Yellow Wallpaper” was written by a very profound author named Charlotte Perkins
Gilman. “She was one of the most influential and leading woman of the American
woman’s movement in the first two decades of the twentieth century” (“About
Charlotte Perkins”). Gilman was born into a family of substantial poverty. Her
father abandoned the family when she was just a little girl and unfortunately,
she only received four years of education. At such an early age, Gilman vowed
to never marry, hoping to dedicate her life to society. However, she did
eventually marry an artist named Charles Walter Stetson and became pregnant
shortly after. After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, she fell into a
severe depression that lasted for many years. Gilman checked into a sanitarium
where she underwent a “rest cure”. During this cure, any type of intellectual
stimulation or physical activity was highly prohibited. This is where she
became insane. “In 1888, she left her husband and moved in with her daughter
where she made a full recovery” (“About Charlotte Perkins”). Then, in 1892
Gilman published her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”—an exaggerated version
of her own personal experience. The story uses symbolism and characterization
to describe the treatment of a woman’s mental illness and her change in
identity through insanity.
story begins with, “It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and
myself secure ancestral homes for the summer” (Gilman). This quote suggest that
the narrator is a woman and married as part of a normal middle-class society—
“mere ordinary people”. As the story continues, it is revealed that the women
have an illness, but unclear as to what type of illness; it may be depression.
She states, “So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics,
and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’
until I am well again” (Gilman). Her husband, John is a physician himself,
which proves that he is wealthy enough to support his family without the need
of his wife working. “…If a physician of high standing, and one’s husband,
assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one
but temporary depression, what is one to do” (Gilman). The narrator feels very
helpless. She believes that she could be sick, but physically—a possible mental
illness. Throughout the story, the narrator’s name is not mentioned by any of
the characters. This represents her having no identity— being married to a man
who doesn’t understand her condition.
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woman is taken to a “country house” so that she can recover from a nervous
condition. Her first impressions are ironically positive; he describes it as
“the most beautiful place”. There was a delicious garden, and greenhouses, even
though they were broken down. Once in her room, the narrator has a change in
heart—she is unhappy. She didn’t like the room one bit. The woman goes on to
describe the room as being, “a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with
windows that look all ways…there are rings and things in the walls…the color is
repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow” (Gilman). She is now
trapped, against her will, to a third-floor room of the house which used to be
a nursery. The room, covered in yellow wallpaper, serves as a prison where the
woman is restricted from her favorite intellectual activities such as writing
and reading. She says, “Out of the one
window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep shaded arbors, the riotous
old-fashioned flowers…out of another I get the lovely view of the bay”
(Gilman). This really shows a contrast between her imprisonment within the
yellow wallpapered room and distant beautiful, “delicious” garden and freedom
that she is unable to enjoy due to her mental illness.
narrator is extremely unhappy with how he has dealt with her illness and
situation. It is very difficult to convince him of her discomfort in the room
and the abnormal shapes she seen in the wallpaper. She says, “John is practical
in the extreme…he has no patience with…he scoffs openly at any talk of things
not to be felt and seen and down in figures” (Gilman). He does not understand
the seriousness of his wife’s condition. As the situation progresses, John’s
sister, Jennie comes along. She is brought to keep up the house. “Such a dear
girl…she is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper and hopes for no better
profession” (Gilman). Jennie does the housekeeping and childcare under John’s
authority. She carriers out John’s orders to monitor the narrator’s activities.
As the narrator slides deeper and deeper
into her depressive state, she views Jennie as a huge threat.
central symbolism in this story is the yellow wallpaper. The woman believes
that there is indeed, a woman trapped in the wallpaper. She can’t ignore the
“absurd, unblinking eyes” or the “sub-pattern in a different shade” in the
walls. She goes on by saying, “There are things in the wallpaper that nobody
knows about me, or ever will” (Gilman). The woman continues to discover what is
really behind the wallpaper. This hints that her isolation deprived paranoia is
the catalyst of her insanity. She mentions that the wallpaper continues to change:
“daylight she is subdued quiet…by moonlight, it becomes bars” (Gilman). The
wallpaper itself represents the narrator’s sanity. As the wallpaper changes, so
does the woman’s overall attitude. This “rest cure” leads to the decrease of
her mental stability as she becomes more and more obsessed with the wallpaper.
the story, the narrator is annoyed with everyone and eventually imagines a
woman trapped behind the wallpaper of her room. Her fascination with the
wallpaper eventually leads to her insanity to take full control of her. “I’ve
got out at last…in spite of you and Jennie…you can’t put me back” (Gilman)!
This may reveal that the woman trapped behind the yellow wallpaper was, in
fact, the narrator. This quote shows that the woman is finally free and can
pursue a life full of freedom, instead of living in the background of her
theme of identity is highly prevalent in this work. Despite what “society” (her
husband) believes, she searches for her own identity. The doctors and her
husband insisted that she remained isolated under bed rest. Her views and
society’s views of her illness is completely different. The narrator’s ability
to create her own identity is hindered through her inability to write in her
journal. Writing is her way of feeling normal and maintain sanity in her life,
but this is stripped from her. The woman’s only sense of freedom is to create
her own identity through the features she sees within the wallpaper.
Unfortunately, this causes her to tear the wallpaper down.
Yellow Wallpaper” is a story that represents a controlled and dominated
character that is trapped and driven to insanity. In the beginning, she is seen
as normal, but things quickly turn for the worst. Author, Charlotte Perkins
Gilman tells her personal story, indirectly, through the narrator. The short
story symbolizes the effect of women oppression in the nineteenth century. The
audience is informed thoroughly of how quickly insanity takes place when one is
isolated and taken advantage of. The narrator is very symbolic for all women in
this time period; a prisoner of a confined society.