How does the architecture contribute to the plot and themes in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Gilman and "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Poe?

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mattbuckley | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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One of the overlapping themes of these stories is that of sanity and insanity. The setting of these two stories have such a pivotal role that they almost act as characters. In "The Fall of the House of Usher" the narrator describes the intense, Gothic scene of the house. This creates an atmosphere of gloom and sadness. The narrator states, "I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep,  and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all." It must also be noted that the narrator makes a point to establish the connection between the family and the house very early on in the story. He contemplates "the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other". This makes the reader see the house and character of Usher as being intrinsically entwined. However, unlike the setting in "The Yellow Wallpaper", the house does not contribute to the downfall of the character, it is more of a result. 

In "The Yellow Wallpaper" we see a woman descend into madness. The setting is a major contributing factor of this. The room in which she stays has a wallpaper that she becomes obsessed with. The pattern of this wallpaper "is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide - plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions." This illustrates the connection between our character and the setting much like that of Poe's story. However, this setting begins to change and take on its own life. The narrator begins to see "a woman", essentially her, trapped behind the wallpaper. Whereas, in Poe's story, Usher and the House are one.


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