Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” presents the roles that women are expected to play in society. Minnie Wright is a woman who suffers cruelty and neglect at the hands of her husband. She is a hostage in her own home and is the victim of an abusive relationship. The longer he holds her captive, the more she begins to reflect on his reclusive character. The setting of “A Jury of Her Peers” reveals Minnie Wright’s lack of external emotion, isolation from society, and despair through imprisonment.
Minnie’s lack of external emotion stems from years of abuse. Because of the abuse, she is seemingly unfazed when she talks of her husband’s death. Minnie appears apathetic and speaks dispassionately as if she is entirely unfazed by her loss. The readers learn that Mr. Wright is a “hard man” (116) and like a “raw wind that gets to the bone” (116). He is not an affectionate man and provides no companionship for her. Even when John is around, his presence would not be “any the cheerfuller” (113). He distances himself from Minnie as if she is invisible and her existence is irrelevant. John’s death liberates her from her unhappiness.
By isolating Minnie from society, she is slowly driven to madness. Mr. Wright is in complete control of her life. Although she is already cut off from the outside world, it does not help that her husband provides her with a “lonesome-looking” (110) house and an “old-fashioned kitchen” (112). She is being deprived of the happy and beautiful things in life and has to live out her days inside the comfortless house, being refused even bits and pieces of modern civilization. Furthermore, the couple wears “shabby clothes” (114) that have the marks of “much making over” (114). Her husband is very strict about money, so he does not allow Minnie to buy or make new clothes for them, making her solitary life even more restraining. If she cannot escape the seclusion, the least he can let her do is live a semi-comfortable life.
Minnie’s despair results from John refusing her individuality and is mentally debilitating her. For some time, she finds a friend in a canary bird. It becomes her life. Before her marriage to John Wright, she used to be “like a bird herself” and was “real sweet and pretty” (116). All her spirit diminishes when she marries him. The bird is caged just as Minnie is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband. He figuratively strangles the life out of her as he does to the bird. She is broken down by John and becomes his prisoner. Her character is the chair she sits on that “sag[s] to one side” and “does not look in the least like Minnie Foster” (111). Minnie, a once bright and lively person, owns a dull chair. It has depreciated over the years, just like Minnie. The last bit of Minnie’s spirit dies with the bird.
Glaspell illustrates how the men possess power and authority while the women are interested in community and empathy. She tries to elevate women by putting down men. Her goal is to manipulate the readers’ feelings and make them question their morals. The women know that the small things carry great meaning and ultimately possess all the power in the end. The self-destructiveness of John Wright slowly overwhelms the youthful vivacity of his wife.