Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604

Little criticism of ''A Jury of Her Peers'' dates from the time of its initial publication or from 1927 when it was collected with Glaspell's other stories in the collection A Jury of Her Peers. Only after the story gained acclaim during the 1970s did critical interest in it grow. However, theater reviews of Trifles, performed in 1916, one year before the publication of "'A Jury of Her Peers," relate that critics found the performance to be the Provincetown Players" finest to date.

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In Susan Glaspell: A Research and Production Sourcebook, Mary Papke lists six reviews of the play, only one of which did not enthusiastically recommend it. Early critiques from the New York Dramatic Mirror gave it high praise as a drama of mystery and suspense and Theatre Magazine found the female actors in their interpretation of women's intuition ingenious. On the other hand, the New York Times critic found both its acting and dialogue unsatisfactory. Later reviews of European productions agreed that the play's appeal was for an exclusively American audience because it addressed a historical milieu specific to early twentieth-century America No reviewers noted the story's strong feminist statement; that reading was formulated by feminists involved in the women's movement of the 1970s.

Over fifty years after the first performance of Trifles, feminist critics appropriated the short story version as a critique of male-dominated society. It is now considered a feminist classic. In her essay "Small Things Reconsidered. Susan Glaspell's 'A Jury of Her Peers','' Elaine Hedges notes that Mary Anne Ferguson's 1973 anthology entitled Images of Women in Literature reintroduced Trifles to readers as the forgotten text of an extraordinary writer. The recognition of women's artistic ability and intellect challenged the stereotype of women as concerned with the "trifles" of Me. Thereafter, a number or critics, including Annette Kolodony, began to consider "A Jury of Her Peers" and include it in their work in hopes that the story would become popular in classrooms and anthologies of women's literature.

In her 1986 essay ''Reading About Reading,'' Judith Fetterly's criticism of "A Jury of Her Peers" exposes what she feels is a contradiction in reading it as a feminist short story. She states, ''Minnie is denied her story and hence her reality ... and the men are allowed to continue to assume that they are the only ones with stories. So haven't the men finally won"7" Fetterley finds that because the women in the story allow the men to continue to believe their version of the truth, and they never assert then-side of the story, that Minnie is not really let off the hook. Although she may never be convicted of the crime, it is not a victory since she cannot have her say and defend her actions. Fetterly's suspicion is that this sense of feminism comes at the expense of allowing men to continue to devalue a woman's story. Her point is that choosing to remain silent is not a feminist act if it encourages male superiority.

A different perspective of "A Jury of Her Peers" comes from the 1995 introduction to Linda Ben-Zvi's edited collection of critical essays on Glaspell titled Susan Glaspell: Essays on Her Theater and Fiction. In it, Ben-Zvi states that ''Susan Glaspell's writing is marked by strong women, personae whose consciousness of themselves and their world shapes her plays and fiction." Not only did Glaspell's female persona shape her fiction, Ben-Zvi theorizes, but her strong female characters also shaped the situations in which they were introduced. Today, readers can appreciate Glaspell1 s work for its historical place in the long tradition of literature written by women in the United States.

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A Jury of Her Peers, Susan Glaspell

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