The misogynic tendencies to belittle feminine endeavors have always been the fuel for discourse between the two genders. Women are usually reluctant if not hindered by the fabrics of a patriarchal society to openly display their displeasures. More often than not, women like Susan Glaspell resort to unveil their discomfort through their literary compositions. In her short story “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell does resort to the use of symbolism to vanish the rhetoric of the oppression of women in society. An exploration of Glaspell’s consistent use of symbolism in the story is critical in grasping her criticism on gender oppression.
Glaspell uses the symbolism of a cage to illustrate the entrapment of women in abusive marriages. The Wrights were not depicted as a happy couple. Mrs. Hale identifies that one of the reasons she failed to visit the Wrights was because “It never seemed a very cheerful place” (Glaspell, 542). The two women did understand that it was because of her sad life that Minnie Forster had gotten a canary bird. Mr. Wright was also not considered to possess a cheerful personality. It is also evident that Mr. Wright had little regard for her wife’s needs when Mr. Hale asserts that “I didn’t know as what his wife wanted to make much difference to John” (Glaspell, 538). The idea of the Wrights unhappy marriage is cemented when Glaspell introduces a broken cage. The cage symbolized that the marriage was broken and further indicated that the marriage was prone to violence. To Minnie Forster, marriage was a cage that had her isolated from the larger community and at time inflicted emotional and physical pain (Angel, 549). The cage depicts the oppressive tendencies of the entrapment of marriage to women. The author essentially considers that marriage as a cage is a tool for gender oppression in a patriarchal society.
The author has used the young Minnie Foster and the old rocking chair as symbols to highlight the strain gender oppression had on women. The young Minnie Foster is considered to have been lively and preferred pretty clothes. Mrs. Hale could not link the Minnie Foster of 20 years prior, to the Minnie Foster who preferred to sit on an old rocker chair. Glaspell introduces Minnie Foster as a contrast to the old Mrs. Wright (Hedges, 62). The vital tendencies like having a good voice and wearing pretty dresses are given to the young Minnie Foster while the old possessions as an old rocker chair are given to the less lively Mrs. Wright. The chair was described as being dingy red, sagging on one side with its middle rung gone (Glaspell, 539). The chair tends to describe the state of women in an oppressed society. The oppression breaks them and sucks away their beauty as it did to Minnie Foster leaving them to fade of like the old sagging rocker chair. The life with Mr. Wright had turned a once lively Minnie Foster into a sad laboring housewife. It is evident that the old rocker chair and the young Minnie Foster are used to illustrate the damage of oppression on women.
The short story uses the symbol of the dirty towel and the dirty dishes to display the oppressive roles subjected to women by a patriarchal society. Society tends to allocate degrading roles to women in society. The County attorney is quick to blame the laxity of Mrs. Wright for the dirty towels he finds in the kitchen. The attorney quickly delegates the blame to Mrs. Wright when he exclaims “Dirty Towels! Not much of a housekeeper…” (Glaspell, 542). The scene identifies that women were not only considered to be housekeepers but also blamed for any blemish in the household. The towels as it turns out were not dirty due to the negligence of Minnie Foster but were made dirty when the fire was set up in the house after she was jailed. Mrs. Hale claims that the dirty towels were to be blamed on men’s dirty hands which were not as clean as they often seemed. Glaspell does portray the way women are often needed to clean up after the messes created by men (Hedges, 68). Men create damages, but it is the women who are blamed for the messes if they are not rectified. It is as though women are tools employed by men to rectify their dirty laundry. Thus, the symbolism of dirty towels and dishes depict the dirty tasks, and unqualified blames that the society employs to oppress women.
The quilt has been employed to advance the theme of the short story by exposing the society’s misconception of women’s issues as a trifle. When the women find Mrs. Wrights quilt, they do not at first comprehend its magnitude as part of the evidence the men were scoping. The Sherriff Jokingly downplays their find by sarcastically exclaiming “They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” (Glaspell, 546). The quilt as it turns out became the guide to the emotional status of Mrs. Wright that eventually determined her motive for murdering her husband. It was ironical for the men to consider the women’s endeavors to be trifle while it was these trifle endeavors that uncovered the evidence to the murder. Part of the quilt was out of order which indicates that the quilter was not emotionally stable. The quilt further symbolized the choices that were made by Mrs. Wright. If she were to continue quilting, then she would have continued ignoring the death of her bird, but she ended up knotting as an indication of her decision to end her oppression (Angel, 551). The end of her misery came by after she literary tied a knot around her husband’s neck. The quilting symbol has been consistently used to display the contrast on the ideology that men consider nearly everything that women do to be unimportant. Quilting as shown is not a mere hobby but could be used to show the emotional status of women. However trifle the activity, the implications could be huge just as Mrs. Wrights quilting. Glaspell does further employ the symbolism of quilting to call women to stand against oppression. Women have a choice of quilting or knotting according to Glaspell. She gives the option of knotting implying that it was time to end their oppression. Therefore it is evidenced that the symbol of the quilt was a furtherance of the story’s theme.
Susan Glaspell has appropriately employed symbolism in her short story to explore the theme of gender oppression in a patriarchal society and more so in marriage. The cage, the young Minnie Foster, the dirty towels, the dirty utensils, the rocker chair and the quilt were intelligently employed by the author to advance her theme of gender oppression. Symbolism was essentially employed to assist the author in advancing her issue beyond the confines of her character and capture the issues of women beyond the confines of her short story.
Angel, Marina. “Teaching Susan Glaspell’s A Jury of Her Peers and Trifles.” Journal of Legal Education 53.4 (2003): 548-563.
Hedges, Elaine. “Small Things Reconsidered:’A Jury of Her Peers.’.” Susan Glaspell: Essays on Her Theater and Fiction (2002): 49-70.
Kelly .J. Mayes..,ed. The Norton Introduction to Literature.. Shorter 12th ed. (2015) Susan Glaspell “A Jury of Her Peers: (537-552)