Susan Glaspell’s Jury of Her Peers illustrates how women’s moral judgment is influenced by the authority of men and how a shared female experience gives insight that is ultimately more important to women’s moral judgment. Women’s awakening, their feminine solidarity, and political advocacy are inseparable from their awareness of the gender discrimination and oppression embedded in the existing legal system, and their sensitive development of alternative, feminine justice, and judgment. The search for feminist consciousness and the foundation of an informed community of women imply the rejection of the legal order as a tool of patriarchal domination and exploration of feminine legal thought. Glaspell anticipates both legal feminist theory reflecting on domination, injustice, and resistance, as well as psychological feminist theory focusing on care ethics, female voice, and feminine networking. Further, her narrative offers a uniquely coherent, comprehensive worldview, combining the two perspectives, often perceived as contrasting.
Woman bonding is a central theme in Her Peers Jury, long praised by feminist writers. Conversing, Minnie’s neighbor and the wife of the sheriff understand how hard her work must have been on the bad stove, how shabby and miserable she must have looked in her washed-out shoes, and how she must have felt in her worn-out clothes, and how she must have longed for music. They must appreciate how desperately she must have missed other women’s company, social activity, warm conversation and the sense of friendship. Looking into Minnie’s life, they are horrified to discover that it reflects their own. Faced with this reflection of their mute lives, they share the painful process of seeing themselves, confronting the reality of their lives, admitting it, conveying it and acting as a community. Acknowledging Minnie’s life as a reflection of their own lives, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters recognize their distinct cultural perspective as women and fins their unique, communal voice. Using this newly discovered voice, they begin to articulate their story of Minnie’s and life of their own.
The women’s story is told with much compassion for the accused woman. Their quiet, hesitant narration focuses on emotional elements: her pain, hardships, and disappointment. Empathizing with the absent woman, the two neighbors notice the smallest details of Minnie’s life, respectfully acknowledging their significance. Intuitively, it came into Mrs. Hale’s mind that the rocker didn’t look the same. It was a dingy red rocker with wooden dungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side. Minnie’s life is reflected in that chair. Similarly, the women apprehend the har labor that went into preparing the fruit preserves they find in her kitchen and feel for Minnie’s loss. They appreciate the sentimental value of Minnie’s little box, which she must have since childhood, and understand her deep attachment to the canary she buried it in. They notice the uneven stitches in Minnie’s quilt, expressive of her emotional turmoil, and carefully replace them with prettier ones.
In contrast to the women’s attitude with the men’s, Glaspell emphasizes the distinct nature of their different voices and point of view. Although Glaspell’s female protagonists speak in a different voice, the story they tell is one of patriarchal dominance and exploitation. The Minnie they reconstruct is an abused woman, confined and harassed by her oppressive husband. Witnessing the men’s legal investigation of Minnie’s crime, the women in the story perceive it as additional abuse of the unfortunate woman. Invading Minnie’s home, the men turn it against her. Blind to the tragic circumstances of her life, they read every piece of information as testifying to her guilt. Even the dirty towel is said by the men to attest to Minnie’s lack of home-making instinct. Further, Glaspell subjects Mr. Peters Mrs. Hale themselves to male oppression.
The men repeatedly belittle, patronize, and mock them. Trivializing their domestic work, doubting their intelligence and ridiculing their interest in the feminine craft. They refrain from presenting the dead canary to the investigating people, and they remove and repair Minnie’s imperfect stitches. Realizing their social position outside the legal arena as well as the law’s inability to see women’s lives to hear their stories recognize their pain or try justly, they refuse to cooperate and instead implement their justice system. In the face of a hostile, masculine legal system, the women find their distinct sense of justice and judgment. They apply their common sense, life experience, and point of view. Conducting an alternative legal process, they determine what is and is not relevant to the case, and what constitutes reasonable behavior. We establish the existence of a ‘fair woman,’ determine her distinctness from a ‘reasonable man,’ and consider that, in Minnie’s circumstance, the ‘reasonable woman’ could have acted as the accused did. In this, we consider Minnie ‘reasonable’ and exonerate her. Throughout their alternative legal proceeding, the woman claims that perhaps the killed canary is a critical piece. Within the men’s legal system, this testimony would have provided the excuse for Minnie’s crime to justify her wickedness, madness, and guilt. Within the women’s legal system, the dead bird is the evidence of John’s misconduct and Minnie’s reasonable.
Feminine legal culture, therefore, is a significant result of and reaction to masculine legal domination, yet it reflects a distinct ethic of compassion and care. Two feminists’ viewpoints that are often viewed as conflicting oppositional, the ethics of treatment and the ideology of power, appear to be completely consistent and mutually explanatory. The sexist rule is so highly oppressive to women that communal disobedience is their only reasonable means of resistance and survival. Therefore, women are represented as men, although not as unintelligent and unworthy as their husbands suggest. Their powers of observation allow them, for example, to realize how unfairly their men are treating them, but they still don’t think it’s their position to stand up to them. The men continue to ignore their wives, ‘leaving them among the kitchenware,’ as they embark on a search for valuable clues.
The County Attorney instructed them to ‘keep their eyes out for anything that might be of use,’ adding that ‘they might come up with such a hint as to the motive.’ Once her husband killed the light of hope and the only good thing in her life, the bird, her troubled spirit, done the same thing by strangling her husband. The men are so naive that they overlook the fact that the attacker is a woman, a housewife like their mothers, searching for more masculine signs, everywhere but in the kitchen. We, who are supposed to be the wiser group, wouldn’t, unfortunately, come across any indications as ever. People, though, are aware of their affairs, just as men tell them to do, and that’s how we learn the truth of the matter. What is even more impressive about how the women are represented is how they can interact with each other on such significant topics without making men suspicious. It is a combination of feminine instincts and concern for their gender that eventually resolves the situation. There was a moment when they embraced each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no deceptiveness or flinching.
Instead, Martha Hale’s eyes guided the way to the basket in which the thing that would make the other woman’s conviction certain was concealed. It is a mixture of feminine instincts and sympathy for their gender that ultimately solves the case. They stick together, supporting each other against the patriarchy of their existence, not obliging to the ways of men and law and are thus able to save their kindred spirit from jail.