Patrick Bird – s5070931
BA English – Forms and Context
Discuss the use of setting in The Yellow Wallpaper
Total Word Count – 1.164
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story about one woman’s descent into madness owing to post-natal psychosis after the birth of her child. In this essay, I will be examining the use of setting and analysing how it ties into the story and the characters. In terms of setting, from the rooms within the manor, to the grounds of the estate, it is clear to see parallels between the secluded feel of the country estate and the emotions the unnamed narrator is going through. The narrator’s husband John, a physician, although seeming to have honourable intentions is extremely controlling when it comes to the narrator’s treatment. The time period too plays a key role as it is set around the year it was written, 1885, a time when women were ‘seen but not heard’. The grounds are winding and secure, creating a labyrinth of buildings and locked doors to create a distinct sense of entrapment and remoteness. The room John chooses to be the narrator’s quarters is what once was the nursery; in keeping with John’s infantilisation of the narrator. The grounds overall and the narrator’s view towards them can be interpreted as a metaphor for both the narrator’s mental state and the couple’s relationship as a whole. In many respects, the book has a decidedly Gothic feel to it – the secluded manor, the seemingly supernatural elements, the narrator even describes the estate as a ‘haunted house’ (Gilman p3).
The room where the narrator is enacting her rest-care was once the nursery is now a ‘fortress-like’ (Cengage Learning 2016, pg14) prison for her mind to go crazy. Despite having views over the ‘deep shaded arbors…[and the] old fashioned flowers’ (Gilman p11), the nursery itself has been transformed into a prison cell of sorts, with the bed nailed to the floor and the windows barred. This symbolises the narrator’s sense of entrapment and possibly even the controlling nature of her relationship, she is unable to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the outside world whilst trapped under the palm of the men in her life – her brother and husband who both strongly advise time away to rest. The narrator eventually becomes fixated on the yellow wallpaper within the nursery despite saying at the start that she ‘never saw a worse wallpaper in [her] life’ (Gilman p7). Although we can tell this early on from her description of the wallpaper that she has some eerie fascination with it rather than finding it repugnant. She then comes to see more in the wallpaper, eventually this turns into a woman, ‘then it becomes bars... and the woman behind it is as plain as can be’ (Gilman p9). Carol Davidson writes that the woman in the wallpaper is a ‘projected sense of her [own] situation’ (Davidson 2004, p60). One can see her tearing off of the wallpaper then as the narrator’s madness-stricken attempts to free the woman...