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.
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