A Jury of Her Peers
A Depiction Of Crime in a Jury of Her Peers
A Jury of Her Peers
In the short story “A Jury of Her Peers” written by Susan Glaspell, a spirit had obviously been destroyed by abuse, murder, and death. Minnie Wright was no longer the innocent girl everyone had known her to be because her spirit had been crushed. It’s truly unknown what really went on that night, but two women reveal the true nature of the crime through symbolism. As the men search for answers, the women find the truth in the kitchen. Jars of preserves, a broken birdcage, and a quilt unfinished will tell what really happened and, perhaps, what the men were looking for. Sometimes women are often underappreciated, under estimated, and left to feel worthless. Minnie Wright was in the right for what had went on the night before, but would the law find the truth, or would her peers keep it a secret?
The narrator in “A Jury of Her Peers” speaks in third person omniscient voice and gives an objective, which translates the facts, not speaking in the characters voices, but speaking through their voices. Minnie Foster’s life is told through her old friend who she had not seen in twenty years. “She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively- when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that- oh, that was twenty years ago.” (Glaspell 207) Mrs. Hale went telling the sheriffs wife, ““Wright was close!” she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black shirt that bore the marks of much making over.” (Glaspell 207) Minnie Foster was no more as now she had been Minnie Wright for twenty years and it was showing by the look of her farm house on the outskirts of the community and the clothes she had.
Mrs. Wright had asked for her apron and her shawl which had hung on the stair way door. As the sheriff, the county attorney, and Mr. Hale looked around upstairs, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale looked through the kitchen to find clues as to what happened on the night of Mr. Wright’s death. The men had already found her preserves. They had all been ruined except one jar of cherries. Minnie would be so devastated with all the hard work she put into putting up those jars of fruit. The sheriff’s wife then became sympathetic for Minnie Wright. “Oh- her fruit,” she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding.” (Glaspell 205) The jar of cherries would be taken to Minnie. This was only the beginning of what the women would find in Minnie Wright’s house. Mrs. Wright had asked for an apron and her shawl to be brought to her.
Looking around the kitchen, the woman found the oven to be worn out and the stove to be broken. The thought of working in that kitchen year after year discouraged Mrs. Hale. “She was then startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: “A Person gets discouraged and loses heart.”” After twenty years, Minnie Foster was no longer the pretty girl the town knew; she was Minnie Wright who had turned heartless. As the men had come back down stairs, the women had found a quilt that Minnie had been working on and it was beautiful but not yet finished. The closer the women looked at it, they found a piece that was not like the rest. “”All the rest of them have been so nice and even but this one. Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!”” Something had gone on that had made Minnie nervous and upset that’s for sure, but what exactly happened? The women kept looking in the cupboard and found a birdcage that the door was broken. Where was the bird and what was Minnie doing with a cage without a bird? Then they found the bird wrapped in silk and placed in a pretty box. “”But, Mrs. Peters!” cried Mrs. Hale. “look at it! Its neck look at its neck! It’s all other side to!”” Someone had wrung its neck! The women felt sympathetic for Minnie Wright and when the men came back in they hid the bird. No one would know the truth of what happened that night. No one except Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Wright.
We all go through tough times in life when we just cannot catch a break. People and certain conditions change people. Women are often looked down on. Minnie Wright took care of her burden that had changed her. He wrung the neck of the bird that made her happy, so she wrung the neck of the one that changed her and brought her down. Minnie was a woman guilty of murder, but the man deserved what he had gotten. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters saw that, and they hid what the men needed to convict Minnie of a crime. Glaspell did not intend to persuade murder for fixing the problems you have in life but perhaps to kill the emotions and get rid of what changes a person for the worst.
Questions About Justice in a Jury of Her Peers
A jury of Her Peers is one of Susan Glaspell has been one of the best-known novels alongside The Glory of the conquered. This short story is inspired by the Hossack’s case where Margaret Hossack murdered her husband and was sentenced to prison, however, she was realised due to the insufficient evidence. The John Hossack case was never solved. The transformation of the real case into fiction is really interesting, the way she liberally supplies the missing evidence and motive in the story, and as a result, it with the characters, the search for evidence, the crime and the judgement gives a different way of viewing the situation. The books bring a lot of questions about justice and about judgement and punishment. It also brings the question about deception and loyalty between men and women that counterbalances law and justice.
In the story, there are many definitions of justice which opens up the possibility of more than one crime in the story. The strangling of John Wright is taken as revenge by Minnie Wright, she wants vengeance which is a more apparent view of justice compared to Mrs Hale’s proposal. “Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! …That was a crime! That was a crime! Who is going to punish that” (p.159, line 23-24). She suggests that she may have contributed to Minnie’s abandonment. That shows another level of subjectivity which creates another form of justice by the women. They try to protect Minnie from guilt although they find out she is guilty of loneliness and abuse which is not viewed by the American legal system that is created by men, so they do not see these problems as crime, or even as legitimate reasons in order to take them into account in their analysis.
The men want foreseeing evidence where as Mrs Peters and Mrs Hale want to find clues to explain the crime. They discuss Minnie’s past and they sympathise her past so they decide to build a puzzle for Mr Wright’s murder which gets the men deceived, especially Mrs Peter’s husband who is the sheriff. Because the men are reluctant to consider the fact the quilting, the preserves, and the stove are incriminating details to the crime. For instance, the idea of women using sarcasm to convince the men that trifles are important “The law is the law and a bad stove is a bad stove”(p.153, line 3). Their deception shows loyalty to another woman instead of their husbands. After the men have searched the premises, they cannot make a decision. At the end, Mrs Peters tells that “a sheriff’s wife is married to the law”. When he asked if she sees it that way, she replies “Not-just that way”.
The men investigating the crime are unsuccessful in finding incriminating evidence that would have caused Minnie to kill her husband because they are in the unfamiliar territory. The division between public and private life is clear. The women remain isolated in a private sphere subjugated as housekeepers, and the men are required to function as breadwinner. Women did not have knowledge of male’s practices such as business, as well as men who have no knowledge in housekeeping. The realm of the kitchen is strange to the sheriff and other males that do not have the same understanding that women have. To the men, dirty towels is a sign of sloppy housework, but the women know that housekeeping is difficult, and the sign of dirty towels, broken jars, and hard work during the summer shows that Mrs Wright could not finish her tasks due to her profound depression at the time. Because the men are unfamiliar with women’s work, the men are quick to dismiss it and would not take it into consideration in their investigation.
Whilst Mrs Hale and Mrs Peter walk around the house Mrs Peters noticed that “All the sewing has been nice and even, but one and says she did not know what she was about” (p.154, line 11-13). This quote refers to one of the important symbols which is the “quilt”. The quilts represent Minnie’s life. All of the quilts were neat and sawn properly except one, this shows that from the outside her life was neat, but the inside is made literally of scarps. When John killed the bird, it was Minnie’s last bit of personality that she held for herself. She was angry, bewildered and did not know what “she was a about’’ The question that is posed for Minnie is whether she ‘’quilts’’ or ‘’knots it’’. She had to decide between quilt which means she had to live the rest of her life in pain, or she would knot meaning she would change her life for better.
Given these points, we can see that justice opens doors for more than one crime. The American legal system which created by men does not approve the fact that a Minnie is guilty of loneliness and abuse. Mrs Hale and Mrs Peter try to convince the men that trifles are legitimate evidence, although they do not get much recognition due to their role in society. They hide evidence from the men so they would understand that justice should be served even if they are different because obviously men do not have the same understanding as women do which results the men not finding any evidence that could solve the crime.
Women’s Roles: Susan Glaspell’s, a Jury of Her Peers vs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper
A Woman’s Spot in the World
Although discrimination happens for various reasons all around the world, sexism seems to be the most well known barrier between men and women. In “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, we gain an insight on sexism and women’s perspectives towards the world and relationships. In both short stories, we see many overlapping similarities in the way woman were treated back then and even still treated now. Both Gilmann and Glaspell’s stories demonstrate women who were obviously trapped and confined by their marriages.
“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell is a short story that focuses on sexism but more so the gendered assumptions that men have for women. In the story, two female characters are able to solve a mystery that the male characters cannot based off their own knowledge of women’s psychology. Currently, women in society today have made huge strides and are working extremely hard for their equal rights. During the time period that “A Jury of Her Peers” was written in, women were to stay at home, take care of the housework, cook, clean, and raise children while husbands would come home from work and have the house be neat and clean for them. A lot has changed for women in society today and thankfully, sexism is not as prominent. However, sexism is not eliminated completely and can still be found all around.
In “A Jury of Her Peers” is that the women are forced to follow the men and are limited to what they can say or do, just like in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” A constant theme we also notice is that the men view the women as unintelligent beings and do not believe they are capable of anything. Examples of the men in the story doubting the women show when they state, “women are used to worrying over trifles,” (p.248) and “would the women know a clue if they did come upon it.” (p.249) The whole story ends up being ironic because the women actually discover the most important clue that explains the mystery around the murder. So despite the fact that the men doubted the women, they ended up being even more intelligent than the men and end up discovering the motive for the murder. I like how in the end, the women stick together and keep their knowledge hidden from the men to protect the culprit and make her seem not guilty.
I really enjoyed this short story because we got to see two different points of view between the men and women. The men kept saying how they were viewing the situation rationally and how the women were insignificant and would be no help at all. Meanwhile, the women viewed themselves with compassion and understanding and seemed to share a bonding relationship when they were empathizing over Minnie’s horrible married life with her husband. Overall, we see how sexism demeans women of their value and lessens their view on what they are capable of.
Referring back to modern day sexism, many men still to this day think that they are far superior and smarter than women. There are still many social limitations placed on women but I think we have come a long way from the past because many women are being used as detectives and judges now. This short story proves that women are equally just as strong, rational, and determined as men are, if not more.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is also a brilliant short story that everyone should read if they want to further understand what sexism was like back in the day. Immediately we see symbols and themes all over the place shown by Gillman. From a feminists perspective we experience the woman’s lack of freedom as she talks about going crazy and her husband’s power against her own will. We really empathize with the main character throughout the story with her little comments being made about her marriage, for example: “I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.” (p.228)
The main character goes through a serious mental breakdown and is repressed of all her creativity and freedom of speech when her husband, John, forces her to give up her writing. The woman’s imagination is a part of her and she mentions, “But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!” (p.231) Unfortunately, she begins to feel that she cannot write as openly and must follow along with her John’s instructions. In the story, if the narrator was not allowed to write in her journal nor read, she would begin to “read” the yellow wallpaper until she found what she was looking for: an escape from her depressing life. Referring back to sexism in society today, many women still feel as though they shouldn’t share their voices or opinions. It’s devastating how many times men have stolen ideas from women and lead them to believe that they are insignificant while getting credit for themselves.
Due to sexism and a man’s feeling of superiority, many women are unsure of their own sanity and feelings building up. For example, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the main protagonist isn’t sure whether to be scared of her husband or appreciative of what he appears to be doing for her. I think nowadays many men take women for granted and push that they know what is best for them. John constantly told her what to do and pushed her around because not only did he think he was doing the right thing, but because he could. Just like John in the story, in order to have control over women men dominated their wives during that time period in the 1800’s.
Basically, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” we saw a glimpse into the life of many women in the late 19th century and got to see the point of view of a woman going through depression and slowly turning more and more insane as her husband stays by her side. I think that a lot of women in married relationships during that period of time seemed to share a father and daughter relationship rather than an equal husband and wife one. There was nothing women could do about their sense of powerlessness and their lives in general.
The narrator used the wallpaper to represent the male dominated society she lives in. Not only does the wallpaper affect the narrator, but also it has an effect on everyone that comes in contact with it. The way the wallpaper is described in this short story shows how the narrator is using the wallpaper to represent her society. Towards the end of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I believe we see a “revival” as the main character finally gets freedom from her husband and realizes that she will not be suppressed any longer.
Back then, this story, along with “A Jury of Her Peers” and many others was necessary and helpful to women who really needed to feel a sense of companionship and love. Their husbands were controlling and even though many did love them, they didn’t show it and certainly didn’t make women feel as comfortable as they should. Unfortunately, this is still an issue for some in today’s society but women are now realizing their rights and are getting out of unhappy marriages rather than having to deal with unfair treatment. Many women felt isolated, because they lived in a patriarch society during the 19th century. Women were treated cruelly because men looked down at them. It was helpful that Glaspell spoke up about how women were feeling and being treated. This story really helps people look back and realize just how prominent sexism was and how unjust the treatment was towards women.
Reading about and analyzing “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “A Jury of Her Peers” Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Susan Glaspell really led me to understand the patriarchal society and oppression that was happening during that time. Sexism is still happening but is not as prominent as it once was. There were many hardships of women in a male-controlled society. Differences back then between men and women got in the way of solving problems together and happy marriages. Women and men were different in appearances, in rationality, in emotions, and in the way they thought in general. Throughout the story, women and men portrayed different concerns, priorities and interests. I think before the differences between men and women really got in the way of things, where as now, we are more and more alike and equal in our society together.
Understanding the Environment of a Narrative based on different stories
The setting of a short story dramatically affects the characters as evident in “The Things They Carried,” “A Worn Path,” and “A Jury of Her Peers.” The setting of a literary work can have a significant effect on the characters, and can affect they way they act, feel, and they way they perceive the world around them. First, we will look at how the setting affects the characters in “A Jury of Her Peers.”
The setting of “A Jury of Her Peers” dramatically affects the characters in this story. The location of Minnie Wright’s farm contributes to the reason why she murdered her husband. This is evident when Mrs. Hale says that the farm “had always been a lonesome looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the popular trees around it were lonely-looking trees.” (Glaspell 68) The farm being a lonesome place made Minnie feel lonely and discouraged. Also, the time period in which this story occurs is a time when the women of the household were burdened with many responsibilities, and they were expected to complete all of their responsibilities without the help of another person. This could contribute to the way Minnie felt, and it could have discouraged her because she was overloaded by the work around the house that needed to be done. Next, we will examine the affects of setting on the soldiers in “The Things They Carried.”
“The Things They Carried” is set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s. This setting affects the characters in a significant way because it is a solemn, horrifying place. This is evident when the narrator says, “because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compress bandage. Because the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green plastic poncho…” (O’Brien 156) This quote illustrates how it was easy to get killed in the war in Vietnam, which evokes a feeling of fear in the characters. It also illustrates that it was cold and wet, and this affects the characters by making them feel lonely and solemn. Another way the setting affects the characters can be seen when Tim O’Brien explains the things that the men carried with them and how much each item weighed, for example, “on their feet they carried jungle boots-2.1 pounds…” The author incorporates this into the story to convey the burdens and hardships the soldiers carried with them, and to emotionally connect the readers with the characters. Last, we will probe how the setting affects Phoenix in “A Worn Path.”
The affects of the setting of “A Worn Path” are very evident. This story is set in the rural south in a time when racism was very much alive. This affects Phoenix Jackson on her journey into town, and this conflict is evident when she has an encounter with the whiter hunter. The hunter is very condescending and racist when he says to Phoenix, “I know you colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!” (Welty 176) Another element of this setting that affects Phoenix is that it is set in the woods, and she has to overcome many obstacles. These obstacles include the cold, an uphill climb, crossing a log laying across a creek, and crawling under a barbed wire fence.
The setting of a literary work plays a major role in how the characters feel and act. In “A Jury of Her Peers” the location of the farm make Minnie feel sad and she murders her husband. How quickly one can die in Vietnam evokes a feeling of fear in the characters in “The Things They Carried.” And the racial troubles and physical obstacles that Phoenix Jackson has to endure in “A Worn Path” create major conflicts and affect the way she feels. No matter the literary work, the setting of it will always create an affect on the characters in the story.
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.