Charlotte Gilman’s story uses its setting to demonstrate the restrictions put on the main heroine. It symbolizes the position of women during the Victorian era.
The story is a combination of Gothic horror and feminism. The main character is recovering from depression and is entirely under the husband’s control.
The mansion is located in a secluded area. The windows of the character’s room are barred, creating an atmosphere of captivity. She is not allowed to work, write, and dream because of her illness. The husband limits her to get better. It reflects the typical Victorian social attitude to women. The house, her room, and the wallpaper take the role of the only happiness in the character’s life.
Surroundings become the most involving part of her daily life, which transforms it into an obsession. People seem less real than the garden around the house or the wallpaper. The only activity she is allowed and finds attractive enough is watching the lines of the wallpaper. The patriarchy of husband and brother adds to the woman’s loneliness.
To a reader, the yellow wallpaper seems like an antagonist, considering the novel’s Gothic nature. It captures the heroine’s interest. When the woman behind the wallpaper’s lines shows herself, the symbolism gets clear. The wallpaper and its lines mirror the character’s mental captivity. Only when she tears it down she is free. The Gothic feeling of secrecy and stubbornness accompanies the image of a free woman. The contrast between the character and the setting she lives in creates a story about the effects of suppression.