In The Hours, how does the dead bird function as a symbol?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dead bird that her neices and nephews find in the garden becomes a very important symbol of death to Virginia and triggers off an epiphany for her. In particular, this epiphany is related to the way in which the body of the thrush diminishes after its demise. The way it functions as a symbol of death is reinforced by the fact that she only notices it when the children are playing at funerals, and build a grave for it in her garden. When it is placed in its special grave, she comments upon how small and unimportant it is. Later on that same day, she leaves secretly to look at the bird again by herself. The parallel between the bird's death and Virginia's own death and attitude towards it is indicated by the way in which earlier on, she seemed to desire to rest and peace of the bird on its grave, but now, later on, she realises she is not ready to embrace the insignificance and smallness of death. The bird thus symbolises death and the way that the vigour of our lives is extracted from our bodies, leaving behind only a remnant of what we once were. Consider what Virginia thinks of the sight of the dead bird:

Virginia lingers another moment beside the dead bird in its circle of roses. It could be a kind of hat. It could be the missing link between millinery and death.

The description of the bird as being a "kind of hat" clearly shows how all of its life force has exited the bird's body and how only a tiny frame remains. During her epiphany, Virginia decides she is not able to choose death, but later on, of course, she reverses this decision.



angelina18 | Student

Virginia sees the dead bird as a symbol of death and becomes fascinated with the way the thrush’s body becomes smaller and seems less important after it dies. Virginia first notices the dead bird when Vanessa’s children construct a grave for it in her garden. She takes notice of how small and insignificant the bird looks after being placed in the nest of flowers. Later that evening, she creeps out to the garden and looks at the bird again. Although earlier she expressed that she would like the peace and quiet of laying on the bird’s bed of roses, she realizes that she is not yet ready to become that small and insignificant. The bird represents death and demonstrates the way the vitality of day-to-day life is pulled from the physical form, leaving only a small body. At that moment, Virginia decides she is not ready to choose death, but ultimately she does decide to take her own life.