 302). The women realize that Mr. Wright ripped open the door and killed the bird. Minnie represents the dead bird being killed by her husband mentally. She was confined to her marriage which reveals the symbol of the bird cage. Also, It represents women as the bird and men as the cage. Women are being trapped in society by men, where they can only be what they are told. There’s a clear and evident contrast of Minnie before and after her marriage. Mrs. Hale remembers Minnie as “real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery” (Glaspell 300) before her marriage to John Wright. Mrs. Hale remembers her as a beautiful young girl with spirit and after her marriage to John, she was isolated and confined to her home. The dead bird symbolizes the cruelty of John and Minnie’s death. This torment that John has given to Minnie can have many traumatic affects and “ should have triggered murderous behavior in Minnie Wright is therefore neither gratuitous nor melodramatic..” (Hedges 5). It’s expected for someone to go insane in these conditions. He killed the bird so Minnie could have nothing. He killed the only thing left that Minnie loved so she killed him. She not only murder’s her husband, but also she murders her old self, which was all caused by Johns cruelty.
In the late 1800’s, women were oppressed and seen as the submissive figure in a patriarchal society. In “A Jury of Her Peers” Minnie Wright represents how women were treated in this society. Glaspell uses symbols to reveal how women were oppressed. The symbols used were trifles, Minnie’s unorganized kitchen, and the dead bird and bird cage which all played a role in this patriarchal society. The symbols used in this short story portrayed how society was like for women dominated by men, especially Minnie Wright who was accused of killing her husband. It is obvious that women were oppressed and suffered greatly in society and in marriages.