The Importance Of Setting In The Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

3200 words - 13 pages

    A review of the house itself suggests that an architectural hierarchy of privacy increases level by level. At first, the house seems to foster romantic sensibilities; intrigued by its architectural connotations, the narrator embarks upon its description immediately--it is the house that she wants to "talk about" (Gilman 11). Together with its landscape, the house is a "most beautiful place" that stands "quite alone . . . well back from the road, quite three miles from the village" (Gilman 11). The estate's grounds, moreover, consist of "hedges and walls and gates that lock" (Gilman 11). As such, the house and its grounds are markedly depicted as mechanisms of confinement--ancestral places situated within a legacy of control and supervision.

     These are the exterior apparatuses that create and enforce the bedroom as a monitoring device, structuring interior space by exceeding its very boundaries, expanding beyond the egresses of the household in an effort to maintain the interior/exterior polarity. The result is a privacy within the privacy of the home. The bedroom becomes the locus of what Wigley calls a "secret privacy;" it is its own interior wrought with overtones of mystery and intrigue (345).

     Because the bedroom in "The Yellow Wallpaper" veils both sexuality and the female body, and is involved in the production of secrets, the bedroom and the body are linked: both are secret, and both contain secrets. Associated with connotations of private, intimate, enclosed space, the bedroom ultimately suggests other such spaces. The bedroom becomes a metaphor for the female body and makes the body manageable, controllable. Writing about the body and secrecy, Ludmilla Jordanova notes:

Veiling implies secrecy. Women's bodies, and, by extension, female attributes, cannot be treated as fully public, something dangerous might happen, secrets be let out, if they were open to view. Yet in presenting something as inaccessible and dangerous, an invitation to know and to possess is extended. The secrecy associated with female bodies is sexual and linked to the multiple associations between women and privacy. (92)

The bedroom can be substituted for the female body, and thereby represents "the enigma and threat generated by the concept of female sexuality in patriarchal culture" ("Pandora" 63). Concealing sexuality but also reifying the female body as and in the forbidden space of the bedroom, John invokes spatial and bodily associations of enclosure and mystery.

While the bedroom is a hermetic enclosure that never invites the social element into it, it reserves a strange voyeuristic entrance for John by way of an erotic system of locks. Recall the barred windows in the bedroom and the gate at the head of the stairs. The narrator writes,

At first [John] meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.
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