How does knowing that the story is based on a true case, change your understanding of the story, and how it affects your feelings toward the charchters in the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Knowing that the short story "A Jury of Her Peers" is based upon a real-life incident adds the element of human interest as well as a true feminist concern to the reading of the narrative, elements which draw the reader toward the truth that lies within the fiction.

  • Human Interest

The real-life murder of the father of nine children supposedly by his wife draws the curiosity of people, who find themselves wondering what the motivation was for this murder. Oddly, too, the nine children supported her mother in her claim of innocence. In the story, however, Mrs. Wright is childless. Perhaps, Glaspell altered the narrative in this way in order to place the focus upon the loneliness woman who was isolated on a distant farm, living with a cold and reticent man. This element serves to further elicit the sympathy of readers. And, while the mystery of this murder remains in real-life, Glaspell provides the reader with the motive: the dead canary.

  • Feminist Concerns

The knowledge that Mrs. Hossack had complained of her husband's abuse in the real-life case draws attention to issues of feminine oppression at the turn of the twentieth century. Curiously, too, the prosecution, not the defense, brought up this abuse as the motive behind the murder of John Hossack which should, then, convict Mrs. Hossack, and it did. This use of the element of abusiveness by the prosecution nowadays would be a cause for Mrs. Hossack's defense and acquittal.

As a feminist herself, Glaspell places her focus in the narrative on the belittling of women as, for instance, when they are concerned for Mrs. Wright's preserves, 

"Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!...women are used to worrying over trifles."

Later, after the men dismiss the kitchen as containing nothing important and go upstairs to search for Mrs. Wright's motive, they return to the kitchen and notice that the wives have found a quilt that Mrs. Wright has been working on, and hear Mrs. Hale ask if she were going to knot it or quilt it. Then, from the men "[T]here was a laugh for the ways of women...."

Again, Glaspell's story satisfies the sympathy of readers for the oppressed and bereft Mrs. Wright who has been living in such a "lonesome place," as Mrs. Hale calls it, apart from any socialization. Having been a singer herself, Mrs. Wright has relished the lovely songs of her canary, her solitary companion in the farmhouse that has been empty of convivial conversation and warmth. When it is killed, she has apparently, lost her mind, but understandably so.

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A Jury of Her Peers

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