What is the role of the setting in "The Painted Door" by Sinclair Ross?

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Setting is crucial to this tragic story unfolding in the way it does. The isolation of the farmhouse where the majority of its action takes place gives Steven and Ann a private and intimate space wherein their relationship may develop; the heavy snow creates conditions that they believe will afford...

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Setting is crucial to this tragic story unfolding in the way it does. The isolation of the farmhouse where the majority of its action takes place gives Steven and Ann a private and intimate space wherein their relationship may develop; the heavy snow creates conditions that they believe will afford them the time to engage in a sexual encounter. The painted door that affords access to John and Ann's farmhouse has significance in that it portrays an externally positive appearance which masks a less positive internal reality.

The door is in fact a metaphor for Ann's character in that externally she makes herself appear happy, even though she is tortured by unfulfilled longings and aspirations within. When John touches the door handle, the fresh paint comes off the handle on his hand, suggesting that, just like his wife, the door's positive outward appearance is fragile and fallible.

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The isolated, wintry setting of the story is entirely appropriate, not least because it highlights Ann's feeling of being trapped. Although Ann convinces herself that she loves her husband John, in actual fact, she wants so much more out of life than he's able to give.

That's why she feels restricted in her marriage. John may be a hard-working man and a good provider, but he can't give the fun-loving Ann the excitement that she craves. Isolated from the rest of civilization and increasingly isolated from her husband, Ann is especially vulnerable to Steven's overtures.

John, too, is isolated before his untimely and tragic demise. Out there in the remote Canadian prairies, he only has his wife for emotional support. But once she starts cheating on him with Steven, he has no one left and so chooses a cold and lonely death out there the midst of a fearsome blizzard.

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“The Painted Door” is set in an isolated farmhouse during winter.  This is not only symbolic, it is crucial to the plot because the story could not have happened any other time.

The story takes place in John and Anna’s farmhouse.  It is November, and it is very cold outside.  The house is five miles from John’s father’s house but since it’s winter, the roads are “impassible” so the house is very isolated.  John leaves early and walks because he doesn’t think the snow drifts can hold the horses.

The cold and distance, not far but seeming farther, symbolically represents John and Anne’s marriage.  John is devoted through sacrifice, but not passionate.  He tries to work hard to give Anne things, but he cannot give her what she really wants—someone to talk to.  John is simple-minded, and built for work. 

No matter what Anne does, she cannot get the house warm.  This also represents her inability to keep her marriage warm. 

Slowly the clear place on the glass enlarged: oval, then round, then oval again. The sun was risen above the frost mists now, so keen and hard a glitter on the snow that instead of warmth its rays seemed shedding cold.

The sun is cold, instead of warm.  Anne is not succeeding in saving her marriage.  Anne is trying to paint the door, to make it new, as if that will make her relationship new.

Besides being symbolic of the vast distance between John and Anne, the setting allows for the plot to unfold.  Anne spends her time painting their bedroom door—a symbol of their marriage—so that she won’t have to “brood” over being alone and the fact that she does not love John.  They are having a dinner party, and a friend named Steven comes.  John does not come home, and Steven and Anne have sex.  The next day, they find John with paint on his hands.  He saw Anne with Steven, and said nothing.  He left, sacrificing himself for what he thought would make her happy.

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