The setting of this story is in a rural American community, Dickson County, at the turn of the twentieth century. This setting is extremely important to establishing the plot and themes of the story.
The overriding impression we get in this story is of the emptiness of Minnie Wright's life...
which drives her to despair. In this kind of farming community, at that time, there would be few opportunities for women to do anything but keep the house; that was the only sort of work they could do, while the men were out working the farms. If a woman were happily married, with children to bring up, this would be alright, but for someone trapped in a loveless, childless, and indeed abusive marriage, like Minnie, there really was no escape from a bleak existence. Divorce was not readily available at the time, and much stigmatized. A woman like Minnie would be expected to bear her lot, no matter how lonely and isolated she might be. The loneliness of the Wright farm is emphasized; it is off the beaten track, down in a hollow. It appears as a grim place.
Martha Hale, one of Minnie's nearer neighbours, feels compunction at not having done more for Minnie. She feels guilty that she didn't make the effort to visit her more often:
'Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while!' she cried. 'That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that?'
Minnie's only recourse, finally, is to kill her husband, by all accounts a thoroughly mean-spirited, domineering man. Her fellow-women, Martha Hale and Mrs Peters, realize the intolerable conditions of her life which finally drove her to extreme action.