“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman- Summary, Analysis, Characters & Themes

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About the Story: The Yellow Wallpaper

Book TitleThe Yellow Wallpaper
AuthorCharlotte Perkins Gilman
Publication Year1892
Pages22 pages
GenrePsychological fiction, Gothic literature
SettingLate 19th-century New England

The Yellow Wallpaper Analysis

The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that explores the mental and emotional struggles of a woman who is prescribed the “rest cure” for her supposed nervous condition. The narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with the wallpaper in her room, seeing a woman trapped behind the pattern.

This symbolizes her own sense of confinement and the oppressive nature of the treatment imposed on her. The story highlights the harmful effects of the patriarchal medical practices of the time and serves as a critique of the limitations imposed on women’s autonomy and mental well-being.

The Yellow Wallpaper Characters

  • Narrator (Protagonist): A woman with a nervous condition, struggling with her mental health. She is the one who writes the story.
  • John (Antagonist): The narrator’s husband and a physician. He doesn’t understand the depth of his wife’s mental struggles and restricts her activities.
  • Jennie: John’s sister, who takes care of the house and the narrator. She unintentionally contributes to the narrator’s isolation.
  • The Woman in the Wallpaper: A mysterious figure the narrator becomes obsessed with.

The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

  • Women’s Oppression: The story explores the oppressive nature of societal expectations and the limitations placed on women during the late 19th century.
  • Loss of Identity: The protagonist’s descent into madness reflects the loss of her individuality and identity, suppressed by her husband and societal norms.
  • Power Dynamics in Marriage: The story highlights the unequal power dynamic between men and women in marriage, where the husband controls and dictates the wife’s life.
  • Mental Health Stigma: “The Yellow Wallpaper” addresses the stigma surrounding mental health during the time, portraying the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of the protagonist’s postpartum depression.
  • Isolation and Loneliness: The theme of isolation is evident as the protagonist is confined to a room, mirroring her emotional and mental isolation from the outside world.
  • Escape through Imagination: The wallpaper becomes a symbol of the protagonist’s attempt to escape her reality through her imagination, providing a creative outlet in her confined existence.

Watch Full Video Summary & Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

The narrator opens her journal by admiring the house’s beauty and the gardens her husband has chosen for their summer getaway. She romanticises it as an aristocratic estate or perhaps a haunted mansion, and she wonders how they could afford it and why the property had been unoccupied for so long. Her sense that there is “something strange” about the incident prompts her to mention her condition (she suffers from “nervous depression”) and her marriage. She laments that her husband, John, also her doctor, dismisses her situation and her general ideas and concerns. She contrasts his realistic, logical demeanour with her creative, sensitive demeanour. 

Her therapy compels her to do virtually nothing active except work and write. She believes that movement, independence, and an intriguing job might benefit her condition, and she confesses that she has started a private blog to “relieve her mind.” In an attempt to do this, the narrator proceeds to describe the house. Her depiction is mainly good, but troubling features like “rings and things” in the bedroom walls and bars on the windows keep appearing. She finds the yellow wallpaper in the bedroom, with its weird, formless design, alarming and characterises it as “revolting.” Her thoughts are soon disturbed by John’s arrival, and she compels to stop writing.

As the summer progresses, the narrator becomes adept at concealing her journal and hence her thoughts from John. She continues to want more exciting company and activities, and she complains about John’s patronising, controlling ways—but she quickly returns to the wallpaper, which begins to appear not only unattractive but somehow dangerous. She notes that John is concerned about her getting obsessed with it and that he has even refused to repaper the room to avoid giving in to her neurotic fears.

However, the narrator’s imagination becomes piqued. She admits that she likes imagining people on the paths around the house, but John continually discourages her from having such ideas. She also recalls her childhood, when she could frighten herself by picturing things in the dark. She details the bedroom, which she believes was formerly a nursery for small children, pointing out that the paper has ripped off the wall in places, the floor has scratches and gouges, and the bedroom furniture is heavy to put in place. Just as she begins to see a weird sub-pattern underneath the main pattern of the wallpaper, her writing is interrupted again, this time by John’s sister, Jennie, who is working as the narrator’s maid and nurse.

As the Fourth of July approaches, the narrator adds that her family has just arrived, leaving her exhausted. John threatens to send her to Weir Mitchell, the real-life doctor who treated Gilman when he suffered a mental breakdown. The narrator is usually alone and claims that she has become nearly fond of the wallpaper and that attempting to figure out its pattern has become her principal source of enjoyment.

The wallpaper’s sub-pattern becomes clearer as her interest deepens. It appears like a lady “stooping down and creeping” behind the preliminary design, which resembles prison bars. Whenever the narrator mentions leaving the house, John dismisses her fears, silencing her. Her repulsed attraction to the paper deepens with each repetition.

The wallpaper soon takes over the narrator’s imagination. She becomes protective and secretive, concealing her interest in the document and ensuring that no one else analyses it so that she may “find out” on her own. At one point, she alarms Jennie, who caresses the wallpaper and recounts seeing yellow spots on their clothes. John believes she is improving because she mistook the narrator’s preoccupation for tranquillity. But she is losing sleep and thinks she can smell the paper throughout the home, even outside. She notices an odd smudge print on the paper that encircles the room as if someone had wiped it while crawling against the wall.

The sub-pattern now resembles a lady trying to escape behind the main pattern. When the lady can escape temporarily, the narrator witnesses her rattling the bars at night and creeping about during the day. The narrator admits that she, too, sneaks about occasionally. She feels John and Jennie are aware of her preoccupation, so she vows to eradicate the paper, ripping off most of it throughout the night. The next day, she is alone and goes into a frenzy, biting and ripping at the paper to rescue the captive lady, whom she sees fighting from within the pattern.

By the conclusion, the narrator becomes persuaded that numerous women are crawling within the wallpaper and that she has emerged from its confines, realising that she is the imprisoned lady. She wanders about the room incessantly, smearing the wallpaper as she goes. When John enters the locked chamber and realises the full horror of the situation, he collapses in the doorway, forcing the narrator “to creep over him every time!”

The Yellow Wallpaper Quotes

  1. “There is something strange, something deeply unsettling, about the yellow wallpaper that haunts my every waking moment.”
  2. “The yellow wallpaper became my prison, its patterns twisting and warping my mind.”
  3. “Behind the façade of domesticity lies a world of suppressed desires and silent screams.”
  4. “In the confinement of my room, the yellow wallpaper became a canvas for my descent into madness.”
  5. “The wallpaper whispered secrets to me, its tendrils of insanity creeping into my soul.”
  6. “In the midst of despair, I found solace in the patterns of the wallpaper, as they echoed the labyrinth of my own mind.”
  7. “Each day, I peeled back a layer of the wallpaper, hoping to unveil the truth hidden beneath its suffocating embrace.”
  8. “The yellow wallpaper was both my captor and my confidant, a testament to the fragile boundaries of sanity.”
  9. “Through the yellow wallpaper, I glimpsed the complexities of the human psyche, the fragility of the mind under societal constraints.”
  10. “The yellow wallpaper was a reflection of society’s attempts to confine and control women, a symbol of the oppressive forces that silenced their voices.”
  11. “In the madness of the yellow wallpaper, I discovered the strength to challenge the conventions that sought to imprison me.”
  12. “The yellow wallpaper held the power to liberate or destroy, depending on whose gaze fell upon its twisted patterns.”
  13. “I traced the contours of the wallpaper, seeking escape from the confines of my own mind, only to realize that the true prison was within me.”
  14. “In the yellow wallpaper, I found my own reflection, a distorted image of a woman yearning to break free.”
  15. “The yellow wallpaper was a testament to the transformative power of madness, its chaos giving birth to a new understanding of self.”

The Yellow Wallpaper FAQs

What is the story of The Yellow Wallpaper about?

The Yellow Wallpaper is a chilling short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, exploring a woman’s descent into madness as she becomes trapped and obsessed with the wallpaper in her room.

What is the main message of The Yellow Wallpaper?

The main message of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the detrimental effects of oppressive gender roles and the importance of women’s autonomy and self-expression.

What is ironic about The Yellow Wallpaper?

The irony lies in the protagonist’s descent into madness, while her husband, a doctor, fails to recognize or understand her deteriorating mental state.

What happens to the narrator at the end of The Yellow Wallpaper?

The narrator descends into madness, symbolically identifying herself with the woman trapped behind the wallpaper, as her mental state deteriorates.

What is the tragedy in The Yellow Wallpaper?

The tragedy in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the mental and emotional deterioration of the protagonist due to her oppressive environment and societal constraints.

What is the mental illness in The Yellow Wallpaper?

The mental illness in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is postpartum depression which is exacerbated by the oppressive and isolating environment the protagonist is subjected to.

About the Author– Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary, Themes, Quotes & Characters
NameCharlotte Perkins Gilman
Birth DateJuly 3, 1860
Death DateAugust 17, 1935
OccupationWriter, lecturer, social reformer
Notable Works“The Yellow Wallpaper, Herland, Women and Economics
Literary MovementFeminism, realism
EducationRhode Island School of Design
InfluencesMary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx, Edward Bellamy
Notable ThemesWomen’s rights, gender roles, social reform
Literary StylePsychological realism, social criticism

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