“The Yellow Wallpaper” and Women’s Pain

Charlotte Gilman wrote her famous short story in response to her own experience having her pain belittled and misunderstood by a male physician.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The woman is ill, but nobody believes her. She sits in a room with yellow wallpaper, unable to convince the men around her that her suffering is real. “You see he does not believe I am sick!” she writes of her doctor husband.

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That cry, uttered by the unnamed protagonist of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” could just as well be that of Abby Norman, author of Ask Me About My Uterus , or Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick . Both memoirs, published this year, focus on women whose physical symptoms are downplayed and disbelieved. And both carry uncomfortable echoes of Gilman’s creepy story.

The tale, which follows its protagonist’s slow descent into madness as she gradually discerns a woman trapped inside the yellow wallpaper of her sickroom, has long been heralded as a feminist masterpiece, a cry against the silencing patriarchy. But literary scholar Jane F. Thrailkill warns against looking too hard for those meanings in the text . Instead, she focuses on Gilman’s own insistence that medical gender distinctions hurt female patients.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” comes from Gilman’s own struggle with a “nervous disorder,” a depression for which she was treated by a physician named S. Weir Mitchell. It was a new diagnosis at the time, and when physicians treated women with complaints for which they could find no obvious source, they turned to new diagnostic techniques and treatments.

Mitchell was entirely interested in the body, not what women had to say about their own symptoms. His signature “rest cure” relied on severe restriction of the body. Patients were kept completely isolated, fed rich, creamy foods and forbidden to do any kind of activity, from reading a book to going on a walk. “Complete submission to the authority of the physician” and enforced rest were seen as part of the cure.

But Mitchell was no women’s specialist. In fact, writes Thrailkill, he honed his medical skills during the Civil War, treating soldiers who became “hysterical” or developed symptoms like phantom limbs after amputations, surgeries, and traumatic battles. As a result, Gilman was treated with what Thrailkill calls “a model of disease articulated through experience with male bodies.” Mitchell likened the strain of the nineteenth-century home to that of war and his female patients to vampires who sucked the life out of everyone around them.

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Gilman bucked hard against her treatment and Mitchell’s misogynistic reign. Nonetheless, notes Thrailkill, she shared some of his views. Like Mitchell, Gilman believed that psychological conditions were physical ones. But she used that belief to push for equality both in medical treatment and in life. Women’s brains are no different than men’s, she argued, and women should be able to sidestep a stifling home life in favor of a professional career.

Today, it’s more common for women to document their pain through memoir as opposed to fiction. Books like Sick and Ask Me About My Uterus  insist on gender parity in medicine, while also situating women’s pain within a patriarchy that stifles and silences. Thrailkill encourages readers to try reading “ The Yellow Wallpaper” literally. Gilman, she writes, wanted the story to shock readers—specifically, her own doctor—into changing their treatment of women.

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Women Have Nothing to Lose but Their Chains: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman approaches attitudes regarding gender and mental health in her 1892 short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Through her diary entries, Gilman illustrates the life of a woman who we assume to be named Jane, who has traveled to a colonial mansion with her physician husband, John, in order to alleviate her illness. Jane’s self-perception of her health is slowly shattered by John’s arrogant and neglectful reactions. Jane’s mental state deteriorates as she becomes infatuated with the wallpaper in her room which permeates every facet of her mind. Jane is powerless in obtaining the mental and emotional support she needs due to the unquestioned patriarchal order that is sustained throughout the story. Gilman’s portrayal of Jane critiques this patriarchal order that was omnipresent in the late 19 th century and serves as a message to women that they need to resist those who perpetuate gender inequality.

Throughout the story, it is obvious that John has little respect or care for his wife’s emotional wellbeing. Because he is a physician and a man, he believes that his opinion is worth more than his wife’s. From the beginning of the story, Jane is cognizant of her husband’s apathetic tendencies, yet is even more aware of her lack of power in her situation. She states, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?” (pg. 2). Jane’s recognition of this power inequality combined with her demoralized reaction is evidence that the patriarchal standards were never to be challenged. Jane repeats the phrase, “what is one to do?” a few lines later when she writes, “Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (pg. 2). In a situation where she is desperate to be heard, the oppressive patriarchy silences her. Her question will never be answered so long as those who uphold gender norms dictate society.

John is excellent at using his position of authority to discard any and all of Jane’s self-perception. While Jane’s mental state is becoming increasingly unstable as she becomes infatuated with the yellow wallpaper, John manipulates her and exacerbates her mental crisis. He attempts to comfort Jane despite ignoring every objection of hers by stating, “I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better. I feel really much easier about you” (pg. 8). John and his proclaimed expertise contradict the very real and destructive deterioration of Jane’s mental health. His assertion of “I know” takes a toll on Jane as she is led to question what it is that she truly knows about herself. In a last attempt to protest that she is mentally unwell, she is instantly cut off by John who proclaims, “There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?” (pg. 9). This attitude of condescension is the breaking point for Jane. At this moment, any hope for Jane to receive the help that is necessary for her rehabilitation is shattered, as her mental state descends into a downward spiral.

As Jane’s fixation on the wallpaper becomes ever more acute, she begins to imagine that there are women trapped behind its surface. She ponders, “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over” (pg. 11). The women that are locked in the wallpaper are those that have been oppressed by the severe inequality perpetuated by the patriarchy. Jane is present among these women and she knows that she must break out of the chains of oppression that have enslaved her. Jane compares the wallpaper to a prison cell when she writes, “in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard” (pg. 11). Gilman’s decision to portray the wallpaper as a prison cell expresses her feelings of confinement regarding society’s perception of women and their mental health.

The story concludes with the violent finale when Jane theatrically shreds the yellow wallpaper. At this moment, Jane is at the peak of her mental disarray, and when she has finally decided that she must break free from the chains that John has subjugated upon her. She yells at John, “I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Gilman uses this act of violence and resistance to highlight the only solution that was left to Jane. After exhausting all of her resources, John left no choice for Jane but for her to violently shred through the wallpaper, freeing herself from the strangle of the patriarchy.

Through “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman is making a fervent and direct assertion: the patriarchy will never yield to the demands of women. Gilman uses Jane and her futile attempts to persuade John to listen to her in order to reach this assertion. The solution to this is present in the violent conclusion, where Jane rips through the yellow wallpaper in an attempt to free women from the oppressive patriarchy. Gilman is signaling to her readers that the structures in society that continue to oppress women must collapse. To achieve this, women must resist the patriarchy, even if violence is necessary. In essence, Gilman is proclaiming that women have nothing to lose but their chains.

Works Cited:

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Project Gutenberg , 1 Nov. 1999, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1952?msg=welcome_stranger. 

“Millions around the World Take to the Streets for International Women’s Day.” YouTube , uploaded by Democracy Now!, 9 Mar. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2ISyOgJuqg&t=132s.

“Sad Piano – Struggle.” YouTube , uploaded by Lucas King, 31 Mar. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs9dbZMkKJg.

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” YouTube , uploaded by Joshua Cantrell, 10 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhcLaM-Ig84.

“Women of the World Unite.” Feminist Current , 27 June 2016, www.feministcurrent.com/2016/03/21/are-we-there-yet/130614_5e69z_rci-statusquo-karencho_sn6351/.

“Women’s Suffrage.” Brittanica , www.britannica.com/topic/woman-suffrage.

Featured Image:

Macallister, Greer. “The Lesser Known Life Behind’The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Literary Hub , 21 Mar. 2019, lithub.com/the-lesser-known-life-behindthe-yellow-wallpaper/.

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Home › Literature › Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper

Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on April 28, 2022

First published in New England Magazine in January 1892, and reprinted by Small, Maynard and Company as a chapbook (1899), “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s most famous work. Depicting the nervous breakdown of a young wife and mother, the story is a potent example of psychological realism. Based loosely on Gilman’s own experiences in undergoing the rest cure for neurasthenia, the story documents the psychological torment of her fictional first-person narrator.

The narrator’s husband, John, a physician, prescribes isolation and inactivity as treatment for her illness, a “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency” (10). John forbids her to engage in any kind of labor, including writing. Despite his admonitions, however, the narrator records her impressions in a secret diary.

research paper on the yellow wallpaper

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These diary entries compose the text of the story; they reveal the narrator’s emotional descent. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that she is suffering an acute form of postpartum depression, a condition acknowledged neither by John nor by the late-19th-century medical community. So severe is the narrator’s depression that a nursemaid has assumed care of the new baby. Deprived of the freedom to write openly, which she believes would be therapeutic, the narrator gradually shifts her attention to the yellow wallpaper in the attic nursery where she spends her time. The paper both intrigues and repels her; it becomes the medium on which she symbolically inscribes her “text.” Soon she detects a subpattern in the wallpaper that crystallizes into the image of an imprisoned woman attempting to escape. In the penultimate scene, the narrator’s identity merges with that of the entrapped woman, and together they frantically tear the paper from the walls. In an ironic reversal in the final scene, John breaks into the room and, after witnessing the full measure of his wife’s insanity, faints. Significantly, however, he is still blocking his wife, literally and symbolically obstructing her path so that she has to “creep over him every time!” (36).

Critics disagree over the meaning of the story, variously arguing the significance of everything from linguistic cues, to psychoanalytic interpretations, to historiographical readings. While some critics have hailed the narrator as a feminist heroine, others have seen in her a maternal failure coupled with a morbid fear of female sexuality. Some have viewed the story, with its yellow paper, as an exemplar of the silencing of women writers in 19th-century America; others have focused on its gothic elements.

Since the Feminist Press reissued the story in 1973, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” has been widely anthologized and is now firmly assimilated in the American literary body of work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wall-paper. Boston: Small, Maynard, & Co., 1899. Reprint, Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1973. Lanser, Susan A. “Feminist Criticism, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ and the Politics of Color in America.” Feminist Studies 15, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 415–441. Shumaker, Conrad. “ ‘Too Terribly Good to Be Printed’: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’ ” American Literature 57, no. 4 (1985): 588–599. Veeder, William. “Who Is Jane? The Intricate Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” Arizona Quarterly 44, no. 3 (1988): 40–79.

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Analysis of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by C. Perkins Gilman

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Like Kate Chopin's " The Story of an Hour ," Charlotte Perkins Gilman's " The Yellow Wallpaper " is a mainstay of feminist literary study. First published in 1892, the story takes the form of secret journal entries written by a woman who is supposed to be recovering from what her husband, a physician, calls a nervous condition.

This haunting psychological horror story chronicles the narrator's descent into madness, or perhaps into the paranormal, or perhaps—depending on your interpretation—into freedom. The result is a story as chilling as anything by Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King .

Recovery Through Infantilization

The protagonist's husband, John, does not take her illness seriously. Nor does he take her seriously. He prescribes, among other things, a "rest cure," in which she is confined to their summer home, mostly to her bedroom.

The woman is discouraged from doing anything intellectual, even though she believes some "excitement and change" would do her good. She is allowed very little company—certainly not from the "stimulating" people she most wishes to see. Even her writing must happen in secret.

In short, John treats her like a child. He calls her diminutive names like "blessed little goose" and "little girl." He makes all decisions for her and isolates her from the things she cares about.

Even her bedroom is not the one she wanted; instead, it's a room that appears to have once been a nursery, emphasizing her return to infancy. Its "windows are barred for little children," showing again that she is being treated as a child—as well as a prisoner.

John's actions are couched in concern for the woman, a position that she initially seems to believe herself. "He is very careful and loving," she writes in her journal, "and hardly lets me stir without special direction." Her words also sound as if she is merely parroting what she's been told, though phrases like "hardly lets me stir" seem to harbor a veiled complaint.

Fact Versus Fancy

John dismisses anything that hints of emotion or irrationality—what he calls "fancy." For instance, when the narrator says that the wallpaper in her bedroom disturbs her, he informs her that she is letting the wallpaper "get the better of her" and refuses to remove it.

John doesn't simply dismiss things he finds fanciful though; he also uses the charge of "fancy" to dismiss anything he doesn't like. In other words, if he doesn't want to accept something, he simply declares that it is irrational.

When the narrator tries to have a "reasonable talk" with him about her situation, she is so distraught that she is reduced to tears. Instead of interpreting her tears as evidence of her suffering, he takes them as evidence that she is irrational and can't be trusted to make decisions for herself.

As part of his infantilization of her, he speaks to her as if she is a whimsical child, imagining her own illness. "Bless her little heart!" he says. "She shall be as sick as she pleases!" He does not want to acknowledge that her problems are real, so he silences her.

The only way the narrator could appear rational to John would be to become satisfied with her situation, which means there is no way for her to express concerns or ask for changes.

In her journal, the narrator writes:

"John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him."

John can't imagine anything outside his own judgment. So when he determines that the narrator's life is satisfactory, he imagines that the fault lies with her perception. It never occurs to him that her situation might really need improvement.

The Wallpaper

The nursery walls are covered in putrid yellow wallpaper with a confused, eerie pattern. The narrator is horrified by it.

She studies the incomprehensible pattern in the wallpaper, determined to make sense of it. But rather than making sense of it, she begins to identify a second pattern—that of a woman creeping furtively behind the first pattern, which acts as a prison for her.

The first pattern of the wallpaper can be seen as the societal expectations that hold women, like the narrator, captive. Her recovery will be measured by how cheerfully she resumes her domestic duties as wife and mother, and her desire to do anything else—like write—is something that would interfere with that recovery.

Though the narrator studies and studies the pattern in the wallpaper, it never makes any sense to her. Similarly, no matter how hard she tries to recover, the terms of her recovery—embracing her domestic role—never make sense to her, either.

The creeping woman can represent both victimization by the societal norms and resistance to them.

This creeping woman also gives a clue about why the first pattern is so troubling and ugly. It seems to be peppered with distorted heads with bulging eyes—the heads of other creeping women who were strangled by the pattern when they tried to escape it. That is, women who couldn't survive when they tried to resist cultural norms. Gilman writes that "nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so."

Becoming a Creeping Woman

Eventually, the narrator becomes a creeping woman herself. The first indication is when she says, rather startlingly, "I always lock the door when I creep by daylight." Later, the narrator and the creeping woman work together to pull off the wallpaper.

The narrator also writes, "[T]here are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast," implying that the narrator is only one of many.

That her shoulder "just fits" into the groove on the wall is sometimes interpreted to mean that she has been the one ripping the paper and creeping around the room all along. But it could also be interpreted as an assertion that her situation is no different from that of many other women. In this interpretation, "The Yellow Wallpaper" becomes not just a story about one woman's madness, but a maddening system.

At one point, the narrator observes the creeping women from her window and asks, "I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?"

Her coming out of the wallpaper—her freedom—coincides with a descent into mad behavior: ripping off the paper, locking herself in her room, even biting the immovable bed. That is, her freedom comes when she finally reveals her beliefs and behavior to those around her and stops hiding.

The final scene—in which John faints and the narrator continues to creep around the room, stepping over him every time—is disturbing but also triumphant. Now John is the one who is weak and sickly, and the narrator is the one who finally gets to determine the rules of her own existence. She is finally convinced that he only "pretended to be loving and kind." After being consistently infantilized by his comments, she turns the tables on him by addressing him condescendingly, if only in her mind, as "young man."

John refused to remove the wallpaper, and in the end, the narrator used it as her escape. 

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Interesting Literature

Themes of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ Explained

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is an 1892 short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A powerful study of mental illness and the inhuman treatments administered in its name, the story explores a number of ‘big’ themes and ideas. Let’s take a look at some of the key themes of the story.

First, however, let’s briefly summarise the plot of the story: the narrator and her husband John, a doctor, have come to stay at a large country house. As the story develops, we realise that the woman’s husband has brought her to the house in order to try to cure her of her mental illness. His proposed (well, enforced ) treatment is to lock his wife away from everyone except him, and to withhold everything from her that might excite her.

It becomes clear, as the story develops, that depriving the female narrator of anything to occupy her mind is making her mental illness worse, not better. The narrator outlines to us how she sometimes sits for hours in her room, tracing the patterns in the yellow wallpaper on the walls of her room.

She then tells us she thinks she can see a woman ‘stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.’ She becomes obsessed with the wallpaper as her mental state deteriorates, before eventually locking herself within the room and crawling around on the floor.

Mental Illness.

Perhaps the most important theme of Gilman’s story is the narrator’s mental illness, which is present from the beginning of the story and gradually worsens as her narrative develops. Having the narrator tell her own story and provide her own observations in the form of a diary means we have unfiltered access to her thoughts and moods, and this can make parts of the story uncomfortable reading.

Gilman is obviously suggesting that the narrator’s husband, John – who as both a man and a qualified doctor is expected to ‘know what’s best’ for his wife – is misguided in his belief that rest and withdrawal from society, including her own family, is what his wife needs to improve her mental state.

At one point in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, the narrator mentions Weir Mitchell , who was a real person: a neurologist who viewed depression in women as a disorder of their nerves, or as ‘hysteria’ (a term which itself began as gendered: it comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘womb’, because only women were thought to suffer from the condition). Intellectual stimulation was frowned upon, and prolonged periods of rest were prescribed.

But although we can view the narrator’s madness as a tragic outcome of her husband’s misguided belief in his psychological, rational, and scientific approach to her illness, it is possible also to view the narrator’s ‘descent’ into madness as a perverse kind of liberation for her. In triumphantly asserting to John, ‘I’ve got out at last … in spite of you and Jane’, the narrator is taking back a form of control over her surroundings.

And given the gender dynamics at play in the story, we also need to engage with another key theme in the story: gender itself.

Women in Society.

In the late nineteenth century in the United States, women were still often dependent on men both financially and socially. John’s strict control over his wife’s behaviour and confinement needs to be understood (though not necessarily condoned) in this context.

Of course, it is worth bearing in mind the context of the narrator’s depression, too: it is postpartum depression – that is, depression that follows giving birth to her son. She has fulfilled the duty of a wife and mother, as nineteenth century society dictates, but the experience has left her suffering from depression.

It is also clear from the narrator’s diary that her own views about herself have been heavily shaped by the men in her life: not only her husband but also her brother. It is clear that she would like to keep writing to help her through her depression, but she is forbidden to do so, on the grounds that it would make her mental state worse.

Of course, there is something symbolic – when we analyse ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ from a feminist perspective, as many critics have – about the female narrator being forbidden to write or express herself. And there is something quietly triumphant about the fact that she goes ahead and writes her journal despite being told not to do so.

Related to this theme of gender and the place of women in society is the theme of marriage, which is central to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ given the narrator’s marriage to John and his strict orders concerning what his wife is and is not allowed to do.

It is revealing that John often views and treats his wife not so much like a fellow adult as like a child: at one point, he even calls her a ‘little girl’. This belittling language indicates that, well-meaning though he might be, John also does not view his wife as his equal, intellectually or emotionally. She is weak and delicate and needs to be told what to do, for her own protection.

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FEMINIST READING OF THE YELLOW WALLPAPER

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Lea C Weller BA PGCert

research paper on the yellow wallpaper

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BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net.

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The article discusses feminist theories of psychoanalysis used by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in " The Yellow Wallpaper. " The article will highlight, among others, the ways in which gender roles are reflected in American literature in texts written by women who have had schizophrenic, depressive and hysterical mental diseases as part of their lives as well. The yellow wallpaper is symbolic of The Cult of True Womanhood, which binds women to home and family. It represents the character's state of mind, the way women were viewed in the nineteenth century patriarchal society, the narrator's own identity and the media of the time. The analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's text focuses on the ambivalence of the main character's struggle with her womanhood and her shifting consciousness by focusing on the transformative power of the double that promotes progressive concepts of womanhood.

SMART M O V E S J O U R N A L IJELLH

This paperfocuses on locating Gilman in the nineteenth-century society and discusses largely woman’s condition and their space. Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper” sufferspatriarchal biases and strives to find her identity and independence.In this paper, my aim is to relate the themes of marriage, independence and feminine ideals to patriarchy, andto tracehow the narrator lacks identity, which she tries to find behind the wallpaper and attempts to rescue herselffrom the male-dominated society. It also underlines to what extent women can actually liberatethemselves and achieve their rights to speak and to express.Furthermore,the paper would also examinethe patriarchal biases of the nineteenth-century medicine which prescribed women to undergo “rest cure” that actually confined them within the societal norms ratherthanto grow out of it

jane thrailkill

International Journal of The History of Sport

Patricia Vertinsky

Gerardo Rodríguez-Salas

The focus of this article will be Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s thoroughly anthologized story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892). Beyond the patriarchal perception of the narrator as progressively falling into madness, this study aims to prove that, in line with some feminist readings of the story (e.g. Haney-Peritz, 1986), the unnamed female protagonist consciously elaborates a mad language and discourse as part of her strategy to fight patriarchy from within. A careful study of this language will break the reader’s initial illusion that the protagonist is mad and will show how she finally embraces the rational discourse of medicine to perpetrate her revenge.

International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies

International Journal of English Language and Translation Studies

The paper analyzes Charlotte Parkinson Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper from a feminist perspective. It reveals the reasons behind the existence of this literary text in the late 19 th century. For this purpose, the paper presents Gilman's life as the background of the study, and then, it tries to find a link between her life as a woman and the life style of narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper. In this way, the paper theorizes the arguments with reference to both Gilman's life, and the sequences of events in The Yellow Wallpaper. During the lifetime of Gilman, majority of women suffered from being subject to men and male dominance which confined them into homes. Thereby, they were forbidden from their rights to work or to get knowledge or even to speak their minds. So, being affected by the miserable condition of women around her, Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in order to defend women in her society. Thus, the paper tries to demonstrate that Gilman uses her text as a tool to encourage and normalize women's resistance to the patriarchal rules in their society that confined, oppressed, and dehumanized women. Gilman uses her protagonist in the text as a role model for women in her society who were oppressed, and left helpless. Throughout the text, Gilman tries to walk in the shoes of those women who never got a chance to be what they are and got broken at the end. Thus, the paper exposes the dystopian life style of the narrator so as to reach into a conclusion that the narrator's story is not more than Gilman's story which is presented to stand for women's story in the late 19 th century. The phrase "Helpless Angel" in this paper, thus, is symbolically presented so as to symbolize the helpless women in Gilman's time. The phrase is driven from one of the main patriarchal terms of the age which was The Angel in the House.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.

A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate!

Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.

Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?

My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.

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.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

But what is one to do?

I did write for a while in spite of them; but it DOES exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.

I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.

So I will let it alone and talk about the house.

The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.

There is a DELICIOUS garden! I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.

There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.

There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years.

That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don't care—there is something strange about the house—I can feel it.

I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a DRAUGHT, and shut the window.

I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.

But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself—before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.

I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it.

He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.

He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.

He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. "Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he, "and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time." So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.

The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off—the paper—in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.

One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

There comes John, and I must put this away,—he hates to have me write a word.

We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day.

I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.

John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.

I am glad my case is not serious!

But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.

John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no REASON to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way!

I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!

Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,—to dress and entertain, and order things.

It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!

And yet I CANNOT be with him, it makes me so nervous.

I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper!

At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.

He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental."

"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."

Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.

But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.

It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.

I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.

Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.

Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.

I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.

But I find I get pretty tired when I try.

It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.

I wish I could get well faster.

But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it KNEW what a vicious influence it had!

There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.

I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn't match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.

I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store.

I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.

I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe.

The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.

The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother—they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.

Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.

But I don't mind it a bit—only the paper.

There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing.

She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.

There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.

This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.

But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so—I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.

There's sister on the stairs!

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.

Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.

But it tired me all the same.

John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.

But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!

Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.

I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.

I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.

Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.

And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.

So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.

I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps BECAUSE of the wall-paper.

It dwells in my mind so!

I lie here on this great immovable bed—it is nailed down, I believe—and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I WILL follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.

I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.

It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.

Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes—a kind of "debased Romanesque" with delirium tremens—go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.

But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.

The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.

They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion.

There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all,—the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.

It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.

I don't know why I should write this.

I don't want to.

I don't feel able.

And I know John would think it absurd. But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!

But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.

Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.

John says I musn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.

But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose.

And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.

He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.

He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.

There's one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wall-paper.

If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Of course I never mention it to them any more—I am too wise,—but I keep watch of it all the same.

There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.

Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.

It is always the same shape, only very numerous.

And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!

It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.

But I tried it last night.

It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does.

I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another.

John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy.

The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.

I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper DID move, and when I came back John was awake.

"What is it, little girl?" he said. "Don't go walking about like that—you'll get cold."

I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.

"Why darling!" said he, "our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can't see how to leave before.

"The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you."

"I don't weigh a bit more," said I, "nor as much; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!"

"Bless her little heart!" said he with a big hug, "she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let's improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!"

"And you won't go away?" I asked gloomily.

"Why, how can I, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!"

"Better in body perhaps—" I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"

So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn't, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.

On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.

You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.

The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions—why, that is something like it.

That is, sometimes!

There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes.

When the sun shoots in through the east window—I always watch for that first long, straight ray—it changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it.

That is why I watch it always.

By moonlight—the moon shines in all night when there is a moon—I wouldn't know it was the same paper.

At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.

I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.

By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.

I lie down ever so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can.

Indeed he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal.

It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don't sleep.

And that cultivates deceit, for I don't tell them I'm awake—O no!

The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.

It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis,—that perhaps it is the paper!

I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times LOOKING AT THE PAPER! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.

She didn't know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the paper—she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry—asked me why I should frighten her so!

Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more careful!

Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!

Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.

John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper.

I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was BECAUSE of the wall-paper—he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.

I don't want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.

I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime.

In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing.

There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously.

It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.

But there is something else about that paper—the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here.

It creeps all over the house.

I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs.

It gets into my hair.

Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it—there is that smell!

Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like.

It is not bad—at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met.

In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me.

It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell.

But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.

There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!

I really have discovered something at last.

Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.

The front pattern DOES move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!

If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.

I think that woman gets out in the daytime!

And I'll tell you why—privately—I've seen her!

I can see her out of every one of my windows!

It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.

I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.

I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight!

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.

I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.

But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time.

And though I always see her, she MAY be able to creep faster than I can turn!

I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.

If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little.

I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.

There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don't like the look in his eyes.

And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give.

She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.

John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!

He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind.

As if I couldn't see through him!

Still, I don't wonder he acts so, sleeping under this paper for three months.

It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.

Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough. John is to stay in town over night, and won't be out until this evening.

Jennie wanted to sleep with me—the sly thing! but I told her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.

That was clever, for really I wasn't alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.

I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.

A strip about as high as my head and half around the room.

And then when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it to-day!

We go away to-morrow, and they are moving all my furniture down again to leave things as they were before.

Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I told her merrily that I did it out of pure spite at the vicious thing.

She laughed and said she wouldn't mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired.

How she betrayed herself that time!

But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me—not ALIVE!

She tried to get me out of the room—it was too patent! But I said it was so quiet and empty and clean now that I believed I would lie down again and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner—I would call when I woke.

So now she is gone, and the servants are gone, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that great bedstead nailed down, with the canvas mattress we found on it.

We shall sleep downstairs to-night, and take the boat home to-morrow.

I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again.

How those children did tear about here!

This bedstead is fairly gnawed!

But I must get to work.

I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.

I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes.

I want to astonish him.

I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!

But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!

This bed will NOT move!

I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner—but it hurt my teeth.

Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.

Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.

I don't like to LOOK out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.

I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?

But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope—you don't get ME out in the road there!

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!

I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.

For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.

But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.

Why there's John at the door!

It is no use, young man, you can't open it!

How he does call and pound!

Now he's crying for an axe.

It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!

"John dear!" said I in the gentlest voice, "the key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!"

That silenced him for a few moments.

Then he said—very quietly indeed, "Open the door, my darling!"

"I can't," said I. "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!"

And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.

"What is the matter?" he cried. "For God's sake, what are you doing!"

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

A tone of resignation; presentation of marriage as predictable and somewhat unsupportive.

Gilman ends “The Yellow Wallpaper” on an ambiguous note. Readers can only guess what becomes of John and the narrator. Literary critics generally agree that if the story were to proceed further, the narrator would be sent to a mental hospital. Instead of receiving proper treatment, she would likely continue to live in confinement and isolation, her illness only becoming more and more aggravated.

Some literary critics may claim that, even in her stupor, the narrator adheres to female Victorian ideals by calling out to her husband in the “gentlest voice.” However, other critics may argue that by defiantly tearing down the wallpaper and calling out to her husband in a gentle voice, she is actually mocking Victorian ideals and subverting how society should view women.

Due to the narrative structure of the short story, readers cannot fully see the narrator’s behavior from an outside vantage point. Instead they glean information from within the narrator’s personal perspective. She frequently employs the words “to creep” and “to crawl,” allowing readers to imagine how the narrator anomalistically moves around the room.

Even in her hallucination, the narrator cannot escape the Victorian ideals enforced on women. She briefly considers jumping out of the window but realizes that doing so would be an indecent act, incongruent with societal norms. Despite her best attempts to tear the wallpaper away in an act of defiance, she fails to fully relinquish herself from the patriarchal oppression so deeply ingrained in Victorian society.

The word “derision” refers to the act of mocking or ridiculing. The narrator returns to the imagery she employed previously and states that these grotesque figures “shriek with derision”—a phrase which suggests that the wallpaper’s monsters laugh maniacally and torment her. The imagery of the phrase illustrates the sheer and utter terror the wallpaper induces in the narrator.

The parallel structure and use of the pronouns “I” and “she” confuse and unite the narrator and her mirror image. As one performs one task, the other follows suit. Demonstrated through the use of the pronoun “we,” the two—or rather, one—peel off the wallpaper.

Here, Gilman creates a symbolic moment in which the narrator’s mirror image shakes the bars of the window. The mirror image—whom readers should now recognize as the narrator herself—attempts to break free from her confinement in the nursery. She wishes to break free from this room, and on a larger thematic scale, the bonds of patriarchy and marriage.

Although the narrator claims not to know, readers should recognize that the narrator is responsible for the “funny mark” on the lower portions of the wall. As she creeps around the room in her frenzied state, she forms a streak or “smooch” along the wall. The narrator states that she has become very dizzy—presumably from circling the room. The repetitive use of the word “round” demonstrates how frequently she has circled the room and how unhinged she has become.

Through personification—using words like “hovering,” “skulking,” and “hiding”—the narrator demonstrates how the odor seems to linger all throughout the house. The narrator does not realize however that this odor is the smell of decay. The smell follows her because it emanates from her body.

When readers think of the color yellow, they might picture “buttercups,” sunlight, or other bright, pleasant images. However, here Gilman subverts the meaning of yellow, instead associating it with sickness, decay, and death. The narrator does not explicitly delineate all the “bad yellow things,” but readers can likely imagine some of the grotesque things she might be envisioning.

At the time of Gilman’s writing, the word “smooch” referred to a stain or smudge. As the narrator tears away and peels at the wall, the yellow stain from the wallpaper transfers onto her clothes. The narrator believes that Jennie is touching the wallpaper to get a closer look at it and fails to realize that Jennie is actually more concerned with her strange and obsessive behavior.

Ironically employing scientific jargon, the narrator sublty mocks her husband’s superiority. Here, she turns his “wisdom” on its head, running her own scientific experiment and observing her husband’s strange behavior.

The word “toadstool” is another word for poisonous mushroom. Here, the narrator asks readers to “imagine a toadstool in joints”—many mushrooms growing together to form a labyrinth of fungi. The simile likens the pattern on the wallpaper to the serpentine winding of a string of mushrooms.

Through a combination of second-person narration, personification, and simile, the narrator conveys how the wallpaper tortures her. With the second-person point of view, readers can understand firsthand the sort of mental unhinging the narrator experiences at each glance. Through personification, readers can grasp the figurative violence the wallpaper inflicts on the narrator as it “slaps,” “knocks,” and “tramples” her. Finally, the last phrase—the simile that likens the wallpaper to a nightmare—demonstrates the anxiety and unease it causes her.

The adjectives “stern” and “reproachful” mean harsh and disapproving, respectively. After the narrator’s second failed attempt to stand up for herself, John shoots her such a powerful look of disapproval that she immediately quiets down. This moment highlights the power John has over his wife to acquiesce and oppress her.

In an effort to establish his credibility and superiority over his wife, John asserts that since he is a doctor, he knows better than she. Readers should note the irony as he states that the narrator is getting better when she is clearly only getting worse. The narrator tries to stand up for herself, but John patronizingly quiets her again, saying “Bless her little heart!”

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, talking about mental illness—especially regarding women—was taboo in many cultures. At the time, postpartum depression was not recognized as a legitimate mental health issue. It was especially difficult to diagnose women who displayed affection for their babies but still exhibited symptoms of depression and exhaustion. Today, research has help shed light on this mental health condition and it is generally understood that such behavior is very common among women who suffer from postpartum depression.

In another instance of infantilization, John coddles the narrator and lays her down to rest. Notice the irony as John asks the narrator to take care of herself, when in fact his very treatment of her—his prescriptions, his isolating her, and his complete oppression of her every choice—has caused her to descend into madness.

The narrator finds herself in a bind. On the one hand, she feels guilty for indulging in writing, a practice her husband hasn’t prescribed; on the other, writing is the one activity that offers her a sense of autonomy and freedom of expression. Without the ability to write and to express herself in the face of the stifling oppression of her husband, she might easily lose her voice. Despite her fear of getting caught, the narrator continues to write, recognizing that this solitary practice is her only source of power.

Although most of the short story is structured into a series of one- or two-sentence paragraphs, this sequence of sentences stands out specifically for its briefness. This sequence of curt sentences encapsulates the narrator’s state of mind. Her raving “fancies” have left her mind exhausted and her body depleted.

“Grotesques” are depictions of mythical creatures, often used as architectural decorations. The grotesque-like caricatures in the wallpaper converge through a disordered interplay of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines—then suddenly disperse “in headlong plunges.” In the narrator’s mind, the images in the wallpaper become more and more turbulent, then suddenly disappear as maddeningly as they appeared.

The word “frieze” is a term in classical architecture for the space between the architrave and the cornice, above the columns in the upper horizontal portions of a building. Along with the diagonal breadths, the horizontal breadths add to the mayhem of the wallpaper. In total, the narrator envisions the maddening interplay of the vertical “columns of fatuity,” the diagonal breaths “of wallowing seaweed,” and the horizontal breadths in the frieze.

The word “fatuity” means foolishness and idiocy. To illustrate the chaotic nature of the breadths of the wallpaper, the narrator personifies them as waddling, or clumsily walking, up and down along the wall. They move in tremulous patterns and in “isolated columns of fatuity,” a phrase which suggests that the breadths move idiotically and illogically.

The adjectives “fretful” and “querulous” mean restless and whining, respectively. As the story progresses, the narrator’s mental state deteriorates further. Her husband fails to provide her with accurate treatment and stifles her only creative outlet. As a result, she descends into madness, going so far as to imagine someone hiding behind the wallpaper.

Here, the narrator begins to imagine seeing another person behind the wallpaper—someone she characterizes in grotesque language. In grotesque decorative art, human and natural forms transmute into ugly, distorted, and absurd shapes. As the narrator peers into the wallpaper, she sees a human whose image is grotesque, distorted, and malformed.

The noun “impertinence” refers to the state of being rude, ill-mannered, or unrestrained by the bounds of good taste. By describing the wallpaper as something that is impertinent, the narrator suggests that it is offensive, jarring, and does not belong in this room.

Through personification, Gilman writes that the wallpaper looked as if it were mocking her. One spot on the wallpaper takes on the appearance of a face, as if two eyes attached to a loosely tethered neck were staring her down. The wallpaper takes on increasingly more grotesque imagery, as these eyes appear to move and crawl along the wall.

The short story brings up issues over the compatibility of imagination and realism. The narrator, a writer, often “fancies” the happenings of the world around her. John, in contrast, is a man of science and does not divulge in “story-making.” There is a clear dichotomy between how the two individuals cope with their surroundings—the narrator does so through imaginative thinking, and John does so with practical thinking.

The verb “to fancy” means to imagine something, often capricious or delusively. Readers should note that the narrator uses this word, which carries negative connotations, instead of the comparatively neutral “imagine.” Her husband has made her believe that her power of imagination is dangerous, and any that such thinking should be eliminated.

The word “riotous” refers to something that is abundant and exuberant. In contrast to the stifling nature of the nursery, the garden outside is characterized by its untamed and wild abundance. The narrator watches from her secluded room as the flowers, bushes, and trees grow relentlessly—a representation of the dichotomy between her life of confinement and her desire for freedom.

To silence the narrator, John often resorts to coddling her and calling her pet names. Here, he calls her “a blessed little goose” and comforts her like a child. By infantilizing the narrator, John dismisses her pleas to go downstairs. This pattern recurs frequently throughout the story—whenever the narrator raises an opinion, John silences her.

Here, readers encounter the first of only two times the narrator mentions her baby. From these few lines readers can gather the key information that the narrator’s baby is a boy who is cared for by a nursemaid, Mary. As the she states, the narrator does not spend very much time with her son because doing so causes her to become anxious and experience feelings of exhaustion and sadness. Readers can ascertain that her nervous condition may be the result of postpartum depression.

Notice how every element of the nursery room is intended to keep the narrator confined. The bedstead is nailed to the floor, the windows are barred, and the stairs are shut off by a gate. Despite the narrator’s plea to go downstairs, John insists that this confinement serves her some good. The narrator even begins to think so herself.

The adjective “lurid” has a variety of definitions, all of which add to the overall gruesomeness of the yellow wallpaper. In its first definition, “lurid” describes something or someone that causes revulsion; second, it refers to someone or something with a ghastly, pale appearance; and finally, it describes the orange glow of fire when observed through smoke. Although seemingly contradictory, these three definitions demonstrate the changing nature of the wallpaper. At one moment, the wallpaper looks pale and yellow; in the next, it looks as though it is “smouldering”—burning with smoke—and tinted in an orange glow.

To describe the yellow wallpaper, the narrator combines visual and olfactory imagery with consonance. The first technique—visual imagery—is seen through the “unclean yellow” and “orange” that has been “faded by the slow-turning sunlight.” The olfactory imagery arises through her precise diction, specifically the words “sickly sulphur,” which references the pale yellow nonmetallic element that smells noxiously when burned. Finally, the narrator combines the unsavory consonance of both r and s sounds to illustrate the grating nature of the yellow paper. She employs words like “repellent,” “revolting,” “smouldering,” “slow-turning sunlight,” “lurid,” and “sickly sulphur.” When combined, all of these techniques contribute to a sense of corrosion and decay, and evoke the ghastly nature of the yellow wallpaper.

The word “chintz” refers to the calicoes, or the printed cotton fabric, of India. The narrator desires color and animation—revealed through her wish to stay in the downstairs bedroom with the roses and chintz. However, at her husband’s urging, the couple sleeps in the nursery upstairs, which is contrastingly characterized by its dark, Gothic elements.

Notice how Gilman does not attach specific dates to any of the journal entries; rather, each entry follows the next without a break, leaving it up to readers to follow the passage of time as signaled—or not signaled—by the narrator.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is formatted as the narrator’s journal entries. She takes up writing whenever she needs relief and often writes in the second person, as though she were speaking to a friend. However, her husband disapproves of this practice and chastises her whenever he sees her writing. The narrator, in turn, must write in secret. This circumstance lends her writing a tone of abruptness and curtness. Everything she writes is in one or two sentence increments and she often signs off when she sees her husband approaching. The brisk nature of these sentences demonstrates her anxiety and precariousness. She fears her husband’s “heavy opposition” and must write quickly and furtively. The format of these sentences also demonstrate how she dismisses her own thoughts, just as her husband does. The narrator will start with one thought and never finish it, instead cutting herself short as she begins the following sentence. In other instances, she will abruptly end a sentence by imagining how John would dismiss her.

The narrator’s inability to differentiate between phosphates and phosphites demonstrates her addled state of mind and her inability to make sense of her reality. She employs the literary tool of polysyndeton—the repeated use of conjunctions without commas—to highlight her husband’s ineptitude. Since he is a so-called wise physician, he believes that he will be able to cure his wife. He prescribes her various medications, advises her not to work, and forces her to exercise. None of his instructions cure her; instead, his iron fist stifles her.

The unnamed narrator of the story repeatedly intersperses her journal entries with rhetorical questions. In the first several paragraphs alone, the narrator asks herself, “And what can one do?”, “What is one to do?”, and “But what is one to do?” Using variations of the same refrain, Gilman hints at the narrator’s sense of confinement and her inability to think for herself. Each time she poses this question, the narrator cannot come up with an answer. In this environment—secluded in the nursery of a Gothic home on rest cure—the narrator cannot formulate her thoughts. Thus she is forced to repeatedly ask the same futile questions.

Throughout the story, the narrator descends further into madness. Conversely, the image in the wallpaper becomes clearer. As the moonlight casts its glare onto the windows, the narrator finally perceives in the wallpaper an image of a woman behind bars. By now, readers should understand that the narrator is not seeing another woman but a reflection of herself in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator’s mirror image serves as a symbol for her own repressed self who desires to break free from the bars of forced subservience.

Here, the speaker uses a simile to describe how the diagonal breadths of the wallpaper seem to shift without obeying any known laws of nature. The simile—of breadths like “wallowing seaweeds in full chase”—demonstrates the ever-changing, heedless nature of the wallpaper as it seems to surge and billow.

Notice how John’s refusal to believe his wife is “sick,” or to give credence to her feelings and fears about her condition, affects the narrator’s mental state throughout the story. As he is both her husband and a physician, John’s word carries ultimate authority for the narrator.

Notice how the language John uses when speaking to the narrator reveals the patronizing way in which he treats her. Addressing her as “little girl” bolsters John’s isolation of his wife in a former nursery, his control over almost every aspect of her daily life, and his refusal to take what she says about herself seriously.

Gilman sets the story in a former nursery in order to emphasize the infantilization of the narrator by her husband, John, who chooses this room for her against her will. The barred windows evoke a sinister sense of imprisonment and isolation.

Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell was a real physician who originated the idea of the “rest cure” in the late 1800s, which he prescribed mostly for women—including Gilman herself—who suffered from “nervous disorders.” The rest cure involved a forced period of bed rest, isolation, total dependence on the part of the patient, and often forbade reading and writing.

Gilman personifies the wallpaper through her use of a saying drawn from Proverbs 18:24 in the King James Bible: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” This biblical allusion illustrates how closely the wallpaper sticks to the wall and how difficult it is to tear away.

Gilman draws on motifs from gothic literature—a popular genre in the 1800s—in her description of the “strange,” isolated, seemingly haunted mansion with its ruined greenhouses, abandoned servants’ cottages, extensive gardens, and mysterious past. Gothic tales often revolved around a troubled heroine narrating her own story while imprisoned in such a setting.

Arabesque art and architecture is characterized by the use of floral imagery in elaborate, interlacing patterns. In that sense, the use of the word "florid" here is redundant, but does indicate that the narrator feels disdain towards the pattern and finds it ugly (as indicated when she likens it to fungus).

Delirium tremens refers to a state of confusion and psychosis generally brought on by withdrawal from alcohol or narcotics. Using this term in relation to the debased Romanesque art suggests that the wallpaper pattern is particularly chaotic and confused.

Romanesque art flourished from approximately 1000 AD to the middle of the 13th Century, when Gothic art became prominent. Romanesque art is characterized by the use of primary colors, flourishes, natural imagery, and architectural patterns. Since religious and Biblical iconography were common is Romanesque art, the description of a "debased" Romanesque suggests an unholy pattern, something that isn't sanctified or harmonious.

While there is something charming about the idea of a young girl's imagination getting the better of her, this line indicates that her mind has always been restless and that her current mental health issues could be part of a larger pattern of troubles.

One of the major themes of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is silence and the way that women's voices are silenced. There's no physical reason for the narrator not to be allowed to write, but under her rest cure, it is prohibited to her. Her husband is very controlling in the enforcement of her treatment, preventing her voice from being heard.

Modern readers will likely recognize this as a sign of infidelity. While the estate's remote location would make travel between patients difficult for John, we can't entirely discount the possibility that the narrator's husband is having an affair.

While Gilman's narrator has been diagnosed with hysteria, that was frequently used as a "catch-all" for a variety of different diagnoses. Most likely, she is suffering from postpartum depression and resultant psychosis. In the late 19th and early 20th century doctors didn't recognize postpartum depression as an illness and didn't take a woman's mental health very seriously, which resulted in many cases of misdiagnosis.

Hysteria was once a very common medical diagnosis ascribed to women who displayed certain unruly habits and behaviors or seemed to be suffering from a nervous condition. Hysteria was thought by the ancient Greeks to be caused by a "wandering womb" and was in the 19th and 20th centuries treated with "massages," many of which were performed with vibrators.

At the time of this story's writing, women suffering from a wide variety of conditions were prescribed "rest cures," which consisted largely of lying in bed and not moving or doing anything. Gilman was very vocal about having written this story to prove the rest cure wrong after her own damaging experience. It was specifically aimed at Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a major proponent of the rest cure.

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The Yellow Wallpaper Essay

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Introduction

The yellow wallpaper: short story analysis, works cited.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that explains the sad story of a woman suffering from acute postpartum depression. Written during the dying years of the 19th century, The Yellow Wallpaper is characteristic of the mental and emotional treatment that women were subjected to during this period. Indeed, Gilman uses this short story as her “reaction” to this sort of treatment.

Given the weight that Gilman gives The Yellow Wallpaper and considering her own life, one would conclude that she was indeed using the story as a reference to her life. Through reading the story, one can see a clear desire for the women in this period to entangle themselves from domination. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, there is a clear theme of domination of women, and society seems to be unanimous in support of it.

From the surface, the story seems to be addressing the narrator’s sickness, but a more in-depth analysis reveals that it is indeed talking about the condition of the womenfolk in general. The society seems to have assigned roles for women, which they are supposed to adhere to.

In the story, John symbolically represents the male folk while the narrator represents the women. Throughout the story, the narrator, together with the rest of the women trapped in the wallpaper, is desperately trying to break loose from the function that the society has assigned for them.

Although these women are trying as hard as they can, their courage always seems to fail them, especially at night when their husbands and the rest of the family are at home. However, their courage finally gives way, and this is why John, who represents men, faints upon realizing that his wife has finally broken free from his control.

Although this observation is debatable, there is clear evidence from the story to prove this point. Right from the start, there seem to be specific duties that wives and mothers have to fulfill. These duties seem to have been so oppressive that women tend to get depressed after giving birth to their first child. This depression leads them to take the rest cure during which time they are supposed to do nothing but to eat and remain in seclusion.

The rest is so extreme such that one is even forbidden from writing anything since this would be tantamount to overworking their brains, something that would hinder their recovery. This is despite the fact that the narrator knows that “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” (Gilman)

The oppression of women seems to have been so great that John and the narrator’s brother, both physicians, believe that the narrator is not sick despite her thinking otherwise. This happens despite the fact that they both love the narrator dearly.

What is surprising is that despite this form of medication, the narrator does not seem to get any better. She wishes that she could get well faster just to escape this form of the regimen. It is obvious that the narrator views the treatment as an unnecessary interruption in her life that should not have occurred in the first place.

Despite this, she is aware of the repercussions that could possibly follow her refusal to adhere to the terms of the medication. Instead of looking into the reasons why her recovery is slow, John believes that her wife is to blame something that seems to scare the narrator a great deal.

This is seen when she says, “If I don’t pick up faster, he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” (Gilman) Although we are not told what kind of a place Weir Mitchell was, there is no doubt that it was a place that instilled fear on the narrator, and this makes us wonder what kind of a husband would want to take his wife in such a place. In fact, Gilman seems to have put this statement for effect just to show us the extreme end that these men were willing to go to keep their women under control.

Although the couple rents a colonial mansion for the wife to recuperate, it is ironic how she is not allowed any say in the matter. Throughout the story, John seems to know what is best for his wife, and he does not accept her output in the matter. The husband does not even allow her to choose her bedroom from the many rooms. Instead, he forces her to occupy the room with the ugly wallpaper.

The narrator wants to do so many things but as it was characteristic in that period, the marriage institution that she is committed to compromises her freedom and happiness. In addition to the bedroom containing the ugly wallpaper, the room has no windows, and even the bed is bolted to prevent her from moving it to any other position. This is a clear sign of control and domination by the husband.

By analyzing the lives of the women behind the wallpaper, it is obvious that they are trying to look for their freedom. On her part, the narrator is looking for freedom from her husband and the rest cure that she has been subjected to. Throughout the story, the narrator tries hard to free women from the gender bias that had seeped in society. However, this is not easy because, just like the wallpaper, these societal changes had become “ridged and yellow with age.” (Gilman)

Despite John’s domination, the narrator slowly begins to take control of her life. Although she had loathed the yellow wallpaper at first, she begins gaining some mental strength just by watching it. As her mind begins to churn, she forces herself to think, and this is something that her husband does not like. Deep down her heart, she knows that her husband does not necessarily know everything, but she does not say anything for fear of reprisals. Although John has told her not to bother herself with anything, she begins analyzing the wallpaper, and that is when she notices the figure of women trying to free themselves.

For once, the narrator feels that she knows something that her husband or any other person, for that matter, does not have an idea about. This is presented when she says, “there are things in that paper that nobody knows but me.” For once, the narrator is elated since she feels that she possesses first-hand knowledge that is not yet evident to her husband.

For once in her life, she seems to have concluded that she has a functional mind that is entirely hers and one that she can use as she wills. Even to John, his wife is like a mystery that he is unable to solve. That is why he keeps her locked in the bedroom just to keep her under control. However, what he fails to realize is that by doing so, he is actually helping her to solve her own mystery.

As the story nears climax, John seems bewildered, and he even seems to be noticing a change of attitude on the narrator. In fact, he commends her for putting an effort to get better, but she knows that she is getting well for other reasons. Although he does not admit it, John has realized that the wallpaper is a representation of his wife, and that is why he reprimands her wherever he catches her staring at it. Just with a day to go before they leave the house, the narrator masters her courage and tears down the wallpaper.

The narrator’s feelings of freedom come to peak when she manages to pull down the yellow wallpaper from the walls where it had hanged. To accomplish this, she uses much will power and patience, but she finally manages to get the work done. She is convinced that John would reprimand her for tearing down the wallpaper, but for once, she is not bothered. To her, taking control of anything even if it is the “odious wallpaper” is better than just sitting and doing nothing.

Indeed, tearing down the wallpaper seems only to be the first step toward her freedom. To her, she seems to have concluded that her life was in her own hands and not on Johns or any other male for that matter. Within a short time, she seems to have developed mentally as a woman. The narrator’s final victory comes when John arrives home and realizes what she has done.

To begin with, he is shocked when he realizes that she has locked the door, something that she had never done before. However, the climax arrives when he enters the room and realizes that she has torn down the wallpaper. There is no doubt in John’s mind that his wife has finally developed mentally and regained the freedom that he had for so long denied her. In fact, the shock is so much for John such that he faints.

The proof that the narrator has gained mental control comes shortly after when she says that “now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall so that I had to creep over him every time.” (Gilman) At this point, she is not perturbed by what he thinks, and his fainting does not even surprise her. To her, tearing the wallpaper out of the walls is a sign of showing that she is willing to take matters into her own hands, and this is what scares the husband and makes him faint.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a clear representation of life in the 19thcentury. During this period, women seem to have been under male domination, and society seems to have accepted this fact. Throughout the story, the narrator seems to be fighting to get a voice of her own.

However, her husband decides that he knows what is best for her, and he does not even give her the freedom to choose what she wants. Instead, he embarks on making all the decisions for her even on matters that directly affect her well-being. At the end of the story, the narrator regains control of her life, and this scares her husband to a point where he even faints.

Gilman Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper, 1899. Web. < http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/home >

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  • Themes & Symbols
  • Quotes Explained
  • Essay Topics & Examples
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Bibliography

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cover of the yellow wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman yields the thesis of Victorian housewives being oppressed psychologically. The in-class activity incorporates the analysis, discussion and deconstruction of specific quotes from primary text that is the catalyst of the thesis. And thus,the thesis directs the research and the specific construction of the annotated bibliography.

The secondary sources should reflect aspects of these themes. Using the databases provided on this page, start your research with the terms and ideas discussed in class and listed below. 

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As you search for information about your topic, look at each source you find with these questions in mind:

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  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Call Number: ebook ISBN: 9781776510481 Publication Date: 2009

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  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The yellow wall-paper" and the history of its publication and reception : a critical edition and documentary casebook by Julie Bates Dock Call Number: ebook ISBN: 0271074108 Publication Date: 1998 Since its publication in 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper" has always been recognized as a powerful statement about the victimization of a woman whose neurasthenic condition is completely misdiagnosed, mistreated, and misunderstood, leaving her to face insanity alone, as a prisoner in her own bedroom. Never before, however, has the story itself been portrayed as victimized. In this first critical edition of Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper," accompanied by contemporary reviews and previously unpublished letters. Julie Bates Dock examines the various myth-frames that have been used to legitimize Gilman's story. The editor discusses how modern feminist critics' readings (and misreadings) of the available documents uphold a set of legends that originated with Gilman herself and that promulgate an almost saintly view of the pioneering feminist author. The documents made available in the collection enable scholars and students to evaluate firsthand Gilman's claims regarding the story's impact on its first audiences. Dock presents an authoritative text of "The Yellow Wall-paper" for the first time since its initial publication. Included are a textual commentary, full descriptions of all relevant texts, lists of editorial emendations and pre-copy-text substantive variants, a complete historical collation that documents all the variants found in important editions after 1892, and a listing of textual sources for more than one hundred reprintings of the story in anthologies and textbooks.
  • A very different story : studies on the fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman by Val Gough and Jill Rudd Call Number: ebook ISBN: 1781380422 Publication Date: 1998 The main focus of this essay collection is Gilman's utopianism, but there are examinations, too, of Gilman and issues of women's health, and of domestic labour in her work, but all of them provide a valuable context in which to study her fiction.
  • The Yellow Wall-Paper The original text
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper"—Writing Women EDSITEment! The best of the humanities on the web.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper": A Poetics of the Inside Dr. Beth Snyder-Rheingold, 1999
  • Feminist Gothic in "The Yellow Wallpaper" A model essay from Lone Star College

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Understanding The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary and Analysis

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" tells the story of a young woman’s gradual descent into psychosis. " The Yellow Wallpaper" is often cited as an early feminist work that predates a woman’s right to vote in the United States. The author was involved in first-wave feminism, and her other works questioned the origins of the subjugation of women, particularly in marriage. "

The Yellow Wallpaper" is a widely read work that asks difficult questions about the role of women, particularly regarding their mental health and right to autonomy and self-identity. We’ll go over The Yellow Wallpaper summary, themes and symbols, The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, and some important information about the author.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" Summary

"The Yellow Wallpaper" details the deterioration of a woman's mental health while she is on a "rest cure" on a rented summer country estate with her family. Her obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom marks her descent into psychosis from her depression throughout the story.

The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" begins the story by discussing her move to a beautiful estate for the summer. Her husband, John, is also her doctor , and the move is meant in part to help the narrator overcome her “illness,” which she explains as nervous depression, or nervousness, following the birth of their baby. John’s sister, Jennie, also lives with them and works as their housekeeper.

Though her husband believes she will get better with rest and by not worrying about anything, the narrator has an active imagination and likes to write . He discourages her wonder about the house, and dismisses her interests. She mentions her baby more than once, though there is a nurse that cares for the baby, and the narrator herself is too nervous to provide care.

The narrator and her husband move into a large room that has ugly, yellow wallpaper that the narrator criticizes. She asks her husband if they can change rooms and move downstairs, and he rejects her. The more she stays in the room, the more the narrator’s fascination with the hideous wallpaper grows.

After hosting family for July 4th, the narrator expresses feeling even worse and more exhausted. She struggles to do daily activities, and her mental state is deteriorating. John encourages her to rest more, and the narrator hides her writing from him because he disapproves.

In the time between July 4th and their departure, the narrator is seemingly driven insane by the yellow wallpaper ; she sleeps all day and stays up all night to stare at it, believing that it comes alive, and the patterns change and move. Then, she begins to believe that there is a woman in the wallpaper who alters the patterns and is watching her.

A few weeks before their departure, John stays overnight in town and the narrator wants to sleep in the room by herself so she can stare at the wallpaper uninterrupted. She locks out Jennie and believes that she can see the woman in the wallpaper . John returns and frantically tries to be let in, and the narrator refuses; John is able to enter the room and finds the narrator crawling on the floor. She claims that the woman in the wallpaper has finally exited, and John faints, much to her surprise.

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Background on "The Yellow Wallpaper"

The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was a lecturer for social reform, and her beliefs and philosophy play an important part in the creation of "The Yellow Wallpaper," as well as the themes and symbolism in the story. "The Yellow Wallpaper" also influenced later feminist writers.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, known as Charlotte Perkins Stetsman while she was married to her first husband, was born in Hartford, CT in 1860. Young Charlotte was observed as being bright, but her mother wasn’t interested in her education, and Charlotte spent lots of time in the library.

Charlotte married Charles Stetsman in 1884, and her daughter was born in 1885. She suffered from serious postpartum depression after giving birth to their daughter, Katharine. Her battle with postpartum depression and the doctors she dealt with during her illness inspired her to write "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The couple separated in 1888, the year that Perkins Gilman wrote her first book, Art Gems for the Home and Fireside. She later wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1890, while she was in a relationship with Adeline Knapp, and living apart from her legal husband. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was published in 1892, and in 1893 she published a book of satirical poetry , In This Our World, which gained her fame.

Eventually, Perkins Gilman got officially divorced from Stetsman, and ended her relationship with Knapp. She married her cousin, Houghton Gilman, and claimed to be satisfied in the marriage .

Perkins Gilman made a living as a lecturer on women’s issues, labor issues, and social reform . She toured Europe and the U.S. as a lecturer, and founded her own magazine, The Forerunner.

Publication

"The Yellow Wallpaper" was first published in January 1892 in New England Magazine.

During Perkins Gilman's lifetime, the role of women in American society was heavily restricted both socially and legally. At the time of its publication, women were still twenty-six years away from gaining the right to vote .

This viewpoint on women as childish and weak meant that they were discouraged from having any control over their lives. Women were encouraged or forced to defer to their husband’s opinions in all aspects of life , including financially, socially, and medically. Writing itself was revolutionary, since it would create a sense of identity, and was thought to be too much for the naturally fragile women.

Women's health was a particularly misunderstood area of medicine, as women were viewed as nervous, hysterical beings, and were discouraged from doing anything to further “upset” them. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that rest would cure hysteria, when in reality the constant boredom and lack of purpose likely worsened depression .

Perkins Gilman used her own experience in her first marriage and postpartum depression as inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper, and illustrates how a woman’s lack of autonomy is detrimental to her mental health.

Upon its publication, Perkins Gilman sent a copy of "The Yellow Wallpaper" to the doctor who prescribed her the rest cure for her postpartum depression.

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" Characters

Though there are only a few characters in the story, they each have an important role. While the story is about the narrator’s mental deterioration, the relationships in her life are essential for understanding why and how she got to this point.

The Narrator

The narrator of the story is a young, upper-middle-class woman. She is imaginative and a natural writer, though she is discouraged from exploring this part of herself. She is a new mother and is thought to have “hysterical tendencies” or suffer from nervousness. Her name may be Jane but it is unclear.

John is the narrator’s husband and her physician. He restricts her activity as a part of her treatment. John is extremely practical, and belittles the narrator's imagination and feelings . He seems to care about her well-being, but believes he knows what is best for her and doesn't allow her input.

Jennie is John’s sister, who works as a housekeeper for the couple. Jennie seems concerned for the narrator, as indicated by her offer to sleep in the yellow wallpapered room with her. Jennie seems content with her domestic role .

Main Themes of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

From what we know about the author of this story and from interpreting the text, there are a few themes that are clear from a "Yellow Wallpaper" analysis. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was a serious piece of literature that addressed themes pertinent to women.

Women's Role in Marriage

Women were expected to be subordinate to their husbands and completely obedient, as well as take on strictly domestic roles inside the home . Upper middle class women, like the narrator, may go for long periods of time without even leaving the home. The story reveals that this arrangement had the effect of committing women to a state of naïveté, dependence, and ignorance.

John assumes he has the right to determine what’s best for his wife, and this authority is never questioned. He belittles her concerns, both concrete and the ones that arise as a result of her depression , and is said so brush her off and “laugh at her” when she speaks through, “this is to be expected in marriage” He doesn’t take her concerns seriously, and makes all the decisions about both of their lives.

As such, she has no say in anything in her life, including her own health, and finds herself unable to even protest.

Perkins Gilman, like many others, clearly disagreed with this state of things, and aimed to show the detrimental effects that came to women as a result of their lack of autonomy.

Identity and Self-Expression

Throughout the story, the narrator is discouraged from doing the things she wants to do and the things that come naturally to her, like writing. On more than one occasion, she hurries to put her journal away because John is approaching .

She also forces herself to act as though she’s happy and satisfied, to give the illusion that she is recovering, which is worse. She wants to be a good wife, according to the way the role is laid out for her, but struggles to conform especially with so little to actually do.

The narrator is forced into silence and submission through the rest cure, and desperately needs an intellectual and emotional outlet . However, she is not granted one and it is clear that this arrangement takes a toll.

The Rest Cure

The rest cure was commonly prescribed during this period of history for women who were “nervous.” Perkins Gilman has strong opinions about the merits of the rest cure , having been prescribed it herself. John’s insistence on the narrator getting “air” constantly, and his insistence that she do nothing that requires mental or physical stimulation is clearly detrimental.

The narrator is also discouraged from doing activities, whether they are domestic- like cleaning or caring for her baby- in addition to things like reading, writing, and exploring the grounds of the house. She is stifled and confined both physically and mentally, which only adds to her condition .

Perkins Gilman damns the rest cure in this story, by showing the detrimental effects on women, and posing that women need mental and physical stimulation to be healthy, and need to be free to make their own decisions over health and their lives.

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The Yellow Wallpaper Analysis: Symbols and Symbolism

Symbols are a way for the author to give the story meaning, and provide clues as to the themes and characters. There are two major symbols in "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The Yellow Wallpaper

This is of course the most important symbol in the story. The narrator is immediately fascinated and disgusted by the yellow wallpaper, and her understanding and interpretation fluctuates and intensifies throughout the story.

The narrator, because she doesn’t have anything else to think about or other mental stimulation, turns to the yellow wallpaper as something to analyze and interpret. The pattern eventually comes into focus as bars, and then she sees a woman inside the pattern . This represents feeling trapped.

At the end of the story, the narrator believes that the woman has come out of the wallpaper. This indicates that the narrator has finally merged fully into her psychosis , and become one with the house and domesticated discontent.

Though Jennie doesn’t have a major role in the story, she does present a foil to the narrator. Jennie is John’s sister and their housekeeper, and she is content, or so the narrator believes, to live a domestic life. Though she does often express her appreciation for Jennie’s presence in her home, she is clearly made to feel guilty by Jennie’s ability to run the household unencumbered .

Irony in The Yellow Wallpaper

"The Yellow Wallpaper" makes good use of dramatic and situational irony. Dramatic literary device in which the reader knows or understands things that the characters do not. Situational irony is when the character’s actions are meant to do one thing, but actually do another. Here are a few examples.

For example, when the narrator first enters the room with the yellow wallpaper, she believes it to be a nursery . However, the reader can clearly see that the room could have just as easily been used to contain a mentally unstable person.

The best example of situational irony is the way that John continues to prescribe the rest-cure, which worsens the narrator's state significantly. He encourages her to lie down after meals and sleep more, which causes her to be awake and alert at night, when she has time to sit and evaluate the wallpaper.

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of the defining works of feminist literature. Writing about a woman’s health, mental or physical, was considered a radical act at the time that Perkins Gilman wrote this short story. Writing at all about the lives of women was considered at best, frivolous, and at worst dangerous. When you take a look at The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, the story is an important look into the role of women in marriage and society, and it will likely be a mainstay in the feminist literary canon.

What's Next?

Looking for more expert guides on literary classics? Read our guides on The Cask of Amontillado and The Great Gatsby .

Need important and interesting quotes? Check out these 18 To Kill a Mockingbird Quotes and 9 Great Mark Twain Quotes .

For help analyzing literature and writing essays , read our expert guide on imagery , literary elements , and writing an argumentative essay .

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Carrie holds a Bachelors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and is currently pursuing an MFA. She worked in book publishing for several years, and believes that books can open up new worlds. She loves reading, the outdoors, and learning about new things.

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