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Metaphor in A Jury of Her Peers

Metaphor, Metonymy, and Synecdoche: Glaspell employs various metaphors to assert many of the themes she portrays throughout her short story. The oven in Mrs. Wright’s house, for example, serves as a synecdoche of Minnie’s broken home and the decrepit home itself serves as a metonym for the mental state of the female characters. The imagery of a disordered home underscores Minnie’s troubled psychological state in her unhappy marriage. In addition, the canary who can no longer sing represents Minnie’s confinement, the mangled bird cage represents John’s cruel, forceful control over his wife, and the wind represents the impending violence of the story. Each symbol throughout the story is laced with meaning, casting Glaspell’s story in a dark overtone.

Metaphor Examples in A Jury of Her Peers:

A Jury of Her Peers

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"and had let her die for lack of life,..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This phrase is cryptic and multilayered. First, it is clear that the death Mrs. Hale refers to is figurative. Literally speaking, Mrs. Hale did not “let [Mrs. Wright] die” because Mrs. Wright isn’t dead. Things get stranger if we note that the figurative death occurred “for lack of life.” Clearly, life and death are figures for something else, perhaps liveliness and its lack. One way of interpreting Mrs. Hale’s phrase would be to say that Mrs. Wright’s life had become empty and unfulfilled to the point that she experienced a kind of inner, soul-level death.

"began the sheriff's wife in a flurried voice,..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The word “flurried” serves as a double entendre. On the surface, the word denotes a kind feeling of agitation or anxiety. On a literal level, “flurried” means “moved by a flurry,” which draws on the stormy language from the story’s start. Thus, “flurried” brings in the metaphorical material of the storm—most pressingly, the conflict of the sexes.

""Like a raw wind that gets to the bone."..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This phrase draws on motifs established early on in the story. For example, the story’s opening sentence includes a strikingly similar image in which Mrs. Hale “got a cut of the north wind.” These threads of stormy weather and violence weave their way throughout the story, and cross in this moment. On a metaphorical level, the “raw wind that gets to the bone” evokes Mr. Wright’s capacity for psychological coldness and violence.

""I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Hale’s description of the Wright home is telling. That the home is “down in a hollow” operates as a combination of metaphor and metonymy—a technique by which the object is compared to its surroundings. In this case, the home’s location in a hollow bespeaks the hollow quality of the home itself. There is an emotional hollowness and emptiness in the Wright home, as becomes increasingly clear as the story unfolds.

""Why, she was piecing a quilt," and held up a large sewing basket piled high with quilt pieces...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The unfinished quilt is a fascinating image, rich with metaphorical meaning. The piled-up pieces of quilt represent a puzzle to be solved, much like the scattered evidence of the murder case itself. The quilt also represents Mrs. Wright’s domestic life, an analogy made concrete by the quilt’s log-cabin design. As Mrs. Hale suggests, Mrs. Wright’s home life was broken or perhaps fragmented into pieces.

"The thought of Minnie Foster trying to bake in that oven—and the thought of her never going over to see Minnie Foster—...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Mrs. Wright’s oven is an example of synecdoche, a literary device in which a small detail metaphorically represents the greater whole which contains it. Here, the broken oven, with its rent lining, represents the entire Wright household and the home life of the Wrights. Like the oven, the household is broken, its lining—the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Wright—irrevocably torn. Mrs. Wright’s years spent struggling with a broken oven is merely a metaphor for the years she spent struggling in a broken marriage.

"which the county attorney's disdainful push of the foot had deranged...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This is an interesting use of the pathetic fallacy—a technique by which an object is given human qualities or emotions. The attorney’s foot “had deranged” the cookware. “Deranged” literally means “disarranged,” thrown out of order. The word, however, is much more often used to mean “driven insane.” Thus, the phrase not only carries connotations of mental instability, but also of men driving women to such a state. By metonymy, the kicked cookware stands in for Mrs. Wright’s mental state.

"When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf...."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

The opening sentence establishes the tone of the story. The sentence is laced with stormy language, from Mrs. Hale’s name to the “storm-door” to the “north wind.” As a metaphor, the storm alerts the reader to the conflicts brewing at the story’s heart—the gruesome case to be solved and the tensions between the men and women. The “cut” Mrs. Hale receives from the wind is figurative, but announces the story’s undercurrent of violence.

"why would she have a cage?..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Notice that Minnie is inadvertently compared to a canary in this passage. The past-tense phrase “used to sing” ominously suggests that Minnie no longer sings for some unknown reason. Consider, too, that Mrs. Hale says that Minnie must have had a canary: otherwise, “why would she have a cage?” The use of the pronoun “she” is deliberate here, further associating Minnie with a caged bird. This comparison foreshadows coming events and leads us to reflect on the nature of the Wrights’ married life.

""We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson."..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

“Knot it” could symbolically stand for how the women “knot” the men’s investigation. Without a motive, the county attorney notes that it is likely that Minnie will not be found guilty. Thus, in not turning over the bird, the women protect Minnie from the law. Because the men discount women’s affairs as trivial, Mrs. Hale can tell him that they decided to “knot it,” both the investigation and the quilt, and the significance will be lost on him.

"hands aren't always as clean..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

This claim could be read as a metaphor that underscores the themes of the story. “Clean hands” is an English idiom that implies innocence, or guiltlessness. The sheriff and county attorney are there looking for motives so that they can convict Minnie of the murder of her husband. Mrs. Hale’s suggestion that men’s hands are not “clean” suggests that Minnie’s husband, or men in general, are not guiltless for the murder.

"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. ..."   (A Jury of Her Peers)

Studying the furniture in the Wright house, Mrs. Hale compares the Minnie Foster of today to the Minnie Foster whom she knew 20 years ago. Since Mrs. Hale has not visited Minnie in her home or kept in contact with her, she looks to the furniture of the place to draw conclusions about Minnie’s life. In this way, the setting can be read as a metaphorical representation of both Minnie’s circumstances and identity.

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