English Literature 09/04/2014
Paradoxof Gender Roles in “A Jury of Her Peers”
SusanGlaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” delves into gender stereotypesthat characterized the early 20thcentury America’s society. Her spellbinding short story integratespursuit for justice with strict gender roles, the product being amaster class of the role women can perform in erstwhile maledominated duties. The inspiration for her story emanates from thetrue story of Hossacks in USA. Back in 1900, police found the deadbody of Mr. Hossack in his matrimonial bed (Gruesser 23). Mrs.Hossack was the first suspect and in unclear circumstances, shereceived the maximum penalty for first-degree murder. She launched asuccessful appeal a year later. What intrigued Glaspell is the lackof closure on the matter. Police never resolved issues surroundingthe murder, his or her motives, and execution.
Glaspellattempts to breathe more flesh into the murder through the fictitiousshort story, A Jury of Her Peers. The name of her protagonist, MinnieWright, is symbolic. It represents something small. As Gainor argues,Minnie, informally, is contraction for minimized (23). This is truefor Mrs. Wright. She is an abusive relationship with a man whosename, Wright, is an oxymoron. He subjects her wife to a lonely lifewhere misery and loneliness reign supreme. Glaspell borrowsfeminists’ ideas that decry loss of identity for women. The societydoes not refer to females with their names but only in reference to aman. The patriarchal society prescribes that once a man marries, heshould usurp his wife’s identity. This is true for all women in AJury of Her Peers for Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and all married femalecharacters. Additionally, a woman loses her identity in her husband’scareer. The sheriff opines, in reference to his wife, that a“sheriff’s wife is married to the law” (Glaspell 170). Thisillustrates the level of chauvinism bedeviling the society to theextent of reducing women to support roles. Rather than exploit herpotential in a career of her desire, her husband’s careerresponsibilities become her won.
Glaspelluses her setting to underscore strict gender roles pervading hersociety. At the introduction, the reader encounters Martha Haleperforming household chores. The writer then introduces the reader tothe jinx of the matter. Mr. Wright is dead and investigations areunderway to unravel the killer and motives. The sheriff, countyattorney and a battery of male colleagues are leading theinvestigations. The men have a high opinion for themselves, oftendisregarding the opinion of women, in spite of the obvious wisdomthat Mrs. Wright could easily unearth crucial leads by dint offamiliarity with surrounding and victim. More bizarrely, the mentaunt Mrs. Wright for the manner of her house’s disorganization.This portrays a deeply entrenched chauvinism that relegates women tothe kitchen and judges them insensitively.
Glaspellspeaks plainly and avidly in chastising stereotyping in the society.By the time of writing her short story, women occupied the peripheryof social, economic, and political substratum. Access to education,especially for rural women, was limited. The notion that women werethe “weaker sex” was not only prevalent but also unchallenged. Atthe scene of investigation, all professionals are men. However,Glaspell promotes women in this setting by giving them a sixth sense(Gainor 12). In an ironic twist of events, women’s intuitionprovides critical links that male’s professional training could notsummon. Although the sheriff and county attorney do not take Mrs.Wright’s intuition seriously, her peers think highly of her.According to Gruesser, this is a direct approval by Glaspell (12).Her title, A Jury of Her Peers, places emphasis exactly where shedesired. “HER” peers matter, not the patriarchal andrecalcitrance society. While men are wobbling back and forth withinvestigations concerning one of their own, Mrs. Wright has earnedthe vindication of her peers.
Inmore than one occasion, Glaspell chides chauvinism and itsmischaracterization of women. The male’s investigators firstintuition was that Mrs. Wright had killed or had been complicit inthe murder of her husband. When they set out to the farmhouse in thecourse of their investigation, it is clear they are after justifyingtheir conclusion. Glaspell draws a similar plot to the murder of Mr.Hossack. The wives, in this two cases, are the treated as “guiltyuntil proven innocent”. The writer’s objective, according toGruesser, was to show how the stereotype that criminal investigationsis a reserve for men had led to injustice for many people (15).
Further,Glaspell debunks the stereotype that women are incapable ofconducting credible investigations. A reader notices the way shejuxtapose qualified male professional who cannot sense basic clueswith untrained women whose only investigative acumen is instinct.When Hale and Peters asked their wives to accompany them to Mrs.Wright’s house, they did not have an idea the women would be usefulin any way. Rather, they derided their women for being “needlesslypreoccupied with trivial things and even too unintelligent tocontribute to the investigations” (Glaspell 290). The two men areinexplicable dismissive of their wives, an indicator of the lowopinion with which they held women.
Inan ironic twist of events, the despised women make greatercontributions to the investigations. The early 20thcentury America society stereotyped women as given to minor andmeaningless propensities. Conversely, the society believed males tobe keener with big and more impactful things. Admittedly,sociological backings have led credence to the premise that womenhave s keen eye for details (Gainor 45). Glaspell does not challengethe premise. Rather, she moves with alacrity to show that the societycan harness the eye for details to for betterment of several sectors.Going back to A Jury of Her Peers, men are looking for “big clues”,overlooking “small clues” that may provide crucial information tothe murder. Women’s subtlety surpassed men’s ego and ineptitude.
Incidentally,women do not understand their power over men. This deprives them animportant tool to challenge the stereotypes inherent in the society.They acknowledge their attention to minor details. They however lackthe knowledge to harness it for their own advancement and that of thesociety.The three women act on similar cues in the course ofinvestigations. Glaspell says of the three, “Why do you and Iunderstand? Why do we know-what we know this minute?” (300). Thewriter effectively captures the truism that women are oblivious oftheir uniqueness and advantages. Their strong intuitive is a feminineaspect that investigators can harness. However, women’s ignorancegets solace in chauvinism. None of the men is intelligent enough todiscern that the women’s intuitive can help in the investigations.While Glaspell is not chiding male domination and inherent fallacies,she is chastising women for their inability to discern and exploittheir strength.
Glaspell’sA Jury of Her Peers glorifies female characters for their intuitiveability. Their obsession with minor details makes them moreperceptive and better in careers dealing with human behavior. Whilemale investigators think that the disorganization in Mrs. Wright’shouse is because of laziness, female non-professionals view itsymptomatic of serious family issues. The women instinctivelyunderstand Mrs. Wright’s loneliness where men could not see it.They appreciate the misery that not getting a child can bring to afamily. It behooves the reader that should proceedings against Mrs.Wright commence on account of investigators’ evidence, injusticewould triumph as was the case with Mrs. Hossack (Gruesser 34). Withwomen non-professionals, however, the suspect will receive fairhearing and trial.
Glaspellexhibits great wisdom in her choice of male characters. Though dead,the story revolves around Mr. Wright. Through Minnie, the reader getsto understand the kind of person he was, an oppressive husband andtyrannical bully. When he cannot sire a child with his wife, hisfrustrations escalate. She keeps a bird in her house to diffuseloneliness. The husband is not perceptive enough to understand awoman as a creature in need of companionship. The women in the storyare quick to understand that Mrs. Wright action that led to herhusband’s death stemmed out of despair, frustrations, and hisintransigence. Glaspell decides to kill him to open the readers’eyes on how different women are from men.
Glaspell’sacclaimed story, A Jury for Her Peers, is a spellbinding short storythat details gender roles in a patriarchal society. It glorifieswomen for their intuitive strength and chides men for insensitivityand domineering attitude. The early 20thcentury America relegated women to the periphery of the society, thusdepriving them the opportunity to realize their potential.
Gainor,J E. SusanGlaspell in Context: American Theater, Culture, and Politics, 1915 -48.Ann Arbor, Mich: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
Glaspell,Susan."A Jury of Her Peers" and Other Stories.Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010. Internet resource.
Gruesser,John C. Race,Gender and Empire in American Detective Fiction., 2013. Internet resource.