Symbolism in “A Jury of Her Peers” Short Story by Susan Glaspell

Categories: CultureGender

The symbolism in Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers" extends beyond the explicit representations of oppression and resistance, delving deeper into the complexities of gender dynamics and societal expectations. The narrative artfully employs symbols that resonate with readers, inviting a nuanced exploration of the pervasive issues surrounding women's autonomy and equality.

The Symbolism of Birds

The symbolic presence of birds in the story goes beyond a mere representation of freedom; it becomes a narrative thread weaving through the fabric of Minnie's life.

The missing bird, introduced early in the story, serves as a harbinger of the stifling environment within Minnie's home. The remark, "Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here," underscores the incongruity of freedom within the confines of Minnie's oppressive household, setting the stage for the unfolding narrative (Glaspell 7).

The birdcage, a powerful metaphor for imprisonment, is a central symbol that encapsulates both physical and metaphorical constraints. The broken hinge on the birdcage becomes a visual representation of the shattered agency endured by Minnie.

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As one of the women observes, "Look at this door. It’s broke. One hinge has been pulled apart" (Glaspell 7). This broken hinge becomes emblematic of the ruptured freedom and autonomy within Minnie's life, amplifying the impact of the patriarchal forces at play.

The culmination of the bird symbolism occurs with the discovery of the dead bird at the end of the story. This serves as a poignant metaphor for the loss of hope and agency experienced by Minnie. The lifeless bird becomes a somber warning, urging a collective resolve to continue the fight for women's liberation against the pervasive influence of patriarchy.

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Glaspell uses the life and death of the bird to symbolize the cyclical nature of women's struggles, emphasizing the urgency of change.

The Multifaceted Symbolism of the Stove

The broken stove, a seemingly mundane element in Minnie's kitchen, evolves into a multifaceted symbol, representing the complexities of her marriage. The recurrent mention of the stove parallels the recurring challenges in Minnie's life, serving as a narrative device to emphasize the dynamics between the characters. The sheriff's wife's interaction with the stove during a crucial decision-making moment accentuates its metaphorical significance: "The sheriff’s wife had looked from the stove to the sink—to the pail of water which had been carried in from outside" (Glaspell 6). This juxtaposition underscores the division between domesticity and the outside world, symbolizing the barriers that confine women within societal expectations.

The absence of a telephone in Minnie's house further deepens the symbolism associated with the stove. While the stove represents the physical and emotional barriers within the household, the lack of a telephone symbolizes Minnie's isolation from external connections. The absence of this modern means of communication not only underscores her detachment from the community but also highlights the sinister nature of her relationships, controlled and manipulated by her husband.

Abstract Concepts as Symbols

The concept of trifles, introduced briefly in the story, emerges as a powerful yet abstract symbol. The dismissive statement, "Women are used to worrying over trifles," encapsulates the pervasive attitude towards women's concerns (Glaspell 4). This notion becomes a potent symbol representing the systematic belittlement of women's emotions and needs. The term "trifles" serves as a microcosm of the broader societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality, emphasizing the need for a reevaluation of these ingrained attitudes.

The symbolism in "A Jury of Her Peers" extends beyond tangible objects, incorporating abstract concepts that resonate with the overarching theme of gender inequality. The story, through its rich symbolism, becomes a poignant call to action, urging readers to reflect on the subtle yet profound ways in which societal norms contribute to the marginalization of women.

The Symbolic Power of the Domestic Space

The domestic space in the narrative becomes a symbolic arena where the struggles of women unfold. The kitchen, traditionally associated with women's roles, takes on added significance as a battleground for autonomy and agency. The broken stove, a focal point in the kitchen, becomes emblematic of the challenges faced by women in fulfilling societal expectations. It represents the relentless burden of domestic responsibilities that women bear, often at the expense of their own aspirations and well-being.

The kitchen, as a symbolic space, also serves as the backdrop for the women's clandestine investigation. This subversion of the traditional domestic setting becomes a symbol of solidarity among women, a covert space where they can discuss and address the injustices faced by Minnie. The act of investigating in this traditionally feminine space signifies a reclaiming of agency, challenging the prescribed roles assigned to women.

The Symbolism of Isolation and Community

The absence of a telephone in Minnie's house acquires deeper symbolism when viewed in the context of the surrounding community. In a time when telephones were becoming increasingly common, Minnie's isolation becomes glaringly apparent. The telephone, a symbol of connection and communication, represents the linkages that Minnie lacks. Her exclusion from this modern means of interaction symbolizes not only her isolation but also the control exerted by her husband, who determines the extent of her social interactions.

Conversely, the women's gathering in Minnie's kitchen, away from the prying eyes of the sheriff and his counterparts, becomes a symbolic act of resistance and solidarity. This covert meeting challenges the societal norms that restrict women's voices, creating a communal space where they can share their perspectives and support one another. The symbolism of isolation and community intertwines, emphasizing the transformative power of collective action against gender inequality.

The Symbolism of Light and Darkness

The narrative subtly employs the interplay of light and darkness as a symbolic device. When the women enter Minnie's kitchen, they are faced with the challenge of inadequate lighting, adding a layer of symbolism to their clandestine investigation. The dimly lit space becomes emblematic of the obscured truths and hidden injustices that women grapple with in the shadows of societal expectations.

Conversely, the symbolism of light emerges during the discovery of the dead bird. Mrs. Hale remarks, "She liked the bird. She was going to make something for me of this bird. But I told her it was foolish and not to bring the thing in the house" (Glaspell 8). This act of rejecting the bird and its potential creation signifies the suppression of creativity and individual expression within the constraints of Minnie's marriage. The symbolism of light and darkness becomes a visual metaphor, highlighting the contrast between the stifled creativity in the darkness and the potential for liberation in the light.

The Power of Symbolic Imagery

The intricate weaving of symbols in "A Jury of Her Peers" contributes to the story's enduring impact. The symbolism goes beyond mere ornamentation, becoming a narrative device that communicates the profound struggles of women in a patriarchal society. The power of symbolic imagery lies in its ability to transcend the confines of explicit storytelling, resonating with readers on a visceral level.

The symbolism of the birdcage, broken stove, absent telephone, concept of trifles, domestic space, isolation, community, and light and darkness collectively forms a tapestry that intricately portrays the multifaceted nature of gender inequality. Each symbol serves as a lens through which readers can interpret and dissect the pervasive issues faced by women in the narrative, urging a critical examination of societal norms and expectations.

Conclusion: A Call to Action Through Symbolism

In conclusion, "A Jury of Her Peers" emerges as a compelling piece that utilizes symbolism to address the urgent need for women's liberation. The rich tapestry of symbols intricately woven throughout the narrative invites readers to engage with the complexities of gender dynamics and societal expectations. The symbols of the birdcage, broken stove, absent telephone, concept of trifles, domestic space, isolation, community, and light and darkness collectively serve as a call to action, challenging readers to reflect on and dismantle the ingrained structures that perpetuate gender inequality.

Susan Glaspell's narrative becomes a catalyst for conversations on the subtle yet profound ways in which women's autonomy is constrained. The symbolism employed in the story transcends its literary confines, becoming a mirror reflecting the societal norms that need to be reexamined. Through the power of symbols, "A Jury of Her Peers" stands as a timeless contribution to the ongoing discourse on gender equality, urging individuals to dismantle the metaphorical birdcages that confine women and collectively strive for a more equitable and liberated future.

Updated: Feb 20, 2024
Cite this page

Symbolism in “A Jury of Her Peers” Short Story by Susan Glaspell. (2024, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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