According to the definition provided in Literature and the Language Arts: The American Tradition, Gothic fiction is a style of fiction characterized by a murky atmosphere of horror and gloom and grotesque, mysterious, and violent incidents (229). A setting that evokes strong feelings of foreboding or fearful anticipation is also essential to this genre. Based upon these criteria, "The Yellow Wall-paper" is a classic piece of Gothic literature. In it, Charlotte Perkins Gilman utilizes numerous elements of the Gothic tradition to tell the story of one woman's descent into madness.
The physical setting that Gilman creates in "The Yellow Wall-paper" certainly evokes a feeling of foreboding or nervous anticipation. At the beginning, the narrator suggests that there is something "queer" about the ancestral hall that she and her husband are to inhabit for the summer. The term "ancestral hall" itself conjures the image of an older, mysterious structure, so right away readers get the sense that something out of the ordinary is going to happen in this place. To add to the mystery, the narrator imagines that it is haunted and infers this as the reason it had stood untenanted for so long and why they were able to rent it so cheaply. It has a strangeness that is palpable, and its peculiarities become more apparent as the story continues and contribute to the narrator's growing insanity.
The house is isolated from the rest of the world and from other parts of the estate as well, and this isolation is important to Gilman's story. The narrator explains that the place is "quite alone" (Gilman 1684). Not only does it sit off the road a distance; it is three miles or more from the nearest village. On the estate itself, people are separated from each other by "hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and the people" (Gilman 1685). At one point, the narrator mentions that she fancies seeing people walking through the estate's paths and arbors, but her husband is quick to assure her that it is just her imagination. While it is easy to believe that she is indeed seeing things, it is also possible that her husband dismisses her fancies in an attempt reinforce her feelings of isolation and make her feel that she might be a little crazy.
Most of the story takes place within the bedroom that the narrator and her husband share. It had formerly been a nursery, and the narrator hates it, or more specifically hates its "smouldering, unclean yellow" wall-paper (Gilman 1685). Here she is kept isolated from the rest of the household. The more time the narrator spends in the room, the more she is driven toward the brink of madness. She is left alone to recover from her nervous troubles, but strange thoughts and hallucinations still seem to find her behind the barred windows.
At the end of the story, readers learn that she has taken to locking the door during the day so others in the house will not discover her...