The men have come into the Wrights' home to find anything that could link Mrs. Wright to her husband's murder.
On several occasions, with uncaring dismissiveness, the men laugh at the very real responsibilities that fill a woman's life—calling their worries over their responsibilities, "trifles." They are critical that the towels in the kitchen are dirty and that the house is not decorated nicely; they dismiss Mrs. Peters being "capable enough" to sneak something she should not into the jail, and even make fun of the quilt Mrs. Wright was making. In all, they have greatly alienated the women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, making the women aware for the first time of the delineation that separates the world of men and that of women.
The women are neighbors who have come to collect some things to take to Mrs. Wright in jail. Mrs. Peters is the sheriff's wife. As they look around, they find an empty birdcage and a dead canary, wrapped in Mrs. Wright's sewing basket, waiting to be buried. Its wrecked body shows that it was killed purposely: broken, it seems, by a strong, uncaring hand. They realize that Mrs. Wright probably killed her husband for destroying the one beautiful element in her sorry world.
This, then, is the missing piece the men are looking for. However, as the women think on what they have discovered and their own personal experiences, they begin to have a sense of solidarity with this woman: that even though they hardly knew her, they had much in common. They can only imagine what Mrs. Wright's life was like not having children. And Mrs. Hale can remember when "Minnie Foster Wright" had once sung so beautifully in the church choir, understanding now that Mr. Wright killed that in her, too.
The women, struggling about what to do, decide to keep what they have learned a secret. They take the sewing box with them, with the bird still in it, knowing that they will not share what they know with the men, but protect their "sister" who has tried to hard to survive in the uncaring world of men. They will not give the men what they need to destroy what is left of Mrs. Wright.