Arguably, the literary element that permeates both novels, from title to ending, is irony. eNotes's Guide to Literary Elements help you get the complete meaning of irony, and it also gives you examples of it. Surely, there are other elements that could be extrapolated from each story, but irony is the one that rules them both.
Here is why: The stories "A Jury of Her Peers," published in 1917, and "A Respectable Women," published in 1854, present the lives of women during time periods when female empowerment, happiness, and freedoms had to come from within. These were times when women were seen as second-class citizens. The unique emotional and physical needs of women were delineated by social decorum, unreal expectations, and, of course, social etiquette.
Very strict expectations were bestowed upon women, and, as a result, many women suffered from depression, frustration, marital dissatisfaction, and an overall lack of social support.
Here is how irony works in both stories:
In "A Jury of Her Peers," the title implies that Minnie Foster, the woman who snapped and killed her abusive husband, will have to face a jury of her peers in court, like every other citizen does. However, the phrase "a jury of peers" is one that goes back to the Magna Carta in England. Basically, it guaranteed that if a nobleman was ever accused of anything and was sent to court, he or she would be tried in court by a jury of noblemen—that is, people of the same "rank."
In modern times, the phrase "a jury of peers" is also used. The meaning is different, however, and it entails that anyone who is accused of a crime will be tried in court by a jury of fellow citizens.
The irony here is that Minnie Foster would have no such benefit, as she would likely be tried by men. The second irony, and one which is most important, is that Minnie is already being "tried" by the men who entered the investigation of her case, who criticize her harshly and make assumptions about her based solely on the fact that, as a woman, there were behaviors and things they expected of her. Plus, this is the murder of a husband at the hands of his wife—a wife who could not "keep house." Could she ever get a fair trial?
A third irony in the story is that the other people who are closely observing her case and silently "trying" her as well are two women who could be considered actual "peers:" Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. The two women, who were brought to the scene by their husbands, are able to figure out that poor Minnie Foster is an abused woman who snapped and that she is not just an unkempt housewife with a death wish for her husband. Sadly, they would not be likely to be part of a jury for Minnie, but they do try to save her by concealing some incriminating evidence.
Irony in "A Respectable Woman" can also be found in the title of the story. Mrs. Baroda is living at the height of her marital bliss in her plantation home, with a husband that she presumably loves, and she also enjoying the luxuries of a well-to-do wife in a time where the husband ruled the home and wife nurtured it.
Mrs.Baroda plays her expected social role as "a respectable woman" very well up until a college friend of her husband's, a man named Gouvernail, is invited to spend two weeks in the household as a guest.
What happens next is a deep study into the mind and emotions of this "respectable woman" who is most definitely piqued and curious about this man. She is curious even before he sets foot in the household.
... she had unconsciously formed an image of him in her mind. She pictured him tall, slim, cynical; with eye-glasses, and his hands in his pockets; and she did not like him.
This makes you wonder: When did this imagery first come into the mind of this "respectable woman?" Was she eagerly waiting for a different man to come into her life?
Along the way, the story continues to show a series of juxtaposed emotions. Sometimes she likes him, sometimes she detests him. However, she feels about the man, she is definitely curious about him. Finally, she admits to herself how she really feels:
Her physical being was for the moment predominant. She was not thinking of his words, only drinking in the tones of his voice. She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips. She wanted to draw close to him and whisper against his cheek.
Mrs. Baroda finally decides to remove herself from the situation. She goes to the city to get her spring dresses fixed and stays at a relative's house. She returns when Gouvernail is gone. However, she tells an enigmatic message to her husband. She encourages him to invite Gouvernail back to the house, as she has now "overcome everything," and next time, "she will be very nice to him."
This is ironic because it does not truly tells us her state of mind. It may mean that she has officially shun away guilt and shame and is ready for an affair, or it could literally mean that she has overcome the temptations and is over him. It is likely that she is not quite over him yet, so her final words are ironic, to say the least.