A Jury of Her Peers
Review of Susan Glaspell’s Story, A Jury of Her Peers
A Jury of Her Peers
In her short story, A Jury of Her Peers, author Susan Glaspell writes about the investigation of a murder that occurred at a farmhouse in the country. The story takes place in the early 1900s before women could sit on juries. Therefore, whenever a woman was on trial, a jury of her peers really was not judging her. As the story begins, Martha Hale and her husband are being taken by Sheriff Peters with his wife, and the county attorney, to the isolated home of the Wrights. Mr. Hale tells the Sheriff and the county attorney that on the previous morning he found Mr. Wright strangled to death. He also tells them that Mrs. Wright claimed that she did not know who had killed him. As a result, Mrs. Wright was arrested and was waiting to be charged.
As they entered the house they came upon the kitchen, which would become the central location of the story. As the men searched around for any clues, they continuously made jokes about the things that the women were concerned about. In addition, they put the women down at every opportunity. What they didnt realize was that the kitchen held many clues as to the life of abuse and violence that Mrs. Wright had been forced to endure. However, the signs that the men had ignored were clearly seen and understood by the women. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters were to gather clothing and to see if they could find any clues while the men turned to their more serious work of trying to find a motive. Although the men were making jokes as to whether the women would know a clue if they saw one. What they didnt realize was that the women would not only find a clue, but they would find the clues that would be the make or break of the case. In a basket of patches that appeared to be for a quilt, the women found a strangled canary. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters piece together the difficult life of the third woman, Mrs. Wright, and decide to conceal the evidence that could incriminate her. Thus, A Jury of Her Peers was indeed judging Mrs. Wright.
It was very obvious that the men were interpreting a number of the clues completed different than the women were seeing them. For instance, when the men found incomplete tasks all around the kitchen they made jokes about it and called them signs of an incompetent housekeeper. However, to the women these were clear signs of an unstable conscience. The incomplete tasks in Mrs. Wrights kitchen told the women that she acted very soon after Mr. Wrights strangling of the bird. The most important clue that the women found was the bird. The bird, as far they could see it, acted as a substitute for the child that Mrs. Wright never had. In addition, it helped to replace the silence of her cold, demanding husband. The bird also helped them to see that when Mr. Wright killed the canary, he seemed to also kill her spirit. The different meanings of the word knot seems to fit the storyline quite well, however, it also appears to leave one with an image of Mr. Wright with a rope around his neck. Although, to the two women, it represents that they will knot tell anyone about their secret.
It was obvious to both Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters just what had happened. However, without even discussing it they knew that if they let the men find the bird that they would have the motive they were so anxiously searching for around the house. They both understood what Mrs. Wright had been going through and obviously felt that she had already served a sentence equal to the crime. Thus, the reason for the title, A Jury of Her Peers, was being seen in the way Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters decided to try and cover up the evidence that would most likely have led to a guilty verdict for Mrs. Wright. Thus, Mrs. Hale put the dead bird in her pocket where it would never be found, and hoping that Mrs. Wright would be found not guilty, because of a lack of a motive.
A Jury of Her Peers opens with Mrs. Hale leaving her house her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted (1; numbers in parentheses indicate paragraph). Mrs. Hale hadnt planned to go to the Wright house by Mrs. Peters, the sheriffs wife wished Mrs. Hale would come too… The sheriff guessed she was getting scary and wanted another woman along. The Machiavellism of the gentlemen is oppressive. The county attorney, Mr. Henderson, when asking Mrs. Peters to look for clues made Mr. Hale wonder aloud Would the women know a clue if they did come upon it? The women, however, where able to identify clues and determine the motivation and the justification of the crime. In A Jury of Her Peers, the jury, Mrs.
Peters and Mrs. Hale, exonerate Mrs. Wright. The exoneration was based on evidence of Mrs. Wright having been a good housewife, her acceptance of her circumstance and the final cruelty of Mr. Wright.
Mrs. Wright was a good housewife. The were to myopic to see anything other than the superficial. Dirty dishes, groceries not put away and when Mr. Henderson found the towels in the towel rack dirty he commented Not much of a housekeeper… Martha Hale knew those towels get dirty quick. The condescending attitude of Mr. Henderson shone when he laughed Ah, true to your sex, I see. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters felt the unease which was deeper than the fact a murder had been committed in the house. Several times The two women had drawn nearer.
The county attorney looked around the kitchen. Mr. Peters gave a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things. The cupboards were substandard and unsightly. Mr. Henderson opened one As if its queerness attracted him. Inside were the burst remains of Mrs. Wrights preserves. Mrs. Peters remembered than that She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. A poor housekeeper who had just murdered her husband wouldnt have been overly concerned with her jarred fruit.
There were groceries out, half put away. Mrs. Hale was scandalized by leaving her kitchen in such disarray. It was no ordinary thing that called her away… Mrs. Hale had noticed ..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. Wright was a good housekeeper. No ordinary thing could have forced Mrs. Wright to leave her kitchen in such a way. Mrs. Peters had come to the Wright house to gather a few of Mrs. Wrights personal belongings. Her belongings were somewhat shabby and wore. A rather peculiar item was requested. Mrs. Wright wanted her apron. Mrs. Peters determined she had wanted it just to make her feel more natural. If youre used to wearing an apron…. An inadequate housewife wouldnt feel natural in an apron. Mrs. Wright had also
asked for her shawl. Mrs. Peters knew exactly where to find the shawl per Mrs. Wrights instruction. A woman who doesnt keep a tidy house doesnt know where things are precisely.
Mr. and Mrs. Wright had been married for twenty years. Mr. and Mrs. Hale were the Wrights neighbors. Mr. Wright had gone to ask Mr. Wright about installing telephone service when he discovered what had transpired. Mr. Hale thought perhaps if he could explain how the womenfolk liked the telephones. However, Mr. Hale think as
what his wife wanted made much difference to John-. John was not a caring individual. Mrs. Hale described him as a man who didnt drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man. Like a raw wind
that gets to the bone. Twenty years Mrs. Wright lived with a man who chilled ones bones and never complained.
Mrs. Hale hadnt seen much of Mrs. Wright over the years as the Wright house never seemed a very cheerful place. Minnie Foster, as Mrs. Hale remembered her, was a bright, girl who sang in the choir and wore pretty clothes. Mrs. Peters had only met Mrs. Wright the evening before, when the sheriff had brought her in under arrest. Mrs. Hale remembered Minnie as kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery. How – she- did- change. She had had nice things, when she was young. There was no evidence of any niceties in the Wright house. Minnie Foster wore threadbare clothes, sat in an old broken down rocking chair and had to cook on a broken stove. The gloom was depressing yet Mrs. Wright kept to herself and didnt complain.
Mrs. Peters found a broken bird cage, one hinge has been pulled apart.. In the darkness of her world, Mrs. Wright found some beauty. Mrs. Peters also found the birds mutilated body. The birds body was found in a pretty box, Ill warrant that was something she had a long time ago – when she was a girl. The last vestige of Minnie Fosters happiness was going to be used as a coffin. For her to use one of the only pretty things found in her life to bury her pet shows the deep affection Mrs. Wright must have felt for it. Mrs. Peters argued Of course we dont know who killed the bird. To which Mrs. Hale simply replied I knew John Wright.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters didnt speak of their feelings. Mrs. Hale saw the truth of the situation before Mrs. Peters. The two womens eyes met in an unspoken communication through their investigation. There was nothing peaceful in the Wright house, for years. Then for a time Minnie had the sweet sound of a canary. Even Mrs. Peters couldnt deny. Mr. Wright had been strangle in his bed. It was an odd way to kill a man, Mr. Henderson needed motivation. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters found justification. The two of them removed the bird without speaking a word. They understood.
Unseen Irony: An Interpretation Of Susan Glaspell’s A Jury Of Her Peers
Throughout Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” there were many instances of irony mostly caused by the men, which ultimately prevented them from completing their goal of solving Mr. Wright’s murder. Glaspell wanted to emphasize the men’s lack of respect for the women’s intelligence as being the main reason why they were unable to solve the murder by having the men address the women “with good natured superiority” and say things such as “Women are used to worrying over trifles.” or “well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!”. In another ironic turn, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters ultimately find power in being devalued, for their low status allows them to keep quiet at the play’s end. The women are able to go about their own investigation unhindered by the men because of their perceived lack of ability to use any of the information gained. This is what allows them to go through the house and see Minnie’s old clothes, proof that her husband was stingy and didn’t think a woman needed nice or new clothes. The jars of preservatives, to show that so much work needed to be done on a farm and that Minnie wasn’t sheltered from any of it. The unfinished quilt, made with a particular technique called “knotting, this could also be a metaphor for Mrs. Wright tying a knot around her husband’s neck, which is why the women are so confident, after realizing that she did indeed kill her husband, that she was going to knot the quilt. The final piece being the canary with the broken neck, which the women realized was so much like Mrs. Wright. The women remember how much she liked to sing and how free she used to be, but now she was just locked in the house every day just like the bird. Because the men were walking around absolutely sure of their superior detective skills, they were none the wiser. ‘A Jury of Her Peers,’ Susan Glaspell reveals obvious sexism which leads to the women’s sense of justice being altered and ironically preventing the men from solving the murder.
Mael Phyllis points out how “women share their experiences” which could allow them to “act out of a new respect for the value of their lives as women, different from, but certainly equal to, the world of men”. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are able to share memories of their own lives, which were similar to Minnie’s, just different in her own way. All of the women lived on a farm, they all had to work to make it through the next week, they were all married, some had kids. But Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters weren’t so downtrodden, their husbands loved them and treated them well enough. The two women talk about how Mr. Wright and how he could be a rough around the edges individual, how he had suppressed Minnie’s naturally vibrant personality and turned their home into a cold place. Going through the same general lives on different properties bring the women together in a way that the men could not understand and showing their open sexism to the women only strengthen this bond, ironically making it more and more difficult for the men to solve the murder. Phyllis Mael goes on to say that Glaspell understood when women are brought closer through their experiences they could be empowered to make decisions that they otherwise would not be able to. This empowerment is what possibly helped Mrs. Peters the most. Since she was “married to the law” the men had no doubts as to what side she would pick if she found any evidence, they thought that her sense of justice and right and wrong were just as strong as theirs because of the man she married. The men never could have anticipated that their open arrogance would completely and so easily sway a person from their own moral code in just a few minutes and actually push her to aid a murderer, just another ironic outcome of their sexism.
In 1917 most states still did not allow women to sit on a Jury, which meant Minnie would almost certainly been judged by an all-male jury and stereotypically an all-male jury would deliver a guilty verdict to a woman accused of a crime. The women wanted to make sure Mrs. Wright was truly judged by her peers, people who knew her struggles and life. The two women couldn’t stand the sexism and the way Minnie was treated, so much so, that they didn’t even need to have a conversation beforehand, it was just silent agreement. They needed to know that in their eyes she was being given a fair chance, not by men in a courtroom, not by the same type of person that had already pushed Mrs. Wright to murder and gotten her into this situation in the first place.
Tales of Mirrored Melancholy: The Yellow Wallpaper and A Jury of Her Peers
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman and “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell have plots of very different naturesin one, a mentally disturbed woman is taken to a reclusive house to recuperate while in the other, a woman is accused of killing her husband. However, one common thread that the stories share is the idea of how women at this time are treated or expected to act by others. “The Yellow Wallpaper” describes the life of a lonely woman whose lack of contact with anyone other than her husband causes her to develop a growing obsession with the wallpaper in her bedroom. On the contrary, in “A Jury of Her Peers,” Minnie Foster, a woman accused of killing her neglectful husband is never formally introduced, as she is in jail while the story takes place. The story instead follows two housewives, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, who happen to stumble upon Mrs. Foster’s infatuation her beloved dead pet. It may seem that the main character in “The Yellow Wall Paper” and Minnie Foster in “A Jury of Her Peers” are treated in entirely different ways by those around them as one woman is coddled by her husband while Minnie Foster is ignored by hers, but in reality, both stories highlight the lonely and obsessive tendencies of women in isolation as well as the guilt they feel when they cannot live up to society’s expectations of them.
Although the husbands of Minnie Foster and the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” had different motives for the treatment of their wives, both women end up feeling dispirited and lonely. John, the husband of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” brings his wife out to a faraway house in order to cure her of the “temporary nervous depression” and “slight hysterical tendency” that he, as a physician, has prescribed her with (74). As part of his treatment, he tells her that she is “not allowed to work” (74) until she is well again. Although John’s demand demonstrates the chauvinistic tendencies of men at the time, he truly believes that his methods will cure his wife. Unlike the narrator in the previous story, Minnie Foster, a controversial figure and suspected murderer in “A Jury of Her Peers” spends most of her time in her house not because her husband is trying to help her, but because she doesn’t have good relationships with him or anyone else. Similarly to the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Minnie Foster’s house is a “lonesome looking place” (Glaspell, 155) however, Minnie spends most of her time there doing housework or farming while her husband is out at work. The description of Minnie’s house as “lonesome” further illustrates Mrs. Wright’s solitude. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” John ensures that his wife refrains from human contact, including their own child, and when the narrator asked him if her cousins could visit, she recalls that “he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow case as to have those stimulating people about me now” (Gilman, 78). Comparing his wife’s cousins to “fireworks” helps to illustrate how dangerous he feels they will be to her. Antithetically, in “A Jury of Her Peers,” the two women at Minnie’s house discuss her husband, calling him “a hard man” and lamenting how he was out at work all day and “no company when he did come in” (167). Although John’s treatment is extreme, he honestly thinks that he is curing his wife. However, the narrator’s isolation still makes her feel depressed and lonely, as she admits to “cry at nothing, and cry most of the time,” (Gilman, 79) while in “A Jury of Her Peers” the women’s sympathy and their portrayal of Mr. Wright as “no company” to his wife suggests Mrs. Wright’s loneliness is a result of her husbands neglectfulness.
Despite both women feeling unhappy and alone, they are still expected to maintain the attitudes and responsibilities of “the cult of domesticity” and feel guilty when they cannot live up to those expectations. Women at this time were expected to be submissive, pious, pure, and handle all of the domestic aspects of family life. These expectations can be seen when the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” writes in her journal that “John says the worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (75). The narrator’s admission of guilt for disobeying her husbands orders illustrates that she feels the need to remain submissive and unopinionated, even regarding matters about her own health. Minnie Foster, on the other hand, feels the need to follow a different branch of the cult of domesticity as she strives to complete her domestic responsibilities such as farm work, cleaning the house, and knitting, despite being unhappy and lonely. During the investigation of Minnie’s kitchen, Mrs. Peters opens the cupboard to find ruined fruit and tells Mrs. Hale that Minnie had been “worried” that it would spoil “when it got so cold last night” (Glaspell, 159). Right after this discovery, the group was walking around Minnie’s disheveled kitchen and found some dirty washcloths, which causes the sheriff, Mrs. Peter’s husband, to conclude that Minnie was “not much of a housekeeper” (160). Minnie’s “worry” about her fruit while she is spending the night in jail shows she feels guilty that she could not complete her domestic responsibilities and illustrates that women at this time were socialized to always be cognizant of these duties so as not to be perceived as unladylike by people such as Mr. Peters. The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also focused on her domestic responsibilities, as seen later on in the story. When she is really starting to become haunted by the wallpaper in her room, she tries to tell John how she feels, but he silences her with a “stern, reproachful look” (Gilman, 82). He then continues on to tell her that she needs to get better, “for my sake, and for our child’s sake, as well as your own” so his wife then “said no more” on the subject (82). The narrator’s immediate silence is caused by not only John’s mention of their child, but also the “reproachful look” that he gives her, illustrating both her understanding of the importance of her role as a housewife and mother and the guilt she feels for not being able to fulfill those duties even though she is sick. Despite being lonely and unhappy, both Minnie Foster and the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” are expected to be typical, submissive housewives.
Although Minnie Foster is in more of a social isolation while the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is in a physical isolation, both women develop unhealthy obsessions during this time due to lack of contact with the outside world. Because the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is not allowed to see anyone except her husband, she develops a strange relationship with the wallpaper in her bedroom. She admits to “watch it always” (83) and although she was at first afraid of it, she soon grows to like the room not despite, but “because of the wallpaper” (79). The narrator’s change of feelings towards the wallpaper represent the beginning of a relationship that goes beyond the normal bond between humans and objects. Minnie Foster, on the other hand, is not physically isolated from other people as she has neighbors and a husband, but she does feel socially removed from them. Due to her lack of friends, Minnie develops a friendship with her bird that quite resembles the narrator’s relationship to her wallpaper, as it serves as a replacement for relationships with other human beings. Similarly to this, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator’s desperate need for companionship drives her to convince herself that she can see a woman “creeping about behind that pattern” (81) and suddenly she starts to see her “out of every one of my windows” (85). Therefore, the night before her and John are scheduled to leave the house, she becomes so desperate to find this elusive woman that she is willing to tear apart the entire room. In her journal, she recalls that “I pulled and she shook” (86) the wallpaper in an attempt to free her. This imagery describes the two working together, which shows that the narrator sees this woman as someone who can keep her company, clearly a result of her lack of contact with real people. Minnie Foster has an equally crazy reaction when her husband kills her bird, as she becomes so enraged that she “choked the life out of him,” (Glaspell, 170) killing him in the same manner he killed her bird. Minnie’s obsessive relationship with her bird as well as the unlikely friendship the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” discovers illustrate how women cope with different types of isolation and how far they are willing to go when the relationships they develop are threatened.
By comparing the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Minnie in “A Jury of Her Peers” it is easier to understand their motives for the desperate acts they are both driven to at the end of the stories. Although the two women had different backgrounds as one was a loved wife and mother while the other had been ignored and lonely, both women lost their sanity at the ends of their stories. Their acts of desperation suggest that perhaps it was not merely their loneliness that propelled them to seek out friends in odd places and commit acts of murder or madness, but also the guilt of not living up to the expectations that society had of them.
The Power of Her Peers: Critical and Feminist Perspectives on Glaspell’s Story
In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers,” Susan Glaspell presents to the reader the harsh reality that midwestern women in the 19th century faced. Through this short story Glaspell demonstrated the lack of political rights that women had and the constant stereotypical confines that women were held to. Most were seen as nothing more than a housewives, or women who stayed home and look after the children while their husband worked, were compliant with their husbands will, and were okay with just being seen as an empty a shell of beauty with no substance. With this considered, Carolyn Eastman still reports that “the rise of nineteenth-century domesticity and true womanhood remains one of the most powerful and vivid narratives in Americans women’s history” (Eastman, 250). The short story tells the story of Minnie Wright, who is accused of murdering her husband. While Minnie awaits trial, the sheriff, his wife, one of Minnie’s neighbors, his wife, and a county prosecutor inspect her house in order to find evidence to use against Minnie. While the men search, the women are collecting personal items to bring to Minnie. While looking through Minnie’s items the women find evidence through her little trifles that conclude and could convict Minnie of murdering by her abusive husband. In the end they decide not to tell on Minnie out of respect for Minnie’s suffering. It is too be assumed that the men and husbands never find the evidence that they were searching for but it is certain that, although belittled for “worrying over trifles”(Glaspell, 710), Susan Glaspell was able to portray the natural intellect, loyalty, and wit behind the commonly unappreciated female character. This portrayal is praised widely and Elaine Hedges truly applauds Glaspell “reflectors of crucial realities in the lives of 19th and early 20th century midwestern and western women.”(Hedges, 3) Although just a short story, “A Jury of her Peers” exposes the reality that women face on an everyday basis through strong female characters. This short story divulges the real treatment and depiction of how the female character is usually displayed. It manages to disclose how even though repressed and restricted to the sexist ideals society holds, women are intellectual, loyal, and empowered.
It is very common in works for the female character to be under minded, overlooked, or as Stephanie Haddad would report, for “events and actions to happen to women, usually for the sake of teaching a male character a lesson or sparking an emotion within him”. Often female characters are depicted as those in need of assistance or as a liaison for the information a man needs to get for his final goal. A majority of female characters never carry the role of learning the lesson or solving a case, but rather, the female character is used as symbol for a man to achieve his goals. Throughout world and literary history, women have been the step-stool for men to gather information, but what goes unnoticed is the acknowledgment of these women, and their constant success. In “A jury of her Peers” Mrs.Peters was able to take notice of the smallest detail and piece together evidence that establishes Minnie as a murderer. When Mrs.Peter explains to Mrs. Hale the reason why Minnie would usually not keep her jars out for the night, her husband laughs at her and, said “well, you can’t beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves” (Glaspell, 710). When in fact Minnie normally does not leave her preserves out because “ she’s worried that when it turned so cold at night…the fire would go out and her jars would bust”. (Glaspell, 710) Mrs.Peters was able to recognize that this act was out of the ordinary and was actually pointing out that something must have kept Minnie preoccupied, or else she would have put her jar away, per usual. Glaspell uses relatively female oriented items to portray evidence needed for Minnie’s conviction, to illustrate the memory capacity and attention to detail the female character usually can see and interpret. Glaspell did this to further reiterate the selective knowledge that a woman holds. By not using male-oriented or items that can be recognized by both genders, such as knives, guns, and sheds, Glaspell sets out to prove the importance of highlighting the female characters cunning intellect. Glaspell used the kitchen, a token assimilation for women, as a location for a majority of key details in the short story. Specific items in a kitchen can generally be recognized by a female, and that is why it was chosen as one of the major symbols of the short story. According to Kathleen Wilson, ”The kitchen is described as being in disorder with unwashed pans under the sink, a dishtowel left on table, a loaf of bread outside the breadbox, and other disarray. This gives the impression of no attention having been paid to cleaning up either recently or usually” (Wilson 3). By giving specific attention to these items Glaspell’s makes the point that a female character placement in the kitchen is not always for the purpose of cooking or cleaning and that the female character does not alway need to be focused on her task in the kitchen, rather she can have substance and could be focused on a higher or more important duty. This is supported when Mrs.Peters and Mrs. Hale notice a bucket of sugar on a low shelf. Mrs.Hale thought to herself about “ 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”(Glaspell, 711). Glaspell uses the kitchen as a symbol to display how through Mrs.Peter and Mrs. Hales knowledge on housekeeping, they were able to solve a murder a case and do anything a man can, or in this short story, couldn’t do. The female characters weren’t in the kitchen to cook, clean, or cater, they were their to problem solve and investigate, something the male characters of the short story didn’t think to do.
Glaspell also used Mrs.Peters husband to present how men in novel often discredited the a females characters information with the belief that because it is from a woman, it is not vital to their task. With this technique, Glaspell allowed the reader to truly understand Mrs.Peters importance, intelligence, how crucial she was in the investigation. This element, as Elaine Hedges would assert, “challenge the prevailing images and stereotypes of women as “fuzzy minded” and concerned only with “trifles,” and for its celebration of female sorority, of the power of sisterhood.”. If Mrs. Peters husband took what she had to say seriously, perhaps him along with the other men of the novel, would have gained the evidence they needed to convict Minnie. It was the men engaging and promoting the stereotype of women not having anything of substance to say, that lead to their failure in the case. Glaspell’s satirical tone emphasizes this claim and much like the novel “A Madwomen in the Attic” uses irony to demonstrate how intelligence isn’t often correlated with females, despite their constant strife. “The Madwoman in the Attic” presents an analysis that most females are criticized for being intelligent. It goes on to sarcastically report that society would rather prefer only cherubic and angelic women that only have “a life without external event’s… a life whose story cannot be told as there is no story.” (Gubar & Gilbert, 22) Gilbert and Gubar illustrate the realistic stereotype of females as void and empty despite the knowledge they may have in their lives or “stories”(Gubar & Gilbert, 22). “A Jury of Her Peers” seeks to reject the lens Gilbert and Gubar protray and illustrate the female character as one who has substances.
Glaspell’s short story also praises and demonstrates the devotion and bond that women have to one another. Mrs. Peters and Mrs.Hale worked together to concluded everything that led up to the murder of Mr.Hale. Phyllis Mael supports this in noting that “ it is unlikely that had either woman been alone, she would have had sufficient understanding or courage to make the vital decision, but as the trifles reveal the arduousness of Minnie’s life ( and by implication of their own), a web of sisterhood is woven which connects lives of all three”(Mael, 281) This expresses how the women, especially Mrs. Peters who is “married to the law” (Glaspell, 713) were dedicated to protecting their friend and fellow female. In, Stephanie Haddad article she critics male authors for allowing women to be “objectified, used, abused, and easily discarded.” and in regards to multiple novels that include death, “None of the women survive the novel, save another female or help another female, and if they live it is to serve a very specific function and impact a man’s life.”(Haddad, 4) Both Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale agreed they would tamper with the evidence to keep Minnie out of prison. With this Glaspell presented a short story with friendship as its root context. If Mrs.Hale wasn’t friends with the Mrs.Peter and Minnie she would have never gone to the house with her husband. In that case her along with Mrs.Peters wouldn’t have searched for motive, unlike their husbands that only searched for proof, and this lead the reader to wonder, would the end of the novel have the sense of ease and “happy ending” knowing that the women did tampered with the evidence and that Minnie may be going to prison after living 20 years of isolation and abuse. Off of the strength of friendship these women risked being arrested and having their reputations tarnished. Furthermore, these women have not seen Minnie in a long time, but still considered her a close friend to break the law for her, and even though she killed a man, lie for her. This demonstrates how the female character either doesn’t have a large enough role to make such a decision, or pick in favor of a man. Glaspell set out to prove that much like in reality, the female character is trustworthy, and devoted to the uplifting of their own gender.
Although, it could be said that Minnie’s abusive circumstances increased the reader admiration for Mrs.Hale and Mrs.Peters decision on their moral dilemma, but by Glaspell including Mrs. Peter and Mrs.Hale journey to Minnie conviction, it allows the reader to gain an appreciation for the females and their intellect. Furthermore, the decry of the women by their husband makes their discovery even more interesting. With every detection the women made the story of Minnie and the hold she was in with her husband is revealed. Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Hale proved the misogynistic view and symbolic cage that a stereotype has been create for women. All the women husbands acted like Gubar & Gilbert impractical notion that “man must be pleased; but him to please/is woman’s pleasure”. ( Gubar & Gilbert, 23) With keen eyes and skill Mrs. Peter and Mrs.Hale were able see that Mr.Foster forced Minnie into isolation, with the belief that she would be fine with it because he enjoyed the quiet, believed she would be content staying at home cooking and cleaning all day, and finally be pleased with everything because he was pleased. With this information the reader see’s the drive behind Minnie’s rage and loses and sympathy that may have been created for Mr. Foster. Glaspell short story sets out to uplift the female gender and to allow the reader to view some of the struggles that female face. This goal can’t be achieved if the reader has societal formulated bias, contracted from stereotypes, towards the murdered male character.
Hedges inserts the claim that “Glaspell uses a technical term from the world of women’s work in a way that provides a final triumphant vindication of her method throughout the story. If, like Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the reader can by now engage in those acts of perception whereby one sees into things, [and] through a thing to something else,” (Hedges, 10) The humble task of Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Hale knotting the quilt becomes resonant with this claim. Minnie has knotted a rope around her husband’s neck and is finally freed from his cage, and by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters not sharing they’re newly discovered information with their husbands have tied a knot that solidifies the women as one empower group of women. All three women are saying no to male authority, and in so doing they have knotted or bonded themselves together. With this short story Glaspell was able to show the reader what women as a gender are impacted by day by day, and as said earlier within the essay, prove how even though repressed women are intellectual, loyal, and empowered
With this in mind Jo Freeman’s novel, Women; A Feminist Perspective raise the point that “there is no reason to assume that the family goals that young women have been taught to value are any less important than the achievement goals so stressed for young men. If members of either gender group chose to compromise work, especially women, the economic cost of such choice would be substantial.” (Qttd. in Eccles 1987) This meaning that although women should not be confined to these stereotype women also can be elevated in the fact that even in the roles women are placed in women excel and have a more important task then give credit for. Glaspell pays especially attention to the role Minnie had in her house, and all that went into keeping up with her housewife lifestyle. When the women are describing unusually unkept kitchen, Glaspell is exhibiting to the reader all that Minnie must do while her husband is away. First Mrs.Hale described Minnie’s home as a “never a cheerful place” hinting that as the women of her house it was her task to bring cheer through her homemaking. Furthermore the wives discuss the various things that should have been corrected such as broken stove, a rocking chair of “a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back” (Glaspell,712), a dirty towel in the kitchen, a that chair sagged to one side, and even, when the women collect some of Minnie’s clothes to take to her in prison, the sight of “a shabby black skirt”(Glaspell, 712) that reminded Mrs. Hale of the “pretty clothes”(Glaspell, 712) that Minnie wore as a young girl before her marriage. This demonstrates some the smallest details that as a housewife, a woman had to take care. Usually it was done in isolation as well. Elaine Hedges notes that “Glaspell’s story reflects a larger truth about the lives of rural women. Their isolation induced madness in many. An article in 1882 noted that farmer’s wives comprised the largest percentage of those in lunatic asylums” (Hedges, 4) Minnie lived in this detached enclosure for 20 years, and seeing that Mrs.Hale and Mrs.Peter can detect all that was incorrect in Minnie’s home, proves that the women complete these complex task as well, while continuing to strive. Even though the workload seems large and constant, the female characters persevered and still continued accomplish more then the male characters.
Inequality persists due to the acceptance of separate gender roles more than any other factor. Although proven women still are strong, intelligent and, devoted to their gender because society doesn’t seek out and command women for their achievements “Women’s careers will still be considered secondary, and wives still bear the disproportionate responsibility for the home, children, and relationship (Freeman, 152). Society continues to endorse separate gender roles and short stories like Glaspell’s “A Jury of her Peers” seeks to uplift women even through the social confines they face daily.
Eastman, Carolyn. “Social History.” Social History, vol. 30, no. 2, 2005, pp. 250–252. www.jstor.org/stable/4287206.
Federico, Annette. Gilbert & Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic after Thirty Years. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2009. Print.
Freeman, Jo. Women, a Feminist Perspective. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 1995. Print.
Haddad, Stephanie S. “Women as the Submissive Sex in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.” Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 2.01 (2010). http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=139
Hedges, Elaine. “Small Things Reconsidered: Susan Glaspell’s’A Jury of Her Peers’.” Short Stories for Students, edited by Kathleen Wilson, vol. 3, Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Dec.2016
Glaspell, Susan. A Jury of Her Peers. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1993. Print.
“Kathleen Wilson A Jury of Her Peers.” Short Stories for Students. Ed.. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 154-176. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 Dec. 2016
Mael, Phyllis. “Trifles: The Path To Sisterhood.” Literature Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989): 281-284. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 8 Dec. 2016.
Trapped in the Wallpaper: The Impact of First-Person Narrative on Reader Empathy
The short stories “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell are somewhat similar. Each story is set in a different time and place, with different characters, different plots, and with considerably different narrative styles: they are very much separate, yet they are also analogous to each other. They each feature a revival of self, or the emergence of a new self awareness that had not previously existed in the main character. “The Yellow Wallpaper” employs an empathy-garnering narrative style that makes it more effective in allowing the reader to experience the awakening along with the narrator than “A Jury of Her Peers.” The first-person narrative connects the reader to the narrator, separates the reader from secondary characters, and uses deep, primal emotions to create a more relatable, personal experience.
The respective stories of the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Mrs. Peters in “A Jury of Her Peers” have distinct similarities. Each has an revival of self in which she reclaims her stolen autonomy from the man in her life. In “The Yellow wallpaper,” the unnamed narrator is locked away, with the eponymous yellow wallpaper, writing her story as a rebellious act and slowly separating herself from her loved ones. She slowly becomes less coherent and in the delirium the develops, she sees a woman crawling through the wallpaper. Eventually, near the end of the story she writes that she has become the woman. At the same time she breaks away from her husband and his power over her. Mrs. Peters finds evidence that could convict one of her peers of murder in a house that her husband, the sheriff, is searching. She has to make a decision: to convict the woman and remain subordinate to her husband, or to hide the evidence and break away from her husband. Her awakening comes when she decides to hide the evidence in a last moment scramble. Both women step up for themselves and reclaim their right to make decisions.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is written in a stream-of-consciousness, first-person style. This type of first-person narration can powerfully impact the way a reader experiences a story. In the case of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the first-person narration allows the readers to relate directly to the main character: the story utilizes the reader-narrator connection that is inherent to the style. This happens through a combination of ‘othering’ secondary characters and exclusively displaying the narrator’s perspective.
A commonly noted disadvantage of first-person narration is that the reader is limited to just one perspective for the entirety of a story. This limitation works to the advantage of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It imprisons the reader, by trapping them in the room with the main character and the wallpaper. While the main character experiences severe confinement at the hands of her husband, the person reading the story is paired with her. The narrative style is a parallel to the story itself, as she is trapped with the wallpaper and the reader is trapped with her. Part-way through the piece, the main character begins to put up walls against her husband and her sister in law. She paints them as outsiders, describes her husband as “queer:”
“And that cultivates deceit, for I don’t tell him I’m awake-oh no! The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes and even Jennie has an inexplicable look” (Gilman 8)
The ‘othering’ of her loved ones pulls the audience farther into the mind of the main character. The reader is on the inside of these walls as an observer on the main character’s side.Although a modern reader might typically find it difficult to access the mindset of the narrator, the ‘othering’ of secondary characters and the restrictive properties of first-person narrative allow them to better experience the character’s awakening, not as a third party but as she feels it. These tactics cultivate a feeling of empathy. This is not necessarily a genuine empathy, but is rather artificially made by the style of writing to allow the audience to step into the experience and participate in the character’s big moment of realization. The reader is guided into the main characters experience by the structure of the story. This empathy is formed by specific instances peppered throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper” that draw on fear, anger, and sadness as primary emotions that the reader feels along with the narrator. Throughout the story, the reader knows that the narrator is not supposed to be writing. She writes that her husband has forbidden it. It is revealed that she is frantically writing her story, listening for the stairs, nervous at the possibility of being caught by her husband or her sister in law, and frustrated that she is not permitted to write. The reader follows her into this frightened, irritable mindset. By appealing to those innermost emotions, the writing has a deeper effect on the reader.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the use of personal pronouns and present tense creates a story that is seems to be happening as it is being read. If “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story that is happening, “A Jury of Her Peers” is a story that happened. This is the first level of separation between the character and the reader. “A Jury of Her Peers” is written in third-person omniscient, limited to the mind of Mrs. Hale. However, Mrs. Hale is not the character who experiences the awakening during the course of the story, as she sympathizes with Winnie Foster from the beginning. Instead it is Mrs. Peters who has a moment of drastic change. Despite this being a story of Mrs. Peters’ awakening, it is Mrs. Hale’s mind the reader is given access to. In contrast to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in “A Jury of Her Peers,” the reader is given a limited view of Mrs. Peter’s emotions and thoughts. It is difficult to relate to Mrs. Peters and share in the experience of her awakening if the reader cannot easily relate to her. During the most critical moments in her decision-making process Mrs. Peters erects barriers between herself and Mrs. Hale, and by extension, the reader: “‘Why, I don’t know whether she did or not.’ [Mrs. Hale] turned to look at the cage Mrs. Peters 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 be real pretty herself’ Mrs. Peters looked around the kitchen. ‘Seems kind of funny to think of a bird in here.’ She half laughed—an attempt to put up a barrier” (Glaspell).
This is an example of a form of ‘othering’ found in “A Jury of Her Peers” that is not present in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” As stated previously, in the first person narrative, the reader is closed in with the character who has an awakening. However, in the third person narrative, the reader is shut out, away from the awakening character and the use of past tense distances the reader from the main character as well. This awakening woman is the most important character to relate to in order to experience the revival of self and the rebirth of autonomy. In the case of Mrs. Peters, the reader is actively denied entrance to the inner workings of the mind. In each story the reader is grouped differently with the characters. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the reader is grouped with the narrator and the secondary characters become outsiders. In “A Jury of Her Peers,” the reader is grouped with Mrs. Hale, making Mrs Peters an outsider, creating an environment in which the reader feels the same level of empathy or intense emotion towards her as a person. THe only place in the story where the reader can empathize with Mrs. Peters and feel the same panic she feels in her moment of decision, is contained within a few sentences at the climax of the story: “And then [Mrs. Peters] 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, started to take the bird out. But there she broke—she could not touch the bird. She stood there helpless, foolish.” (Glaspell)
Much like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Glaspell’s story uses primary emotions to draw the reader in. Mrs. Peter’s moment of awakening is intense and emotional. There is fear and panic in her split second decision to hide incriminating evidence from her husband to protect another woman. This highly stressful climax in the story is powerful but it does not offer the same experience as “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Due to the third person style and lack of personal pronouns, the reader may have difficulty empathizing with Mrs. Peters as the story primarily asks them not to understand Mrs. Peters, but to understand that she is feeling these emotions.
By the end of the story, Mrs. Peters has to make a firm decision about who she sides with. She reclaims her autonomy and decides to hide the bird. This is the moment she changes. Mr. Hale jokes at the end of the story that “a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” (Glaspell). Though she is married to her husband, by the end of the story, she is not “married to the law” in the same way she had been when they first arrived at the Wright house.
Both “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “A Jury of Her Peers” involve the awakening of a woman as she reclaims her ability to make her own decisions. The texts utilize similar intense emotions to help the reader feel connected to the characters and allow them to take part in the awakenings. The third-person narration of “A Jury of Her Peers” is less effective than “The Yellow Wallpaper” because a first person narrative is naturally more personal and creates a sense of unity with the main character through separation from the secondary characters. Although each story is an emotional experience of its own, when compared, Gilman’s story is a stronger experience for the reader.