Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ”The Yellow Wallpaper” takes place in a room with (as you might have guessed) yellow wallpaper on the walls. Why does this story take place in one room? Read on for a short explanation of the setting of ”The Yellow Wallpaper!”
The Setting of The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper takes place in a single room, and the yellow wallpaper in the title bothers the woman stuck inside the room. This unnamed woman is frustrated because, after having a child, she experiences something similar to post-partum depression, a mental illness that women sometimes develop after giving birth.
She wants to leave the room and spend more time outside, where she feels much less depressed. Her husband John, who is a doctor, thinks he knows better and disregards the protagonist’s explanations of how she feels and what helps her to feel better. John forces his wife to stay in the little room covered with yellow wallpaper as treatment. Eventually, this treatment leads to the wife’s mental illness worsening until, in a moment of sickness, she tears her way through the wallpaper and out of the room, much to the shock of John.
Why Does the Setting Matter?
Perkins Gilman’s story is about the relationship between the narrator and her husband.
The narrator’s husband disregards his wife’s feelings. He thinks that he knows more about her body and her needs than she does even though she is clear about her needs:
- ‘Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.’
John ignores this and forces the narrator to stay in bed in the room with yellow wallpaper.This room becomes a prison for the narrator.
She desperately wants to get outside to improve her health, but John does not allow her to leave the room. This makes John her jailer instead of her partner. In modern relationships, partners are expected to listen to and respect one another’s viewpoints. In this relationship, the narrator points out that her husband sees no need to consider her needs:
- ‘If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?’
Because of the time that the narrator lives in (the story itself was written in 1892), she does not feel that she can do anything if it goes against her husband’s wishes. However, the author is trapped in the room against her wishes. As her illness worsens, she begins to perceive other women trapped, like she is, behind the wallpaper.
- ‘Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over(.
..)And she is all the time trying to climb through.
But nobody could climb through that pattern–it strangles so.’
Eventually, the narrator frees herself. Her escape literally physically shocks her husband, but it also figuratively shocks him that his wife found the courage to escape his control.
The setting of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a small room covered in yellow wallpaper. The narrator is there because she is ill with a form of post-partum depression. She wants to go outside and do some work to fight her illness, but her doctor and husband John disregards what she wants and keeps her in the room. The room with the yellow wallpaper is a jail for the narrator and represents the control that John exerts over her.
Eventually, the narrator claws through the wallpaper and escapes John’s control over her.