“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell and “The Story of An Hour” by Kate Chopin are two stories that feature a woman as their protagonist. That is not the only thing that these pieces of literature have in common. Theme in both stories is eerily similar in a multitude of different ways. Both focusing on the subjugation of women, and how highly men held themselves at the time of these stories being written. The differences in these stories are much easier to find than the similarities are.
Character development is much different between the pieces in a way that “The Story of An Hour” is simply not long enough to give the audience the same amount of development as “A Jury of Her Peers” would give them. Just because differences may be more obvious when comparing two different pieces of literature, even if they are not the same genre, does not mean that they cannot have similar qualities as well.
If a person takes the time to look deeper into any two stories, whether they be the same genre or not, they will most likely find something in common between the two pieces. Theme in both pieces have many similar qualities to them.
The main themes in “The Story of An Hour” are freedom, independence, women living in a male dependent society and the confusion of love. Freedom and independence are not brought in until around the middle of the story. After mourning the abrupt death of her husband and getting the chance to think things over for a few minutes, Louise Mallard realizes that she is now free.
“She said it over and over under her breath: Free, free, free!” (Chopin,533). For a very brief moment, she feels slightly guilty for finding any kind of joy in her husband’s death but quickly dismisses that guilt. She knows it is not death that she finds joy in but rather a new-found life instead. She no longer needs to depend on anyone (a man) and has the rest of her life to focus on herself and her own well-being. The confusion of love theme is the most difficult to understand. It is a very specific theme and if a member of the audience has never felt the type of love that the story is mentioning it might blow right over their head. “and yet she had loved him- sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (Chopin,533).
What Chopin is transmitting to the audience is that loving someone does not mean being absolutely head over heels for that person every second of every day. Every relationship comes with its own set of problems. It is implied that the protagonist in the story might have even had a bad or toxic relationship with the recently deceased. That is where the confusion part comes into play. A person can love someone while simultaneously resenting them as well. That’s begs the question, is it even love at that point? At the time that this piece was written, women did not have many options. They were told what to do, when to do it and if they disobeyed, they could face severe consequences. That might leave some readers wondering if she ever truly loved her husband or if she was just doing what she was told to do and blinded in the process.
The themes used for “A Jury of Her Peers” are similar to the themes used in “The Story of An Hour”. Both pieces use woman living in a male dependent society, and men’s obliviousness to a women’s importance as themes. The themes used are not exactly the same, “A Jury of Her Peers” also uses gender roles, crime and punishment and guilt by association or in this story a lack thereof association. Gender roles was not used as a theme in “The Story of An Hour” because there were only a few other characters in the story and the only opposite gender that was significant to the piece was not actually in the story at any point. Gender roles play a significant part in “A Jury of Her Peers”. Throughout the story the men and women are on completely opposite sides of each other.
The women are to do what is expected of them by the men. It is clear that the men in this story hold themselves to a higher level. They do or say things that no women could possibly comprehend. Women must only worry about little things like a messy kitchen or watching over their preserves. “Oh well, said Mrs. Hales husband, with good natured superiority, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell,547). This quote is a great example of what the roles of each gender were like at the time this story was written.
Every time that the men and women are in the same room together it seems like the men are always making a mockery of everything that the women do. In this story the themes crime and punishment, and guilt by lack of association are essentially the same thing. The women in this story know what the crime is and who committed that crime even though they never reveal the fact out loud. The guilt comes from protagonist Martha Hale. She was once an old friend of suspected murderer Minnie Wright and feels somewhat responsible for the tragedy that has taken place in her life. Living nearby and not stopping by to even say hello occasionally, is weighing heavy on her conscience.
This is when she starts to take matters into her own hands by manipulating her way around the men and tampering with evidence in order to hide what really happened and to protect her long lost friend and to put her mind at ease. Mary M. Bendel-Simso wrote a great analysis of what takes place with the women and the crime, an example of this is when she wrote “there is a fundamental disarticulation between genders and among different classes and geographic settings; this re-definition and severe restriction of who qualifies as one’s peers renders the traditional legal system irrelevant and posits that the only true people qualified to judge Minnie Foster Wright are rural farm women of her own generation” (Bendel-Simso,292).
Both women in the story know what the crime is, they know who committed the crime and know are deciding on what the punishment for said crime should be. Because this particular incident is different. This is not just any other crime or any other criminal, they see themselves in Minnie Wright in a lot of ways. A husband who underappreciates them and if not for her children Martha Hale would be just as lonesome as Minnie was. Only people like themselves would understand, only her “true” peers would be qualified to judge her, and they do. Both pieces were first published within twenty-five years of each other making the setting somewhat similar. “A Jury of Her Peers” takes place in early 20th century rural America in an isolated farm town in Dickson County. The setting in this story goes hand in hand with the plot. The town in which they live in is much like what Minnie Wrights life is like, bleak and lonesome. There is not much for a woman to do during this time period.
A farmer’s wife was to look after the home and any children that they might have. If there were no children to raise the women might have felt like they had no purpose or hope, especially if their relationship with their husband was abusive either physically, mentally or both. Most of the story takes place inside the home of the Wrights. A messy kitchen, an empty birdcage, a dead bird and an unfinished quilt are some of the pieces in the house that play a huge role in the story. The setting in “The Story of An Hour” takes place in late 19th century, early 20th century in the home of Louise Mallard. Most of the setting takes place in the bedroom of Louise Mallard. “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair” (Chopin,532). That is all the audience is really given for a setting. The open window does have a heavy significance in the story but that will be discussed later in the essay.
During this period of time feminism was most likely not widely accepted by a majority of the people. In the first published version of the story that was featured in Vogue on December 6th, 1894, the word “her” was left out of a line. This definitely impacts the piece to a degree. The line reads “There would be no one to live for during those coming years;” (Chopin, Vogue,1894). That sentence takes on an entirely different meaning without the word “her” being used. “Without “her,” the sentence means that Louise Mallard has been living for her husband, that he has been the center of her life, that he has been her reason for living. With “her,” the sentence means that Brently Mallard has been controlling his wife’s life” (The Kate Chopin International Society).
It would not make sense for Kate Chopin to cut the word her out of her own story, especially if it was going to change the meaning of the piece in any way. One can assume that this change was not made by Kate Chopin, rather someone that did not have the same views and disagreed with what the story was trying to imply. This shows that this piece of literature when it was first released shook some things up during this period of time. Since its release “The Story of an Hour” has been hailed as one of the all-time great pieces of literature in feminism culture. The story has been called “one of feminism’s sacred texts” (Susan Cahill). The setting in each of the stories both take place in a women’s respective home in the early 20th century and pieces found in the home symbolize what each woman in the story was going through at the most significant time of their lives.
Whether it be an open window that represents the newfound freedom in Louise Mallards life or an exploded jar of preserves that represents turmoil in a rural farm woman like Minnie Wright. Both pieces are set in a time where women were not given many options to live life the way they would want it to be lived. Minnie Wright killed her husband because of it and Louise Mallard was overjoyed that the death of her husband would finally give her the freedom that she had always wanted.