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Tone in A Jury of Her Peers

Somber Tone: Glaspell creates a dark and somber tone through setting and description. The story takes place on a “cold March morning” in the Wright house, a “lonesome-looking place… down in a hollow,” surrounded by the shadows of poplar trees. The stormy language and imagery of gusts and cuts of wind establish a somber tone and foreshadow the story’s tragic and violent trajectory. By placing the action in Dickson County, Iowa, Glaspell creates an ominous narrative of crime disrupting a small, quiet town.

Tonal Shifts According to Gender: Tonal shifts occur several times throughout the short story as the perspective shifts between the female and male characters. When the men enter the room, the narration shifts from the women’s eyes to the men’s. For example, after the two female characters find Minnie’s quilt, they are seen laughing and warming their hands over the stove. Very quickly, the male characters seem to intrude on the scene when the county attorney inserts himself “briskly.” The calm mannerisms of the women set against the aggressive diction of the men suggest a stark dichotomy and tension between the two genders.

Tone Examples in A Jury of Her Peers:

A Jury of Her Peers

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""They think it was such a—funny way to kill a man." She began to laugh; at sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This is a strange moment in the story. Mrs. Peters reports that the men consider the strangling a “funny way to kill a man.” The word “funny” seems to mean “peculiar” or “odd,” and yet Mrs. Peters then bursts into a brief fit of laughter, as if she had interpreted the word to literally mean “comedic.” Perhaps the word invited Mrs. Peters to take a comedic look at the events, triggering a fit of laughter in the face of the grimness and absurdity at hand.

"When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The opening sentence establishes the tone of the story. The sentence is laced with stormy language, from Mrs. Hale’s name to the “storm-door” to the “north wind.” As a metaphor, the storm alerts the reader to the conflicts brewing at the story’s heart—the gruesome case to be solved and the tensions between the men and women. The “cut” Mrs. Hale receives from the wind is figurative, but announces the story’s undercurrent of violence.

"What had interrupted Minnie Foster?..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Consider that Mrs. Hale compares herself to Minnie here. Mrs. Hale empathizes with Minnie because she too was “interrupted” from her housework and forced to leave things undone. Note that Mrs. Hale wonders in the next sentence what had brought Minnie away from her work. This cryptic sentence sets a mysterious tone, leading the reader to wonder if what “interrupted” Minnie was more sinister.

"There was a laugh for the ways of women, a warming of hands over the stove, and then the county attorney said briskly:..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that when the men enter the room, the narrator goes from looking at the room through the women’s eyes to considering the men’s perspective. This abrupt change in tone shows the stark differences between the way men and the women think in this story. While the women pay attention to details, the men are “brisk” and unable to look past their own perspectives.

"Dickson County..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

It is unclear what state this Dickson County is in, but we know that it must be a rural farming community in early 20th-century United States. Glaspell’s assertion that Mrs. Hale is called away by something “farther from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County,” establishes this town as quiet and small. Glaspell thus creates a mysterious, suspenseful tone at the very start of the story.

"lonesome-looking place..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The Wright house is lonely, shaded by trees, and removed from the road. This description of the setting creates an ominous tone and suggests that there is something amiss about this home.

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