The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman awoke many questions and discussions. The author even wrote an article where she explained why she wrote this short story. She mentioned that she was suffering “from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown” and the doctor told her to live only two hours a day an intellectual life, the rest of the time to be at home and “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again”, but she did not follow his advice and the work saved her (Gilman 1913). This inspired Charlotte to write about the woman who is considered by her doctor-husband as an insane person. She is trapped in a room where she is not allowed to do anything, so she “becomes obsessed with the room wallpaper” (Lanser 1989). The setting in this short story plays a significant role because it intensifies the intangible feelings and the attitudes expressed in the story. It impacts the heroes’ character, attitudes, their actions and events of the story.
The setting begins with the description of the house in general. It consists of separate little houses for workers. The “locks” and the “little houses” mean isolation not only from the road as the author wrote in the story, but also from the society as it becomes clear during analysis. The lack of communication is the symbol of living inside of the self. It is not a good sign. This place calls strange feelings.
The most meaningful setting is the description of the room, especially of the wallpaper. The room is big and “roomy”, but the main character does not like the barred windows and strange yellow wallpaper from the beginning. She thinks that the barred windows are for the children and does not realize that they are for her. These windows are now the border between this woman and the entire world. From this moment, she becomes the observer of life and not the liver anymore. The “blessed little goose” is like a child who cannot protect her rights and change her life. Even her husband adds oil to the fire with his attitude and behavior.
In the story the setting is another character. It is the reason of the plot development and the change in the main character’s life. She can live with the “barred window” and sleep on the “bolded-down bed”, but she does not like the wallpaper the most. The main conflict of the story is the interaction between the two main characters: the woman and the wallpaper. The paper drives her crazy. It seems to her that the other woman is trapped behind those wallpapers and she has to rescue her. The wallpaper plays a trick with the woman’s conscience. In her turn, she peels the paper off the wall. The loneliness of the woman forced her to think about the pattern which annoyed her. It is the beginning of the senseless fight with no winners. It may seem that the wallpaper wins by driving this woman totally crazy, but, on the other hand, she peels them, and they are not the same anymore. They both are the victims of the circumstances. It is the vicious circle.
The 19th century is the time when almost each woman suffered the inability to live a full life, to decide and choose her own way. It was the reason of the recurrent depression and megrim. The subordination of women to her husband in marriage is a very spread problem of that period of time. There is no possibility of self-expression for women, although it is very important for any person. That is why the main character was trapped. In order to prevent her from writing, her husband and brother decided that this is the best way for her. The main character cannot do anything and accepts her terrible destiny. She does not show her real attitude to this idea, but she disagrees inside. However, the same 19th century is the period of the feminist movement. Certainly, not each woman dared to rebel against her family or husband, not speaking about the society, but still the increasing amount of women created this new unusual and outrageous for that times movement. The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was recognized as a manifest against the absence of the women’s right. It shows how a man can sometimes deteriorate a woman in all meanings of this word. It is the story of the feminism criticism which reflects and constitutes “structures of gender and power”. It also reveals the “connection between the narrator’s condition and patriarchal politics” (Lanser 1989). The relationships between the main character and her husband and their different attitude to the situation are the main conflict of the short story. John, the husband is a doctor, but he has chosen the wrong way of treatment. Instead of healing, he harms.
The settings, the wallpaper has many “faces”. The main character’s imagination transforms the pattern into the different ways. She has no other choice. She must think about anything else, except her husband’s constant observation and the low energy level. As she is not allowed to think about anything, the only survival and perish at the same time, are the ideas of wallpaper. She fantasizes about them.
She imagines different objects and scenes. She sees people, artworks, everything on the walls. The more she thinks about it and imagines all of that, the more confident she becomes. She is persuaded that these scenes are really reflected in the wallpaper’s patterns. The first, what she sees in the paper was a woman “stooping down and creeping about”. She frightens firstly, later she gets used gradually. The woman hidden behind the wallpaper is the symbol of the main character’s fear of herself, her opinions and the control. The wallpaper woman reflects the main character who wants to escape. She peels the wallpaper and feels better. It seems to her that she throws away all her stress and negative feelings. This woman becomes her secret, entertainment, but still remains to be her fear.
This is the parallel between the real setting and the imaginary one. It is the main question of the main character’s development during the story. At the beginning, she was a casual woman with typical for that period of time diseases. After the “meeting” with the wallpaper, she feels annoyed and irritated. This constant condition makes the changes in her character. The real setting activates the imagination of the woman, and she, in her turn, repaints the patterns without touching them, only by watching. It is the thin border between the creativity and madness (Pine 2007). The artists and writers are often considered as a little bit insane. In this case, the lack of ability to create and express the feelings, as all creative people need to do, provokes the development of the madness of the main character. She proofs this statement with the description of her “new life”. She is bored and has nothing to do. It is the best time to activate the thoughts, but as it is forbidden to think at all, she breaks the rules and concentrates on the wallpaper, which she later calls “paper”. It is like the reflection of her willingness to write.
The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is devoted to the problem of the feminist movement and is implicated in a great tragic story of one woman whose life is changed by her husband and totally destroyed by the settings. The wallpaper as the separate character of the story plays a meaningful role and is the reason of the story in general.