Susan Glaspell uses symbolism in A Jury of Her Peers to reveal the role that women played in society. Symbolism is a device used in literature where an object represents an idea. This short story combines murder, lies, and sexism while exposing the reader to the truth about womens abilities and skills. Through the use of symbolism, A Jury of Her Peers reveals the sad life that Mrs. Wright lived.
The Wright home symbolizes the isolated and dreadful place where Mrs. Wright was forced to live. A majority of the story takes place in the home. Sparsely decorated and in need of updating, the house was an uninviting and lonely place. I could've come," retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. "I stayed away because it weren't cheerful--and that's why I ought to have come. I"--she looked around--"I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road. I don't know what it is, but it's a lonesome place, and always was (Glaspell, 12). Due to the homes dreadful setting and appearance no one wanted to visit the friendless and lonesome Mrs. Wright.
In A Jury of Her Peers Glaspell described the kitchen as a cluttered and untidy mess. The kitchen symbolizes life inside the house and the confusion it entailed for Mrs. Wright. Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Her eyes made a slow, almost unwilling turn to the bucket of sugar and the half empty bag beside it. Things begun--and not finished (Glaspell, 9). There were dirty dishes under the sink, an unclean dishtowel left on the table, and food lying out and not put away. This evidence illustrates Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters opinion of the rooms disorganization. This gives the impression that no attention had been paid to cleaning the kitchen on a regular basis.
Glaspell also uses the empty rocking chair to embody the absence of Mrs. Wright. It came into Mrs. Hale's mind that that rocker didn't look in the least like Minnie Foster--the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side (Glaspell, 3). Before she married Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright went by the name of Minnie Foster. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively--when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that--oh, that was twenty years ago (Glaspell, 8). When she took on his identity, she left hers behind. The rocking chair appeared broken down just like Minnie. Her decline came about as a result of her husbands abuse, both mentally and physically.
The name Minnie Foster has a significant meaning in A Jury of Her Peers. Minnie comes from the words mini or minimized, which describes her role in the home. Her function diminished to doing housekeeping chores and obeying Johns every demand. The story demonstrates not only her relationship with John, but also how society viewed women at this time. None of the wives in A Jury of Her Peers have first names, only last names given to them through their marriage. For that matter, a sheriff's wife is married to the law (Glaspell, 16). Mrs. Peters, the wife of the sheriff, is characterized in those terms. It is apparent that society doesnt see women for who they are, but defines them by their husbands.
In A Jury of Her Peers the bird cage symbolizes the cage Mrs. Wright must have felt that she lived in. "Look at this door," she said slowly. "It's broke. One hinge has been pulled apart" (Glaspell, 11). The image of the cage illustrates how Mrs. Wright saw herself as confined and trapped in a hopeless marriage. Looks as if someone must have been--rough with it (Glaspell, 11). The ripped hinges on the door represents the state of Mrs. Wrights marriage, violent and abusive.
Glaspell also uses the canary to represent the old Mrs. Wright and the life she wished had. The Wrights did not have any children so the bird took the place of the children Mrs. Wright never had. "Not having children makes less work," mused Mrs. Hale, after a silence, "but it makes a quiet house--and Wright out to work all day--and no company when he did come in (Glaspell, 12). Mrs. Wright loved the bird and it became the only cheerful thing she had in her isolated and dreary home. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale remembered how Mrs. Wright loved to sing, much like a bird. 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--didchange (Glaspell, 12). After her marriage, Mr. Wright silenced her singing and everything that she cherished.
In A Jury of Her Peers the knotted quilt has an imperative meaning. Just as women use bits and pieces of fabric to make a quilt, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters used bits and pieces of information to weave together the story of what took place in the Wrights home. Mrs. Hale was looking at the fine, even sewing, and preoccupied with thoughts of the woman who had done that sewing, when she heard the sheriff's wife say, in a queer tone: "Why, look at this one." She turned to take the block held out to her. "The sewing," said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way, "All the rest of them have been so nice and even--but--this one. Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!" (Glaspell, 10). In discovering the imperfections in the last bit of stitching the two women wonder if Mrs. Wright was trying to calm her nerves. What do you suppose she was so--nervous about?" (Glaspell, 10). The women then decided to correct the stitching, thus covering up the crime. "Well, Henry," said the county attorney facetiously, "at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to--what is it you call it, ladies?" (Glaspell, 17). The knotted quilt represents the rope Mrs. Wright used to murder her husband.
In conclusion, the use of symbolism in A Jury of Her Peers illustrates the cheerless life that Mrs. Wright lived. Symbolism creates a better image of what the writes intends to portray. Glaspell demonstrates that women were to be seen and not heard. The suppression hurts both men and women; the end resulting in Mrs. Wrights oppression, which led to Mr. Wrights death.