Essays and Criticism
The Significance of Women's Subjective Experience
When Mrs. Hale says to Mrs. Peters, "We all go through the same things—it's all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren't—why do you and I understand? Why do we know—what we know this minute?" she was talking about a shared female subjectivity.
A good way to understand subjectivity is to imagine that all people are subjects. As subjects of their particular environments, their identities are constructed by the times, geography, gender, age. and any number of things that make them who they are. People's actions, thoughts, and feelings are informed by all these circumstances. This individual perspective is the person's subjectivity. This subjectivity is the root of an individual's episte-mology, or the way they know what they know.
Objectivity would be the opposite of this. An objective perspective or way of thinking relies on a person's ability to put aside his or her own subjective experience and view a situation from a standard or formulaic point of view. This point of view is removed from what the person thinks for him or herself and is based on a general set of assumptions.
People share a certain subjective viewpoint if they have enough common experiences. Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Minnie Wright all share a certain female subjectivity as wives of farmers. They live in the same town and have very similar lives, therefore knowing themselves is similar to knowing one another. It is this shared understanding of...
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Reading about Reading. 'A Jury of Her Peers,' 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' and 'The Yellow Wallpaper'
As a student of American literature, I have long been struck by the degree to which American texts are self-reflexive. Our "classics" are filled with scenes of readers and readings. In The Scarlet Letter, for example, a climactic moment occurs when Chillingworth rips open Dimmesdale's shirt and finally reads the text he has for so long been trying to locate. What he sees we never learn, but for him his "reading" is complete and satisfying. Or, to take another example, in "Daisy Miller," Winterbourne's misreading of Daisy provides the central drama of the text Indeed, for James, reading is the dominant metaphor for life, and his art is designed to teach us how to read well so that we may live somewhere other than Geneva. Yet even a writer as different from James as Mark Twain must learn to read his river if he wants to become a master pilot. And, of course, in Moby Dick, Melville gives us a brilliant instance of reader-response theory in action in the doubloon scene.
When I first read Susan Glaspell's ''A Jury of Her Peers" in Mary Anne Ferguson's Images of Women in Literature I found it very American, for it, too, is a story about reading. The story interested me particularly, however, because the theory of reading proposed in it is explicitly linked to the issue of gender. "A Jury of Her Peers" tells of a woman who has killed her husband; the men on the case can not solve the mystery of the murder; the women who accompany them can....
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Small Things Reconsidered Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers'
Susan GlaspelFs "A Jury of her Peers" is by nowa small feminist classic. Published in 1917, rediscovered in the early 1970s and increasingly reprinted since then in anthologies and textbooks, it has become for both readers and critics a familiar and frequently revisited landmark on our "map of rereading." For Lee Edwards and Arlyn Diamond in 1973 it introduced us to the work of one of the important but forgotten women writers who were then being rediscovered; and its characters,' 'prairie matrons, bound by poverty and limited experience [who] right heroic battles on tiny battlefields," provided examples of those ordinary or anonymous women whose voices were also being sought and reclaimed. For Mary Anne Ferguson, also in 1973, Glaspell's story was significant for its challenge to prevailing images or stereotypes of women— women as "fuzzy minded" and concerned only with "trifles," for example—and for its celebration of female sorority, of the power of sisterhood. More recently, in 1980, Annette Kolodny has read the story as exemplary of a female realm of meaning and symbolic signification, a realm ignored by mainstream critics and one, as she urges, that feminist critics must interpret and make available. Rediscovering lost women writers, reclaiming the experience of anonymous women, reexamining the image of women in literature, and rereading texts in order to discern and appreciate female symbol systems—many of the major approaches that have characterized...
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