“I could’ve come,” retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. “I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful—and that’s why I ought to have come. I”—she looked around—“I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a lonesome place, and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—” She did not put it into words.

“Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself,” counseled Mrs. Peters. “Somehow, we just don’t see how it is with other folks till—something comes up.”

As Mrs. Hale reworks the stitches in the badly sewed quilt piece, she and Mrs. Peters talk about Minnie’s lonely house and life. The use of dashes in these lines is a good example of how Glaspell works to make the diction of conversation sound natural while also suggesting characters’ thoughts and feelings. She uses this technique throughout the story. Here, in Mrs. Hale’s words, the dash after “cheerful” suggests Mrs. Hale’s realization that the very reason she stayed away was the reason she should have come. Her discomfort with the Wrights’ house is suggested in the next two dashes, which separate her two attempts to start an explanation. Most telling is the last dash, before the thought she doesn’t articulate. This dash invites readers to consider what Mrs. Hale can “see.” It’s like an open-ended question: What can she see now that she couldn’t before?

The dash in Mrs. Peters’ speech, as so often in her conversation, points out how reluctant she is to call the situation what it is. Both women, and readers, know exactly what the “something” that came up is, but the sheriff’s timid wife can’t bring herself to name it.

“The country’s not very pleasant this time of year,” Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men.

Mrs. Hale scarcely finished her reply, for they had gone up a little hill and could see the Wright place now, and seeing it did not make her feel like talking. It looked very lonesome this cold March morning. It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees.

This description of the exterior, or larger, setting comes as the investigating party goes by horse-drawn buggy to the Wrights’ house. Mrs. Peters tries to chat with Mrs. Hale, but the location of the farmhouse depresses Mrs. Hale so much that she doesn’t care to participate in small talk. For readers, this description of setting matters because it helps them frame the time and place clearly. Horses and buggies, bitter winter winds, homes remote enough that people heat them with stoves and carry water in by the pail, no easy communication by phone—these are the conditions in which the Wrights live, and they are so different from the living conditions of typical readers that that readers must take a moment to imagine them. The description also matters because it suggests the extent of Minnie’s isolation. The word “lonesome” is used three times; even the trees look lonesome. The house is out in the country, away from town, and “down in a hollow,” cutting it off from views of the road or the horizon. It is a discouraging place, and Minnie, as the women will conclude, has become a desperately discouraged woman.

“I didn’t see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up—it was past eight o'clock. So I knocked again, louder, and I thought I heard somebody say, ‘Come in.’ I wasn’t sure—I’m not sure yet. But I opened the door—this door,” jerking a hand toward the door by which the two women stood, “and there, in that rocker”—pointing to it—“sat Mrs. Wright.”

Every one in the kitchen looked at the rocker. 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.

Mr. Hale provides the first description of the story’s interior setting as he describes entering the Wrights’ farmhouse, whose door opens onto the kitchen. The kitchen is the story’s main setting and is described in detail as the story continues. Here, the attention of readers and characters is focused on Minnie’s rocking chair. This rocker is where Minnie does her close work, particularly sewing and mending. At the time the story is set, most sewing of clothing and bedding was done at home and occupied a good deal of a housewife’s time. The women see, later in the story, that Minnie is at work on a quilt, a large and necessary project. In short, the rocker matters, and its state represents Minnie’s kitchen, her marriage, and her life. It needs repainting and repair. Even the seat is broken. These repairs, in the time the story is set, fall to John Wright, but he has neglected them as he has neglected Minnie’s contentment generally.

For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, "Well, I guess John Wright didn't wake up—when they was slippin' that rope under his neck," she muttered.

"No, it's strange," breathed Mrs. Peters. "They think it was such a—funny way to kill a man."
She began to laugh; at the sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped.


“Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here.” She half laughed—an attempt to put up a barrier.

At these two points in the story, Mrs. Peters laughs, but certainly not happily. These lines are examples of laughter as a response to uncomfortable situations and unspeakable truths. Nervous, evasive laughter is especially common to Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife who is, according to Mrs. Hale, “small and thin and didn’t have a strong voice.” While Mrs. Hale knows Minnie and is ready to defend her from the first paragraphs of the story, Mrs. Peters must detach herself from her husband, “a heavy man with a big voice,” and from her opinion that the law exists to curb and to punish, before she can stand with Minnie. In both these instances, her laughter suggests her ambivalence. In the first instance, she seems almost surprised by laughter. In the second, she deploys it intentionally as a barrier between her accustomed loyalty to her husband and the terrible conclusions toward which the evidence slowly leads her. Even when she begins to accept the idea that Minnie strangled her husband, she says, in a “high, false voice,” that the men would laugh at the idea. This thought may allow her to dismiss the idea of telling her husband about the dead bird.