Setting’s Influence on the Short Story
The Yellow Wallpaper and Hills Like White Elephants
Readers tend to see setting as mere background noise, not noting anything particular about it or what it may represent. But for some stories, the setting can be very significant. It can reflect different aspects of the story, from the plot itself, to the characters, to the message it’s trying to portray. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemmingway are two examples of how the setting can play an important role in a short story. Both stories use the setting to reflect the characters’ inner thoughts and to shed light on the theme. In the 19th century, the mental health of women and feminist literature were not topics that were often, if ever, discussed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a revolutionary of her time for combining these two topics in her short story The Yellow Wallpaper. The story focuses on a woman who has apparently come down with a bout of “nervous depression” (297) and has been whisked away for a summer of isolation and rest at a country mansion. Gilman explores the matter of how society at this time acted toward women and their mental health. Through the setting of the story, she shows how society’s views on these issues affected the main character, and in general terms, affect women at large. Similarly, Hills Like White Elephants focuses on another sensitive subject regarding women’s health. The subject of abortion, back when this story was written and even today, is a very heated topic. Hemmingway has never shied away from approaching more taboo topics, and this story is not different from his others. The story centers around an American couple at a train station in Spain, cryptically discussing a decision that seems to be plaguing their lives. It is inferred that the topic being argued over is whether or not the woman should get an abortion. Through the description of the location and the...
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