A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 9 – A Jury of Her Peers

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Nine – A Jury of Her Peers, by Susan Glaspell

Read it online here:

A Jury of Her Peers

A Jury of Her Peers was adapted by Susan Glaspell from her play Trifles. The story was loosely based on the murder of John Hossack, which Glaspell covered when she was a journalist. In the factual case, a farmer was killed with an axe while he slept. His wife, Margaret, was convicted of the crime, but the case was overturned and the retrial ended in a hung jury.

The short story is considered an early example of feminist literature. In it, the attitudes and abilities of the two women are contrasted with the men involved in the investigation of the murder. The men rush around, speculating about what might have happened and tease the women about their attention to trivial facts such as how the wife of the murdered man is making her quilt.

However, it is the women that discover the clue that reveals the truth of the murder. What they deduce from the clue and what they decide to do with it is the crux of the story and what makes it resonate.

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! Who’s going to punish that?”