I spoke to Wright about it once before and he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet—I guess you know about how much he talked himself; but I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—
Mr. Hale speaks these words as he is describing his discovery of John Wright’s body. He was at the Wright place to talk about the party telephone, hoping to get John to subscribe to it. John told him he would not. Mr. Hale captures an important aspect of John’s character here. He is a taciturn man, hardly ever speaking and demanding “peace and quiet” for himself. This is one of the reasons why Minnie Wright is isolated from others. Her husband does not appreciate or want guests. He fails to think that Minnie might enjoy being on the party line and being able to talk to other people. In fact, it seems that, in Mr. Hale’s opinion, Minnie’s views did not mean much to John in any case. Mr. Hale demonstrates some intuition here, but he does not carry that intuition through to finding evidence against Minnie Wright for her husband’s murder.
SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves. . . .
HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
The first part of this quotation is spoken by Sheriff Peters. Minnie Wright has been worried that her preserves will be spoiled by the cold, as indeed most of them are. The sheriff makes fun of what he sees as something unimportant. It is just like a woman to think about something so meaningless when she is being held for murder. Yet what the sheriff does not realize is how much work those preserves have been for Minnie. As Mrs. Hale remarks, they took hours of labor in the heat to produce. The sheriff cannot understand, and he will not try. Mr. Hale chimes in on the second part of the quotation with his remark that women worry about trifles. Herein lies the irony of the play, for it is those trifles that the women notice and the men ignore that solve this murder case.
Wright was close. I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn’t do her part, and then you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir.
Mrs. Hale’s quotation provides a contrast between Minnie Wright’s life now and her life as Minnie Foster before she was married. She was young once, beautiful, lively, interested in pretty clothes, and always singing in the choir. She had companionship and fun then. Now, Minnie Wright keeps mostly to herself. She is not even part of the Ladies Aid, which refers to a church group of women who raise money for the church and enjoy social activities together. Mrs. Hale intuits that Minnie is probably embarrassed by her shabbiness and inability to contribute financially because of her husband’s “closeness.”
No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.
These words come from Mrs. Hale as she reflects on the death of the bird. John Wright would not have liked the canary, for...
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he would have thought that it disrupted his precious “peace and quiet.” He put a permanent end to its singing. John also, Mrs. Hale notes, put an end to Minnie’s singing. He killed it, she says. The canary is a symbol for Minnie herself, and her husband killed her joy as much as he killed her bird.
Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?
Mrs. Hale is filled with regret that she never noticed Minnie Wright’s misery. She berates herself for not visiting and providing the companionship Minnie desperately needed. Now it is too late. Mrs. Hale actually calls her omission a crime and wonders who is going to punish that. Minnie may have committed the horrible crime of killing her husband, but Mrs. Hale knows that she shares in the guilt, for she neglected someone in trouble, someone who desperately needed a friend. The excuse of busyness does not hold for her. She should have come, and she knows it now.
Suddenly MRS PETERS throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. MRS HALE snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat.
These words are in italics because they are part of the stage directions at the very end of the play. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters have discovered plenty of evidence to give Minnie Wright a motive for killing her husband. The dead canary stands at the center of the case, but the two women decide not to give it to the men. They would merely laugh, Mrs. Peters says. So even though she is married to the Sheriff, Mrs. Peters tries to hide the bird but panics when she cannot bring herself to touch it. The practical Mrs. Hale, perhaps in a show of support and solidarity with Minnie that she feels is all too late, tucks the box and bird in her coat as Mr. Henderson laughs about the quilt, not knowing that his case actually depends upon such trifles.