The narrator spends a summer in the ex-nursery room of a colonial mansion. Her husband, a physician, imprisons her in the building as part of the rest cure. It was the popular treatment for “temporary nervous depression” after giving birth to a baby. But this dismal setting does not support her. It drives the woman insane.
The story is told from the perspective of the physician’s wife, who has given birth to a child. Like many women in her time, she suffers from “hysterical” symptoms. The husband prescribes her a “rest cure.” It involves enforced bed rest, isolation, and a meat-rich diet. For this purpose, John rents an old mansion for the summer and compels her to stay in the same room.
At first, the protagonist likes the mansion. She views it as a mysterious Gothic setting. She speculates about how they were able to rent it so cheaply. Something paranormal could live there. But the explanation is mundane. On top of inheritance disputes, the mansion is in decay. Its rundown state enhances the imagery in the story. Thus, the place reflects the character’s mental state under the neglect and abuse of her husband.
The importance of the mansion to the story goes beyond the surface imagery. It is representative of the domestic way of life that was believed to be the best for women. Male authority encloses the character in the building due to her physical and mental weakness. But the monotony and isolation serve to worsen her health problems rather than resolve them. It is an oppressive and archaic structure that is already crumbling. The reader understands the absurdity of trying to keep the woman there for her good.