Setting and Realism in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

First published in 1892, in the New England Magazine “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a symbolic story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The challenge of a woman trying to escape her postpartum depression. She has developed a mental state she believes she is trapped in. Her husband put her in a room to help her get cured quicker and as a result she was only losing herself in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator creates a second self in order to satisfy her emptiness and desire to regain control of her life.

The short story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” possesses many characteristics of American literature in the realism era. The setting plays a major role in realism as it displays the imagination of the characters mind. The house has deception as “there is a delicious garden(800)!” and “I would say a haunted house(798)” These two conflicting statements pose a sense of confusion in the reader’s mind. The narrator is unsure of herself as she has been recently diagnosed by her husband, John, with hysteria, after giving birth to their first born child. The narrator is also dealing with depression on top of her hysteria. As the characters develop throughout the story,she explains that, “(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) perhaps is the one reason I do not get well faster(798).” As John’s occupation is a physician. She believes that he is overly concerned with her diagnosis. Gilman decides to write the story in present tense. The narrator does not see the harsh reality that her mental state is in. “I am glad my case is not serious” She believes that her husband John has no sense of her hysteria.

As the story moves along there is a very limited plot that develops. The story prospers as the narrator is continually dealing mentally with anxiety, which counteracts her perception of reality with the other’s realities. The narrator’s tone is deep as she faces anxiety throughout the story and parts of sarcasm, anger, and desperation.

In the 19th-century the femminist movement came into view but did not show success until the early 20th century. Most women had little to no power in society. They would get married and just always be obligated to do whatever their husband says. The oppression of women both in marriage and society is reflected in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Due to the diagnosis of hysteria by her husband. The narrator and her husband lived in a secluded mansion for the summer as treatment for her hysteria. During the three months she had very little interaction with the outside world. The woman’s mind is going whack as, “The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.”(810) Now she continuously hallucinates a woman in her room in the yellow wallpaper. As Gilman states, “I think that women get out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why privately I’ve seen her,”(811) you can believe the woman is hallucinating because she has only been staring at the same yellow wallpaper for months. She had no idea what was real and not real because she couldn’t think straight without being able to go outside the mansion. The lady in the wallpaper is a reflection of how women were trapped in society in the 20th century.

Finally Gilman incorporates some symbols but the most predominant one is the yellow wallpaper. In the beginning of the story the yellow wallpaper is ripped, torn and overall just an unpleasant thing to look at. Gilamn states, “I’m getting real fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.”(804) She is now to the point in her hysteria that she is now going to be interested in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator fascinates over the wallpaper to figure out how it is organised. After some time staring at the wallpaper she seems to notice bar type images. This represents that women throughout the 19th century were all dealing with this and they just needed to figure out a way to escape. To the narrator specifically it represents family, medicine, and tradition in which she finds herself trapped in. Gilman skillfully uses this nightmarish, hideous paper as a symbol of the domestic life that traps so many women.

Overall, women in society have changed a lot in the 19th and 20th centuries Gilman brought into view the pastimes of women. The narrator faced a lot of challenges when her husband kept her from society, she helped show the suffering the women faced. In addition Gilman has really helped people realize these unfair treatments that women have to endure.