illustration of a dead bird lying within a black box

A Jury of Her Peers

by Susan Glaspell
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How is symbolism or characterization used to develop a theme in "A Jury of Her Peers"? Explain a specific symbol or characterization, a specific theme, and how the symbol or characterization develops the theme.

The canary in "A Jury of her Peers" is a symbol that characterizes Minnie Wright and develops the story's theme of victimization. John Wright's choking of the bird symbolizes how he choked the joy out Minnie, who is repeatedly compared to the sweet, singing bird.

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The canary is an important symbol that represents the theme of victimization in the story. It it is also used to characterize Minnie Wright: she is repeatedly likened to the sweet bird.

We first become aware of the bird when the men are gone from the kitchen, at which point the two women notice the empty bird cage. Mrs. Hale wonders if Minnie bought one of the canaries that were being sold "cheap" last year. Mrs. Hale then immediately establishes the connection between the bird and the canary by saying that Mrs. Wright

used to sing real pretty herself.

As they wonder what happened to the damaged bird cage, Mrs. Hale again characterizes Minnie through the 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—did—change.

When they find the carefully wrapped dead canary, Mrs. Hale again compares her to the bird:

"No, [John] Wright wouldn't like the bird," she said after that—"a thing that sang. She [Minnie] used to sing. He killed that too."

We learn about Minnie's personality and talents through the canary: like the bird, she loved to sing and was sweet, pretty, timid, and fluttery. Mr. Wright's literal choking of the bird—a symbol of the sweet, caged Mrs. Wright—becomes a metaphor for the way he choked the spirit and inner life out of Minnie until she was changed and finally snapped.

Using the bird as a symbol of Minnie helps us to see how she was, like the bird, imprisoned and (metaphorically) destroyed by her husband. This creates a context in which Minnie's murder of her husband looks like self-defense and becomes a justifiable homicide.

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