What is the inciting incident of the play?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the inciting incident defined as a plot element that generates internal and/or external conflicts upon the protagonist that effect changes in this character, the death of John Wright is such an incident. However, it is not so much the fact of the man's dying and the apparent murder as it is the circumstances of Minnie Wright's life and the knowledge of these circumstances that produce a profound effect upon all three women in the play. Therefore, all three women must be considered as a collective protagonist with the men in the role of collective antagonist. (Thus, the title of the second telling by Glaspell in short story form as "A Jury of Her Peers" seems more appropriate to the narrative.) For, all three women eventually retaliate against the male repression that they experience, albeit to different degrees.

When the county attorney and Sheriff Peters and his wife along with the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Hale, arrive at the desolate Wright farmhouse, the attorney asks Mr. Hale about what he and his son Harry have witnessed.Then, he suggests going upstairs where the murder occurred; further, he confirms with the sheriff that nothing "that would point to any motive" is in the kitchen. When Mrs. Peters notices that the canned fruit has frozen and the jars broken, she mentions that Mrs. Wright was worried about her canned goods. Derisively, the county attorney scoffs, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles." The assumption is made, therefore, that anything having to do with the women, as well as what they have to say, is trifling, and not worth examining. 

It is from this point that the female/male conflict develops as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters become allies in the kitchen as they wait for their husbands, who are upstairs with the county attorney seeking a motive. Mrs. Hale relates to Mrs. Peters just how repressed Minnie Wright has been, isolated from others on this farm, no longer singing in the church choir as she did when single, alone in the house while John and their son worked the fields, no telephone on which she could at least talk to another woman. All she had was her little canary. Ironically, it is the women who discover a motive for the murder in what has been assumed by the men as the inconsequential kitchen. And, because the men have belittled the women's interests as trifling and, most especially after Mrs. Hale has made Mrs. Peters aware of the cruelty and oppression of John Wright to his once cheerful wife, the two wives conspire against the men and hide the very thing that would, indeed, point to the motive for the murder: the sadistic killing of the one joy Mrs. Wright had left, her songbird. For, the women perceive this morbid action as larger than itself:

MRS.HALE She-come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself--real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and--fluttery. How--she--did--change.

Because Mr. Wright virtually killed the soul of Mrs. Wright, when the men descend the stairs and enter the kitchen, Mrs. Peters's eyes meet those of Mrs. Hale, who quickly hides the box containing the dead bird into her coat pocket, feeling Mrs. Wright justified in her retaliation against John Wright. The effect of the murder of Mr. Wright as the inciting incident has effected a deeper understanding in the hearts of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters for the oppression that Mrs. Wright has long suffered. For them,then, Minnie Wright acted in self-defense.