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

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“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.