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A Municipal Report vs A Jury of Her Peers

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Janine Eduljee

on 21 October 2012

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Transcript of A Municipal Report vs A Jury of Her Peers

By: Janine Eduljee, Jane Barnett, Sophia Anopa, Alex Yang, and Kelsey O'Regan "A Municipal Report" and "A Jury of Her Peers" Episodic like structure, separated by italicized inserts of text, do not flow naturally from one to the next
References to famous people, works of literature, or quotes that distract from the story ("Sidney Carton from Dicken's A Tale of Two Cites- and wishing to climb to the top of the hotel and give an impersonation of this character (376))
This story relies heavily upon chance and coincidence ( the chance that the narrator would give the bill ["upper right-hand corner missing and had been torn through the middle, but joined again" with "a strip of blue tissue paper, pasted over the split"] (382) to Cesear who would then give it to Azalea Adair who would give it to Caswell who the narrator would see using to buy drinks(386))... ( chance the narrator would notice the "lone button [that] was the size of a half-dollar, made of yellow horn" on Uncle Cesear the first day and then would pick it up at the scene of Caswell's murder (388))
Story Ending- happy, the antagonist, Major Wentworth Caswell, was served his justice for robbing Azalea Adair ("Major had been found dead on a dark street" (388)) Plot Characterization Theme/Purpose Symbolism Miscellaneous A Municipal Report A Jury Of Her Peers Introduction These two works, though with mostly completely opposing characteristics, have the same general theme: murder is justified when the person murdered is a bad person (Major Caswell and Mr. Wright), and is harming or bullying a good, but powerless, person (Azalea Adair and Minnie Foster).

However, there are significant differences in the intricate details of the theme, how the theme presented, and purpose of each work. A Municipal Report A Jury of Her Peers Theme details Relevance of theme Purpose of work Delivery/presentation of theme This general theme is the extent of deeper meaning in the story.
This simple theme only restates and reinforced a common value. It’s a cliché.
Major Caswell is killed by the strong, male servant, saving Azalea Adair from his control over her.
This work could be a discussion concerning racial tensions but that aspect is not explored by O. Henry. Much of the story does not relate to the theme. O. Henry spends a lot of time describing the city of Nashville and making references just as filler.
O. Herny uses pieces from works of Frank Norris and Rudyard Kipling (375) and quotes Mercutio, “not so fragrant” (376).
These references add nothing to either the theme, plot, or characterization. O. Henry seeks to entertain the reader.
He offers contemporary references for the time period to engage his audience.
He appeals to his audience’s intelligence by presenting classics of literature, such as Shakespeare's works (Romeo and Juliet, 376 and Julius Ceasar, 380)
Rather than extend upon the theme and enrich it to make it not so common, he uses the theme just to move the slow plot.
The theme seems like an afterthought, only included to help the reader relate to the story.
He provides suspense and mystery that completely misses our emotions. The theme is an overused cliché that draws upon pre-established emotions and opinions.
By the end of the story the reader has not been connected to characters and they can only feel what they think they should feel because of the theme. The deeper meaning Glaspell is trying to communicate goes straight to the reader’s emotions and senses.
The reader is meant to find Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters sympathetic from the very beginning as victims of men’s sexism.
Eventually, even Minnie Foster, the murderer, is sympathetic to the reader as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters uncover evidence of the husband’s abuse and Minnie’s miserable life (the clothes, the stove, and the birdcage).
The plights of these female characters elicit an emotional response from us that is not dependent on automatic responses. Susan Glaspell's purpose is to illuminate the sexism of this era.
A Jury of Her Peers is certainly a feminist work.
The men (though with typical mindsets of that time period) are shown as misogynistic bullies ruling over the women, who in the end are more observant and intuitive than the men and are able to determine Minnie’s guilt.
On one occasion, Mr. Hale insults the women “with good-natured superiority, ‘women are used to worrying over trifles’” (395). Everything relates to the general theme.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters point out many details in the home that serve as evidence of Minnie Foster’s powerless position under her dominant husband.
Such as her “shabby” clothes “that bore the marks of much making over” (397), her having to “wrestle with” her horrible stove (399), and the birdcage (401). The theme here is also greatly focused on the inequality between men and women.
She conveys a deeper meaning than just the overused theme. Though the general theme restates a common value, Glaspell enriches it by making the focus of the story sexism and inequality.
At the time this was published, in 1917, the feminist element would have had few precedents. Women were strictly confined to their roles and contention of this standard would have been shocking. Because this subject matter wasn’t as common in that time, its theme for the time period is especially enlightening and provides a new insight into the lives of women.
Throughout the whole story there is a constant separation of the men and women.
Separation because of different gender roles: the attorney talks about how the kitchen is the women’s domain while adding “a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things” (394) and gives some pots and pans a “disdainful push of the foot” (396).
And physical separation: the men are always away searching for evidence while the women are left on the first floor.
Minnie Foster, the two wives, and women in general, are consistently being degraded and limited to their gender roles of that time “‘Can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!’” (395). Irony Point of View The dollar appears often and is described with great detail, giving it a feel of a symbol which has no real symbolic meaning.
The extensive description of the dollar and the focus on it serves only to make the reader separate this dollar from every other dollar and later follow the plot and the motive for murder by following the hands that the dollar went through.
“Its upper right-hand corner as missing and it had been torn through in the middle, but joined again. A strip of blue tissue paper, pasted over the split, preserved its negotiability.” (382) - first appearance of the dollar, narrator gives it to Uncle Ceasar
“Azalea Adair opened a tiny, worn purse and drew out a dollar bill,a dollar bill with the upper right-hand corner missing...” (384) - the dollar ends up in Azalea Adair’s hands
“... he drew two one-dollar bills from a pocket and dashed one of them upon the var. I looked once more at the dollar bill with the upper right-hand corner missing...” (386) - the dollar is transferred to Major Caswell
Similarly, the coat button, something people would probably ordinarily not notice, is described in detail with its only purpose being recognition by the reader in the end of the story.
“The lone button was the size of a half-dollar, made of yellow horn and sewed on with coarse twine.” (380) The canary is, perhaps, the most important symbol in the story, as it symbolizes Minnie Foster herself and the last piece of freedom that was taken away from her. It carries meaning without requiring a detailed, out-of-the-way description - its only characteristic is the wrung neck.
“‘It’s the bird,’ she whispered... ‘Look at it! Its neck - look at its neck! It’s all - other side to.”’ (404)
When the bird’s neck is snapped, it is as if Minnie was snapped herself - it is the last drop that pushes her to murder.
The quilt that Minnie was making is just like her life prior to and after the canary’s death: before, however hard it was, she seems to have still abided by John’s rules and suppressed herself - during this time the squares are “nice and even” - but after John killed the bird, her real emotions came through - the last square “looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!” (400)
The rope that Minnie used to murder John appears symbolic in that it is similar to the way that Minnie herself was “strangled” in her life with John and the way John murdered the canary. Its meaning is supported by the characters’ wondering at the choice of such method when “There was a gun in the house.” (399)
The messy kitchen (“Here’s a nice mess” (395)), as women’s domain, reflect Minnie Foster’s true feelings. The kitchen’s function as a private space is supported by Mrs. Hale’s comment that she’d “hate to have men comin’ into [her] kitchen” (396).
The use of names in the story is also symbolic - Mrs. Hale & Mrs. Peters are referred to by their husbands’ names and Mrs. Peters also by her husband’s occupation (“sheriff’s wife”), contributing to the theme of inequality of men and women. On the other hand, Minnie Foster is referred to by her full and/or maiden name, as one who gained freedom from her husband by murdering him.
The symbols in “A Jury of Her Peers” drive the women’s investigation of the murder and lead to the story’s theme and focus within the theme. A Municipal Report A Jury of Her Peers A Municipal Report Ironically, the main character is a Southerner himself but is critical of Southern towns and does not expect much happening: “The drizzle and the monotony of a dreary, evenless Southern town had made me tired and listless.” (386)
The narrator emphasizes his position as a mere observer of the action who does not care that much, but in reality cares about the few characters he needs to care about for the story to develop, revealing a flaw in the story.
As an uncaring character, he gets surprisingly deeply involved with the story - he gives the two dollars to Ceasar, then an early payment to Azalea Adair, then conceals the evidence by hiding Ceasar’s coat button and throwing it away.
The narrator then attempts to return to his observer status by concluding with a distracted “I wonder what’s going on in Buffalo” (388).
Another irony is that of the two dollars given to the former slave ending up with Major Caswell, “the master” - but this racial conflict is not explored any further. A Jury of Her Peers The biggest irony in the story is that the women, whose abilities in motive finding are doubted by men and their ways are laughed about - “‘No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive - and that’s the thing we need’ … ‘But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?’”, “They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just know it!” - end up solving the case and finding the motive (396, 400).
Men also judge the fact that “.. women are used to worrying about trifles,” yet the trifles are the clues to solving the case (395).
Also, men try to show that they do not think of women as inferior by saying things like “.. what would we do without the ladies?” and ironically show the exact opposite of that thought a few lines later, when criticizing Minnie’s kitchen look.
John’s death is ironic in that he effectively set up his murder by braking the canary’s neck - and ended up being killed in much the same way.
The ironies used in the story are used to communicate both themes - of the justified killing and of the inequality of men and women. A Municipal Report “A Municipal Report” utilizes a first-person point of view.
“I stepped off the train at 8 P.M.” (376)
“I walked through long streets, all leading uphill” (377)
Using the first-person point of view allows the narrator, as an outsider, to conceal important information from the reader, such as Azalea Adair, Uncle Ceasar, and Major Caswell’s relations with each other.
The author attempts to predetermine the reader’s feelings toward the characters by using the narrator’s descriptions and judgments of them as the main source of characterization.
Such characterization is based only on one person’s point of view and flattens the characters, providing the single trait needed for story’s development and the theme.
“I knew him for a type the moment my eyes suffered from the sight of him” immediately classifies Caswell as the unlikable character that the reader should dislike as well (378).
“He was a stalwart Negro, older than the pyramids, with gray wool and a face that reminded me of Brutus, and a second afterwards of the late King Cettiwayo” makes Uncle Ceasar a noble, king-like character (380).
The “thin and frail as the house she lived in...with an air as simple as a queen’s” Azalea is described as a poor yet dignified character (382). A Jury of Her Peers The story is told from a third-person limited perspective, using Martha Hale as the character whose thoughts and feelings the reader knows.
The third-person point of view limits reader’s knowledge of the situation and the other characters, allowing the reader to interpret and infer from the conversations, reactions, and looks.
“And then again the eyes of the two women met - this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror.” (404)
It also allows expanding the second theme of the story by referring to women by their husband’s names and occupations
In Mrs. Peters’s case, she is referred to as the sheriff’s wife when she attempts to follow the law and as Mrs. Peters when she follows her conscience.
“‘But, Mrs. Hale,’ said the sheriff’s wife, ‘the law is the law.’...[Mrs. Hale] was startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: ‘A person gets discouraged - and loses heart.’” (399)
As for Mrs. Hale, she is referred to as Martha Hale when her own thoughts are heard.
This point of view also sets the tone of the story through the use of dashes for the hesitating mood of the women (“You - you could help me get them.” (397))
Though the author clearly presents the women as more sympathetic than the men, this sympathy is earned by the men’s actions, not descriptions.
Ultimately, information concealed through the point of view used reveals character’s traits and motivations and ironies, contributing to the story’s meaning. Which one is commercial and which one is literary?
Although both “A Municipal Report” and “A Jury of Her Peers” involve a retaliatory murder of an abusive husband and the concealment of incriminating evidence, the two stories differ in their purposes. With closer examination of the two stories, big differences arise between them. From our analysis of the two stories, we have determined that “A Municipal Report” does not do much more than entertain, and is commercial fiction, while “A Jury of Her Peers” reveals truths about human nature, and is literary fiction. Conclusion O. Henry in “A Municipal Report” only seeks to entertain the reader and does not explore the thematic implications that arise from the murder of Caswell. Throughout “A Municipal Report,” the narrator has a nonchalant tone and focuses more on describing his surroundings rather than provide detail towards a central theme. In the beginning of “A Municipal Report,” the narrator mentions that he “stepped off the train at 8 P.M.” and then goes on to describe “a Nashville drizzle”(376). These little details do nothing in terms of revealing a truth about human life. The details are only meant to entertain the reader. The characters in O. Henry’s “A Municipal Report” also are not very realistic and there is a prominent line between “good” and “evil.” Azalea Adair is portrayed as a poor woman, but when the narrator goes to visit her, she says “you must have a cup of tea” and then goes on to offer “a sugar cake”(384). Immediately, the reader knows that Azalea Adair is a good character because even though she has no money, she offers the narrator things that usually only the wealthy have. Caswell, is labeled as an unlikeable character right when the narrator first meets him. When the narrator first sees Caswell, he says, “I knew him for a type the moment my eyes suffered from the sight of him”(378). Then there is Caesar, who wears “the most remarkable coat that [the narrator] had ever seen” and reminds the narrator of “Brutus” and “King Cettiwayo”(380). Even the murder at the end of “A Municipal Report” is regarded lightly by the narrator. The murder, although an important event, isn’t even revealed until the end of the story, and we are only able to figure out that Caswell is stealing from Adair due to the dollar that had a “strip of blue tissue paper” on it and the fifty dollars later in the story(382). At the very end of the story, the narrator reveals just how unimportant the murder was. When the narrator took Caesar’s button - incriminating evidence from the murder - and “cast if out of the window”(388), he goes on immediately to think “I wonder what’s doing in Buffalo”(388).
Susan Glaspell explores sexism in “A Jury of Her Peers” and seeks to present a message to the reader. Although similar events occur in “A Jury of Her Peers” and “A Municipal Report,” “A Jury of Her Peers” starts focusing on the murder and its main theme from the beginning. The murder is introduced early in the story, and the story doesn’t jump around preoccupied with small, trivial details like “A Municipal Report.” Throughout “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell makes it apparent that the story is concerned with the inequalities between men and women during the time period. The main character of the story, Martha Hale, is only mentioned by her full name when the story is solely focused on her, otherwise, she is referred to as “Mrs. Hale,” just like how all the other women, with the exception of Minnie Foster, are generally referred to as “Mrs.” taking on their husband’s family names. This makes a statement of how the women are defined by their husbands, for example, Mrs. Peters is often referred to as the “sheriff’s wife.” The name of “sheriff’s wife” also has another significance in the story, when Mrs. Peters supports the men, she is referred to as the sheriff’s wife. For example, Mrs. Peters is mentioned as the sheriff’s wife when she says, “the law is the law”(399), but then is immediately changed back to Mrs. Peters when she says, “[a] person gets discouraged - and loses heart”(399). When we are given a glimpse into Mrs. Peters as an individual, not under the influence of her husband, she is freed of the name of “sheriff’s wife” and is given a degree of freedom by being called “Mrs. Peters.” The only woman who is constantly referred to by her full name is Minnie Foster, although it’s mentioned that she should be called “Mrs. Wright.” First, it’s significant that she retained her maiden name, and because she killed her husband, she gained “freedom” and is referred to as her full name. Glaspell also portrays the skeptical attitude of the men towards the women as useful towards their investigation. It’s ironic when the men say, “would the women know a clue if they came upon it?”(396). However, throughout the story, the readers are shown that the women understand Minnie Foster, and her motives for killing her husband. The most telling of this is the dead canary - the incriminating piece of evidence - that the women find and hide. Throughout “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell writes about things that contribute to the main purpose of the story: to explore the sexism in the period of time. The

•The author focuses mainly on making the characters well described in this story. For instance, the narrator is well characterized by his self descriptions; “I desire to interpolate here that I am a Southerner” (378). The narrator also helps describe the other characters, including Azalea Adair, “as thin and frail as the house she lived in...with an air as simple as a queen’s” (382); Major Caswell, with “a face of great acreage, red, pulpy” (378); and Uncle Caesar, “a stalwart Negro, older than the pyramids, with gray wool and a face that reminded me of Brutus” (380).
•These highly in-depth characterizations help the reader get a feel for the characters, and it helps make the story more engaging. The characterizations also help the author influence the reader to get a certain opinion about the characters (ex: Major Caswell is generally a dislikable man, because the narrator paints him that way).
•Most of the characters in this story are generally static and do not really change at all throughout the course of events. The narrator’s view of the South isn’t really affected all that much by the murder. Azalea Adair remains frail and weak, but persistent throughout the part which she is present. The only character who makes any kind of change is Uncle Caesar, who gets so mad at Major Caswell that he murders him (p.388).
•In addition, although the characters are well described physically and emotionally to some extent, they cannot really be classified as round characters, because generally what is visible on the surface is all the reader will know about the characters- the narrator does not elaborate much. Each discovery found by the two women leads to a better understand of what happened
Suspense is created not through the murder of John Wright but rather why he was murdered ( when they came to search the Wrights' house, they had already take Minnie Foster down to prison to be "held for murder" (394))
Surprise is used throughout to draw attention to towards to the central idea of the story (cupboard that the court attorney takes interest in turns out to only contain the friuts that Minnie Foster had made (395) (the main clue would be hidden in a box at the bottom of her sewing basket (403)
Story Ending- inconclusive, we can make inferences but story stops before we can determine if Minnie Foster killed her husband and if she was convicted (end by hiding the key evidence for the motive and discuss that she is going to finish the quily by "[knotting] it" (408)) Municipal Report A Jury of Her Peers

•This story only has two main characters essentially- Martha Hale and Mrs. Peters. The rest of the mentioned characters: Mr. Hale, Sheriff Peters, and the county attorney, are largely not present for most of the story. This allows for the author to really effectively delve into the characterizations of the two women, using dialogue, descriptions, and thoughts/emotions. It is also necessary to note that although Minnie Wright is never actually present in the story, she is constantly mentioned and discussed by the characters, to the point where she almost becomes like a third main character. Through Mrs. Hale’s descriptions and insights (“‘She- come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and- fluttery. How- she- did- change.’”(403)), and Mrs. Peters’ reactions (“When I was a girl...my kitten- there was a boy who took a hatchet, and before my eyes- before I could get there...If they hadn’t held me back I would have...hurt him.’”(405)), we get a broader picture of Minnie, and understand her motivations for why she was compelled to kill her husband. This is important because it helps generate sympathy from the reader. Because of what the women find out about her bird, they decide to essentially take the law into their own hands, because they empathize with Minnie and her oppression by her husband. This is also why these three women are definitely round characters. The depth of characterization helps justify their actions in the reader’s mind. This also points out a deeper meaning to the story, about how women are sometimes unfairly judged, especially in that time when society was run mainly by men.
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