How To Use This Discussion Guide
Begin by reading Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” on our site or in your copy of What So Proudly We Hail.
Materials for this guide include background information about the author and discussion questions to enhance your understanding and stimulate conversation about the story. In addition, the guide includes a series of short video discussions about the story, conducted by Christopher DeMuth (Hudson Institute) with the editors of the anthology. These seminars help capture the experience of high-level discourse as participants interact and elicit meaning from a classic American text. These videos are meant to raise additional questions and augment discussion, not replace it.
Below is a sample of writing prompts and essay questions for educators, based on Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies:
- Do you approve of the women’s decision to withhold the evidence? If the person killed were a brother of yours, would your answer be different? After reading “A Jury of Her Peers,” write a narrative from the perspective of a friend or family member of the deceased Mr. Wright.(Narrative/Description; Task 27)
- One commentator suggests that, in the story, the men—concentrating on the external deed and the visible evidence—are practitioners of human justice, whereas the women—seeing more deeply into the minds and hearts, and effectively practicing mercy and forgiveness—are practitioners of something more like divine justice (and mercy). Assuming that this description has some merit, do you think that it is good for human justice—the “law is the law”—and for the political community to be modified by the intrusion of elements of God’s justice? After reading “A Jury of Her Peers,” write an essay that compares human and divine justice, and argues for the suitability of one over the other in our legal system. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. (Argumentation/Comparison; Task 4)
- Should the principle for jury selection be impartiality in judgment (the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee) or equality of discernible traits (choosing “peers” of the same sex, race, class as the accused)? After reading “A Jury of Her Peers,” and the Sixth Amendment, write a position paper that addresses the question and support your position with evidence from the text. Be sure to acknowledge competing views. Give examples from past or current events or issues to illustrate and clarify your position. (Argumentation/Analysis; Task 2)
About the Author
Susan Glaspell (1876–1948) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and novelist; a writer of short stories; and, for a short while, a journalist. She was born in Davenport, Iowa, attended Drake University in Des Moines, and worked for several years as a reporter at the Des Moines Daily News and other local newspapers, but she discovered early on that her interest was in writing fiction. Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered (1909), became a national bestseller and drew a rave review in The New York Times. Subsequent novels in the early teens did almost as well.
In 1915, she was introduced to and fell in love with George Cram Cook, a wealthy, young rebel from Davenport. He came from a well-to-do background, but he was a philosophical radical, a leftist, and a sometime professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa and at Stanford University. Glaspell and Cook eventually moved to the East Coast, where they married and fell in with a set of avant-garde intellectuals. In 1915, they founded the Provincetown Players, a theater company located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which would have an important role in the history of the American theater. The company helped to launch the career of Eugene O’Neill, among others who went onto greater renown.
Glaspell also wrote plays for the Provincetown Players and became one of its most important actresses. Her 1931 play Alison’s House, based loosely on the life of Emily Dickinson, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In her later years, in the 1940s, she returned to her Midwestern roots, living in Chicago and back in Davenport, but toward the end of that decade, she returned to Provincetown, where she died in 1948.
Although she was widely regarded during her lifetime, Glaspell is little read or performed today, with one major exception: “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917). It was adapted from her one-act play, “Trifles,” written and produced in Provincetown a year earlier. Set in the rural Midwest, it was inspired by an actual murder that took place in Iowa in 1900, which Glaspell had covered for the Des Moines Daily News. The short story was an immediate hit. It was anthologized in that year and in many, many years throughout her lifetime. It was rediscovered in the 1970s by the feminist movement and has become a staple of women’s studies courses in colleges and universities in recent decades. In 1980, it was made into a movie and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dramatic Live-Action Short.
The video seminar helps capture the experience of high-level discourse as particpants interact and elicit meaning from classic American texts. To watch the full conversation, click here. Otherwise click below to continue.