A Jury of Her Peers

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The Dead Bird Symbol Analysis

The Dead Bird Symbol Icon

This crucial piece of evidence uncovered by Martha Hale and Mrs. Peters reveals Minnie Wright’s guilt, but also shows the cruelty of which John Wright was capable. Although John Wright’s act of strangling the songbird was a single cruel act, it symbolizes the way he has treated Minnie throughout their marriage. This symbol is developed over the course of the story as Martha Hale, who knew Minnie as the unmarried Minnie Foster, repeatedly equates Minnie with a bird, emphasizing her love of singing and her lively and bright personality. While the songbird was literally strangled by John Wright, Minnie Foster was figuratively strangled by life with a man who was cold, unkind, poor company, and kept her isolated. Trapped in her marriage, like a bird in a cage, Minnie desperately needed a companion, which she found in the bird. The act of killing the bird also “killed” Minnie’s remaining hope, causing her to retaliate in response to years, rather than one single act, of mistreatment.

The Dead Bird Quotes in A Jury of Her Peers

The A Jury of Her Peers quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Dead Bird. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Subjugation of Women Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the University of Iowa Press edition of A Jury of Her Peers published in 2010.
A Jury of Her Peers Quotes

“‘When I was a girl…my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—’ She covered her face an instant. ‘If they hadn’t held me back I would have’—she caught herself, looked upward where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—‘hurt him.’”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dead Bird
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

The women discover Mrs. Wright’s strangled song bird, and Mrs. Peters immediately recalls a similar experience in her past when her kitten was killed by a neighborhood boy. This traumatic memory creates a link between Mrs. Peters and Minnie Wright because Mrs. Peters is able imagine the pain Minnie would have felt when her pet was ruthlessly killed (presumably by Mr. Wright). Furthermore, Mrs. Peters knows how she reacted to this pain: she wanted to lash out at the perpetrator and punish him. Minnie’s reaction, it is implied, could very easily have been the same. When Mrs. Peters "catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly,” it is as if she is confessing to the very crime the men are seeking to punish. She knows that she too would be capable of violence if she was hurt as Minnie was hurt.

Early in the story, the two women differ in their understanding of their traditional roles as women. Mrs. Peters is more subdued and subservient, refusing to speak out against the actions of the men. On the other hand, Mrs. Hale criticizes Mr. Wright and the men, although not within their hearing. It seems to take Mrs. Peters extra time to side with Minnie Wright over Minnie’s husband and her own husband. She has more of a hurdle to overcome when defying her husband’s wishes (particularly because he's the sheriff), but in this moment she finds that she has strong empathy for Minnie because of their shared experience of suffering at the hands of men.

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The Dead Bird Symbol Timeline in A Jury of Her Peers

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Dead Bird appears in A Jury of Her Peers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Jury of Her Peers
The Subjugation of Women Theme Icon
...box. She opens it to discover a terrible smell. It contains the wrapped body of a dead bird . (full context)
The Subjugation of Women Theme Icon
Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty Theme Icon
The women notice that having its neck wrung must have killed the dead bird —its head is twisted to the side. The men return to the kitchen and, in... (full context)
The Subjugation of Women Theme Icon
...own train of thought, says that John Wright must have broken the neck of the songbird. Mrs. Peters says that they don’t know the identity of the murderer. Mrs. Hale reflects... (full context)
Legal Obligations vs. Gender Loyalty Theme Icon
Crime and Punishment Theme Icon
...longer in the room, Mrs. Peters, in a sudden burst of determination, tries to hide the dead bird in her handbag and is flustered as the bag is too small. Mrs. Hale snatches... (full context)