The setting in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper ” is so vivid and so central to the plot that it is almost another character. The narrator and her husband are staying at a country estate for a time so that the narrator can get over her nervous...
condition. The house, however, is a bit rundown, isolated, and even a little spooky, and the bedroom the narrator's husband chooses is the spookiest location of all.
The room is on the top floor. It is large and airy with plenty of windows, but it is also mysterious. It has bars on the windows and chains attached to the walls. The narrator tells herself that perhaps it was some kind of gymnasium or playroom for children, but readers detect something far more sinister (and perhaps deep down the narrator does, too). The room is also symbolic of the narrator's own feelings of being trapped in her life and by her condition.
The worst thing about the room, though, is the hideous yellow wallpaper that covers all the walls (except where it is torn away). It features an intricate, flamboyant, swirling pattern in a revolting, “smouldering unclean yellow.” The narrator hates this wallpaper worse than anything.
We can see, then, that the setting provides the story with a vivid, creepy atmosphere that sets up for the main conflict of the plot. As time passes, the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with the wallpaper. She cannot stop thinking about it, and eventually she begins to see motion in the wallpaper. Soon she also sees a woman behind the paper, struggling to get out. That woman symbolizes the narrator herself, for she is trapped in her life and by her husband's patronizing “treatment.” She longs to get out, just like the woman behind the wallpaper. By the end of the tale, the narrator rips the paper from the wall, declaring that she is free and that no one will ever put her back in. She believes that she has conquered her setting.