The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Where It All Goes Down
Rambling, isolated countryside estate, around 1885.
The tangible setting of "The Yellow Wallpaper" reinforces all of the intangible feelings and the attitudes expressed in the story. What do we mean by this? Let’s start with this passage: "[The house] is quite alone standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people." It’s a fancy house, yes, but more saliently, it stands back away from the road and contains many "locks" and "separate little houses." Overall, this is a very isolating place. It’s separate from the road and therefore, we would argue, separated from society; the house itself is described as a place that binds and restricts. Now think about the narrator’s emotional position: isolated and restricted, her emotional position mirrors the house’s physical set-up.
Within the house itself, the narrator is primarily confined to a "big, airy room…with windows that look all ways." In keeping with the themes of isolation and restriction, the windows that look out everywhere are barred, preventing any sort of escape. The narrator is able to see, but not participate in, what happens outside her room.
There is yet another connection to draw between the narrator and her physical setting, however. Do you notice how John tends to infantilize his wife? Calling her his "blessed little goose" is only the least of it. He treats her more like a child than an adult; it comes as no surprise that the narrator’s bedroom used to be…(gasp!) a nursery.
Lastly, don’t forget that the story was written in the late 19th century, which anchors it in a very specific historical moment in terms of women and their perceived abilities. Except for the wallpaper madness at the end, the narrator’s story would have been rather typical at the time of publication.