The settings of the Wright farm in the expansive farmland of Dickson County, Iowa, the town that represents Indianola, where the real woman represented by Minnie Foster lived as a young woman, and the interior farmhouse itself--specifically, the kitchen--are all key elements to the understanding of the crime and the character of those involved.
- The town
This setting is significant because it provides insights into the personal history of Minnie Foster. As a young woman twenty years ago, she was vivacious and socially involved, singing in the choir at church Mrs. Hale tells Mrs. Peters as they find mended and shabby clothes in the closet for Mrs. Wright at the jail:
"I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself. I s'pose she felt she couldn't do her part; and then, you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby."
Now, Mrs. Wright has asked for an apron, an article she would have no need of in jail. This request is indicative of Mrs. Wright's self-perception as a farm woman, whose time is mostly spent in a kitchen and as a housewife. For years, she has led a reclusive life, without so much as a telephone because her overbearing husband would not purchase the party line available.
- The farm
Farms in the Midwest are often hundreds of acres large, so there is little contact with anyone but one's own immediate family and some farmhands. The closest town is often very small; consequently, there is little social life for people. Farmers are extremely busy during planting and harvesting seasons, working from pre-dawn to dark. By the time they come home for the evening they are exhausted and retire to bed early. Winter often finds people snowbound and unable to even reach town for days or weeks, especially in earlier times. Because of their solitude on the tractor or the combine, farmers often become taciturn and reluctant to express their feelings. Thus, the wife has little interaction with her husband other than preparing his meals and performing chores that are often separate from him. Without children this life is an isolated and lonely one, indeed, as it is for Mrs. Wright.
Her closest neighbor, Mrs. Hale, even notes, "I've seen little enough of her of late years. I've not been in the house--it's more than a year."
- The farmhouse/the kitchen
Separated from any socialization and repressed by the cold Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright begins to lose interest in cleaning and other menial tasks as they no longer have any meaning.
Therefore, for Mrs. Wright the canary and its lovely songs reminiscent of her own singing have become the sole consolation for her desolate life and lonely heart. Because of this single, solitary beauty in her life, the killing of the little bird, her lone companion, has become a terrible act of cruelty and insult to her existence in Mrs. Wright's mind.
When Mr. Wright kills her bird, it is not just a simple act of animal cruelty; rather, his act symbolizes his attempt to completely destroy Minnie Foster's spirit and her soul. As an act of desperation to retain what little spirit she has, Mrs. Wright retaliates against his lifelong acts of oppression and insensitivity.