Symbolism of the Setting of 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

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Volpe 1

Marissa Volpe
Prof. Baker
ENC 1102
Symbolism In The Gothic Setting of “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Gothic literature is incredibly distinct. There is a sort of formula involved with writing in the Gothic style, and one of the most important aspects of this is the setting, which can include anything from the architecture of the buildings to the color of the leaves on the trees. The setting of a story is a vital element, as it would seem to be that the most effective way of drawing someone into the story would be allowing them to envision it, and it’s much easier to envision something once it has been described. The setting can also be used as a source of symbolism, which is very apparent in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by
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The narrator states that she “never saw a worse paper in [her] life” (Gilman
84). The in-depth description of the paper tells the reader how horrible it is to the protagonist.
Her way of describing it makes it almost more eerie than ugly, as she says “when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide” (Gilman 85). The protagonist of this story is sick, most likely mentally ill, but her husband, who is also her doctor, refuses to believe that the sickness is anything but physical. This little nod in the wording toward a mental illness ties the wallpaper into her sickness. K.V. Rama Rao observes that her description is “almost like a metaphysical conceit obliquely suggestive of the condition of women. These are not words normally used to describe wallpaper.” The paper is clearly symbolic of many different things. It is one of the many things that leads back to Gilman’s stance as a feminist. In the story,
“the narrator represents male fears about femininity and female sexuality. [Female sexuality is] represented by the color yellow and the smell of the wallpaper” (Mary Jacobus). As the story continues, the paper “becomes a phantasmagoria screen onto which is projected her sense of her situation” (Carol Davison). The protagonist thinks of it as a living being, as it has an effect on her and “looks at [her] as if it knew what a vicious influence it had” (Gilman 86). The
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