These lines give us the clearest definition in the play of what society considered a "good man" at this time. Mr. Wright didn't drink, lie, or ring up a bunch of debt. Notice how the play immediately undercuts this, though, Mrs. Hale points out how harsh and unloving he was. Hmm, wonder what the play is saying makes a good man?MRS. PETERS: (in a whisper) When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—(covers her face an instant) If they hadn't held me back I would have—(catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly)—hurt him. (126)Not only does the play portray men as cold hearted misogynists and bird stranglers, little boys are shown as axe murderers with a taste for kittens. Well, we've only got one kitty-killing little boy, but you get the point. Over and over again, the play shows men as aggressors against women and the things women cherish.COUNTY ATTORNEY: [...] 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: Not—just that way.SHERIFF: (chuckling) Married to the law. The men are totally confident in the idea that a man's wife is his property. In their minds, there's no way that Mrs. Peters could be up to sketchy business. Immediately after these comments, Mrs. Peters actively tries to hide the evidence, so the irony seems to be that the men's overconfidence in their total control is very thing that causes them to lose control over the situation.Freedom and Confinement
HALE: [...] I opened the door [...] and there in that rocker—(pointing to it) sat Mrs. Wright.(They all look at the rocker.)COUNTY ATTORNEY: What—was she doing?HALE: She was rockin' back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of—pleating it. (12-14)Thanks for putting that creepy image in our heads, Mr. Hale. Seriously, though, here's a question for all you super-sleuth Shmoopers out there. Why didn't Mrs. Wright run away? She'd just killed the husband who had her trapped. She was finally free. What made her confine herself in the house and wait to be caught?SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves. (30)This line is the first definite confirmation we get that Mrs. Wright is now confined in jail. It's horrible, right? She killed the husband who made her feel imprisoned for years only to end up in literal jail. What do you think this shows on a larger symbolic level?MRS. PETERS: Of course it's no more than their duty. (52)Mrs. Peters is talking about the men and their investigation when she says this. Let's flip things around a little bit. In what way might the men be confined by their duty to the law? Even if they did have the empathy to understand what drove Mrs. Wright to murder her husband, would they have the freedom to help her?