The setting plays an important role in each literary work because it describes the place, where the events are happening, and the lifestyle of the main characters. Thus, the setting always has its explanation and implicit symbolisms. It also serves to show how the character fits or does not fit the surrounding circumstances. The setting usually gives additional information about the main idea of the literary work. Moreover, it creates the atmosphere of the literary work, so it is considered as important as the main characters.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The setting of this short story intensifies the intangible feelings and the attitudes expressed by the author. First of all, Gilman describes the house. It is depicted as a quite alone standing place, which reminds the main character the places from the books. The house has the gates which separate the little houses of the workers. The first important details of the setting are the “locks” and the “little houses” (Gilman, 1899). The given setting makes the reader understand that the house and the main character are not only isolated from the road, as it is mentioned by the writer, but also from the society. This isolated and restricted place evokes strange feelings and attitude towards the whole place.
The author further describes the inside setting, especially, the “big, airy room” (Gilman, 1899). The place seems pretty strange, because although there are broad windows, they all are barred. It seems like this is done in order to prevent any escape. The main character can observe the outside world, but cannot participate in anything that happens outside her room. Moreover, her husband, John, tries to make the woman more obedient. He does not allow her to speak a lot and treats her very seriously. In addition, he calls her his “blessed little goose” (Gilman, 1899). His attitude towards his own wife is similar to the attitude of a man towards his child. The man does not regard his wife as equal.
The given short story was written in the 19th century, and it was a period of the women’s limited abilities. Most of them suffered from depression and megrim. John and his wife’s brother do not even assume that she might be sick. The wallpaper in her room is a very important detail, because they are very unpleasant. The woman said that she wanted to stay in the other room with roses and balcony. It means that she wanted to feel freedom and beauty. Instead of this, she is trapped in the room that drives crazy. The room in general was in a terrible condition, because children were its previous inhabitants. They did not tidy up the room and just destroyed it. However, the only thing which worried the main character was the wallpaper. They annoyed her. Besides, she spent most of her time alone. Thus, she was thinking a lot. However, every time she tried to think or write she remembered her husband’s words. He said that she was not supposed to think because the imagination is not healthy. As a result, she forces herself not to think, but the patterns on the wallpaper make her think again and again.
The technique of irony is used in the given short story. For instance, the main character is confident of the fact that “the windows are barred for little children” and does not even assume that the room is used as a place for a mad person (Gilman, 1899). She is glad that her case is not so serious, but she claims that the troubles are horribly depressing. In addition to that, John’s treatment makes her even more insane.
Madness of the main character becomes obvious to the reader when she misunderstands the real intended use of the room with the yellow wallpaper. This is another example of irony present in the short story. The reader understands why “the windows are barred” and “there are rings and things in the walls” from the very beginning of the story (Gilman, 1899).
The usage of irony is also obvious in the woman’s statements that continuously contradict each other. She claims that her case is not a problem, but, on the other hand, she feels depression caused by her “not serious” case (Gilman, 1899). Then again, she becomes calm and states that it is just nervousness. She also suffers because of John’s indifference concerning her real feelings.
Another example of irony is that John is sure that the walls and the whole surrounding make his wife’s condition better. He is truly convinced that separation from the outside world will help her. However, she feels worse and worse. She even starts imagining “creeping women” behind the wall (Gilman, 1899). Therefore, not only the room and the wallpaper but also the treatment of her husband makes this woman insane. She expects him to spend more time with her. She also hopes that he will understand her condition as she cannot stand being in this room. However, the man does not understand this. She is afraid of John. Therefore, all these circumstances influence the woman very negatively.
The symbols take a significant place in this short story. They are everywhere, beginning with the house itself and finishing with the moonlight and bed. Certainly, the most important symbol is the yellow wallpaper. This is not a coincidence that the woman in the wallpaper is trapped in a pattern. The type of pattern metaphorically restricts the movements. Description of the wallpaper is a symbol of the development of her illness, and she also notices this. In the very beginning of the story, the wallpaper is described as a living being. The paragraph, where it is described as a dull, confusing, and irritating, is very important. It reflects not only the feelings of the woman about herself, but also the treatment of her husband. What is more important, it describes his intentions about the therapy’s influence on her. The description of the dull wallpaper as they embarrass the eye and the words about the constant irritation and provocation of studying represents her feeling concerning herself as an incomplete burden. The “lame uncertain curves” mentioned by the main character are a symbol of the ridiculous efforts of her husband to make her feel better, and a “suicide” is a prediction of the destiny (Gilman, 1899). The “unheard of contradictions” represent uselessness of the methods considered by John as good (Gilman, 1899). He tells her to control herself because no one can help her except herself. He explains that she must not let her silly idea to take control over her. On the other hand, he does not allow her to do what she wants to and does not let her control herself.
In the particular moment, she starts calling the wallpaper as a “paper” (Gilman, 1899). It is as a sigh that the wallpaper becomes a text.
The bed she sleeps in is big and heavy. There are chains, which tight it to the floor. It is one more restriction.
The last but not the least symbol is moonlight. It expresses the time devoted to the women. The main character describes a day as a period of being trapped in the wallpaper. She feels that she is motionless and cannot move. As the night comes, the moonlight strikes this immobility, the walls, and the woman begins to move, but it is more similar to creeping. The pattern represents the daily movements of the main character. The day is the time for sleeping, and the night is the time for awakening, alert and involving in the intellectual activity. The woman cannot afford this activity during the day, because her husband is watching her and does not really allow her to do anything.
The main conflict of the short story concerns the relationships between the main character and her husband and their attitude to the situation they are in. Although John is a doctor, he treats his wife’s illness in a way that leads to the inner conflict in her mind. Instead of healing, it makes her think that she is powerless.
Women’s subordination to their husbands was a very spread problem of that period of time. There was no possibility for a woman to express herself, although it is very important for any person. Thus, this is the main theme of the whole story.
The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” shows how the setting and behavior of a close person can strongly influence one’s mind. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a representation of that generation of women who could not decide for themselves and became the victims of the circumstances.