By the very first lines of the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman immerses her readers into the mind of a mentally unstable woman, whose obsession and unreasonable fears progress and takes ugly forms. Nonetheless, it is evident that gradual sanity’s deterioration of the main protagonist is largely linked to inadequately selected methods of treatment, rather than to her mental illness itself. Thus, based upon the evidence presented by the author in the given short story, it is possible to argue that the surroundings of the main heroine substantially contributes to mental deterioration and even provoke her breakdown.
At the beginning of the story, the mentally disturbed heroine shares her heavy thoughts and strange feelings with the readers. It is obvious that this woman is unsatisfied with the place her husband Jon chooses for living: “A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house…” (436). It seems that the heroine’s tempestuous emotions and frustration overwhelm her, as she simple cannot afford giving vent to them. A lack of her husband’s personal involvement makes itself felt, which also exacerbates the main character’s internal confusion. Nonetheless, it is evident that the heroine remains adequate and the notorious yellow wallpaper is perceived differently at the beginning of the story: “The paint and paper look as if a boy’s school had used it.” (438). She simply admits that this awful wallpaper is offensive to her aesthetical taste and makes her feel uncomfortable.
Still, as time goes on, and the wretched woman stays alone in the upstairs room, her mental focus gradually shifts to the seemingly innocent object – the yellow wallpapers. Thus, the eerie patters on the paper, all those “all those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths” (438) become an obsession of hers. The healing room and so familiar surroundings turn out to be a prison for the mentally disturbed woman.
Thus, the confined space, which is regarded as beneficial by the woman’s all-knowing husband, contributes to her psychosis and paranoia greatly. Trapped in her own bedroom, left alone with her internal experiences, the woman becomes increasingly preoccupied with the wallpaper covering the walls. She is doomed to play the game created by her own fevered imagination. Inactivity, frustration, and painful lonesomeness aggravate the main character’s condition and make her indulge in destructive thinking: “I lie here in this great immovable bed-it is nailed down, I believe-and follow pattern about by the hour”. By this phrase the author aims to illustrate how her depressed and mentally crippled heroine is stuck in the vicious circles. She cannot get out of her upstairs bedroom, she cannot shift her attention to anything else but the yellow wallpaper consuming her mind more and more. Thus, this passivity combined with isolation and hopelessness is merely destroying the remnants of the main character’s common sense and sanity.
As it has been mentioned, the overall situation is getting worse because this unfortunate soul cannot ask for help, since she is aware that all her complains and fears will be interpreted as trifling manifestation of a temporary depression. As the heroine runs into the wall of indifference over and over again, she loses footing. The influence of the disturbing surroundings on the main character is undeniable, though other characters are also impressed by the haunting yellow wallpaper. Thus, John’s sister notes that “the wallpaper stained everything it touched” (443). By this apt allegory Charlotte Perkins Gilman makes her readers believe in the power of the wallpaper, as in the same fashion this part of the interior makes an indelible impression on the fragile heroine and eventually ruins the whole family’s hopes for a better life.
Thus, the influence of the setting on the main character is evident. All the rational feelings and ability to self-control fades and come to nothing, as the main character is left face to face with her lonesomeness, solitude, and despair. And gradually, confined space and the yellow wallpaper hold control over the mentally sick woman’s life and gradually become the reason of her obsession and lunacy.