The present paper compares and contrasts the characters of two short stories: “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell and “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. Both stories seem to explore the themes of crime and punishment. Apart from that, both stories depict a specific case of gender dynamics: women outsmarting sexist men. However, there is a noticeable difference in the way these themes and topics are addressed by the two stories: in particular, Glaspell’s characters provide a more extensive social commentary.
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Plot and Settings
In Glaspell’s story, the main characters (Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters) happen to resolve the crime committed by Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters trick the men who investigate the crime by hiding a crucial piece of evidence because they grow to sympathize with Mrs. Wright who had apparently been abused by her husband before the murder. In Dahl’s work, the main character Mary Maloney is a woman who kills her husband after he states that he wants to leave her. She secures an alibi, which helps her to trick investigators into thinking that she is innocent, and feeds the lamb leg that she used to kill her husband to them. Thus, despite the common topic, the characters differ in their relation to murdering: only one of them is a murderess.
A major feature of the settings of Glaspell’s story is its community, which is distinctly sexist. In the description of Mary’s life, similar topics can also be found: it is apparent that she is mostly secluded in the house and performs traditionally “female” duties. However, the characters differ in their reactions to the settings: both Mary and Mrs. Peters seem to be accepting them, but Mrs. Hale explicitly detests them.
In Glaspell’s story, the topic of justice is extensively discussed. The two main characters reflect two different approaches to justice: Mrs. Peters believes that justice equals the law while Mrs. Hale views the former as a broader concept, suggesting that there are crimes which cannot be punished by the law. However, the views of Mrs. Peters seem to develop throughout the story, and in the end, both women realize that it is not fair to trail a woman in accordance with a male-dominated justice by the men who despise women. As a result, the women end up sympathizing with the culprit, which implies that both learn to recognize the nuances of justice and punishment that can be found in particular cases of crime and specific justice systems.
In Dahl’s story, the topic of justice is discussed to a lesser extent: the murder and the idea of being executed for murder do not bother Mary, even though she tries to escape justice for the sake of the life of her unborn child. Apparently, she does not believe that justice is more important than human life. Similarly, the topic of leaving a pregnant woman is not discussed from the point of view of justice in the story, even though it may be suggested that the act of murder can offer implicit argumentation to this discussion. Also, the murder might be the result of Mary’s subconscious rebellion against her almost servile position in her relationship with the husband, which cannot be described as fair, but there is no direct evidence to such a conclusion in the story. As a result, Mary seems to provide less commentary on the topic.
The Role of Gender
The gender dynamics issues are discussed by Mrs. Hale, but Mrs. Peters is less overt about them and tries to dismiss them as irrelevant. However, Mrs. Peters empathizes with Mrs. Wright, which implies that she is slighted by gender inequality, and both women end up rebelling against male-dominated justice. Thus, both women seem to be aware of the problems related to gender dynamics, and while their initial reactions to it differ, they both develop a wish to rebel against the injustice.
The role of gender and gender equality issues are considered in Dahl’s work to a lesser extent. Mary seems to lack the awareness of the problem, and she appears to accept her submissive position in the family. However, it can also be implied that Mary does not become a suspect partially because of her gender, which can be supported by the fact that Jack and Mary refer to the potential culprit as “the man.” Naturally, the detectives make sure to rule her out as a suspect, but Mary tricks them with ease, which might be facilitated by sexist prejudice. A similar theme can be found in Glaspell’s work: the men underestimate Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, which enables them to hide a piece of evidence.
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To sum up, the two stories are similar in the theme of women outsmarting men, but Glaspell’s characters provide the social commentary that Dahl’s work does not have. Mary lacks the awareness of the issues related to gender and does not contemplate justice, although she rebels against it for the sake of her child. Mrs. Peters and especially Mrs. Hale are more aware of the issues, even though Mrs. Peters initially attempts to play them down, and their rebellion against male-dominated justice is guided predominantly by their negative reaction to such a form of legal injustice. Still, all three women have to survive in their sexist settings that eventually seem to offer them a minor advantage in dealing with men, which, however, does not resolve the major problems, including the absence of justice and the issues of gender dynamics.