“TheYellow Wallpaper” was written by a very profound author named Charlotte PerkinsGilman. “She was one of the most influential and leading woman of the Americanwoman’s movement in the first two decades of the twentieth century” (“AboutCharlotte Perkins”). Gilman was born into a family of substantial poverty.
Herfather abandoned the family when she was just a little girl and unfortunately,she only received four years of education. At such an early age, Gilman vowedto never marry, hoping to dedicate her life to society. However, she dideventually marry an artist named Charles Walter Stetson and became pregnantshortly after. After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, she fell into asevere depression that lasted for many years. Gilman checked into a sanitariumwhere she underwent a “rest cure”. During this cure, any type of intellectualstimulation or physical activity was highly prohibited. This is where shebecame insane. After a month had passed, she returned home and suffered anervous breakdown.
“In 1888, she left her husband and moved in with herdaughter where she made a full recovery” (“About Charlotte Perkins”). Then, in1892 Gilman published her short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, an exaggeratedversion of her own experience. The story uses symbolism and characterization todescribe the treatment of a woman’s mental illness and her change in identitythrough insanity.
Thestory begins with, “It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John andmyself secure ancestral homes for the summer” (Gilman). This quote suggest thatthe narrator is a woman and married as part of a normal middle-class society—”mere ordinary people”. As the story continues, it is revealed that the womenhave an illness, but unclear as to what type of illness; it may be depression.She states, “So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics,and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’until I am well again” (Gilman). Her husband, John is a physician himself,which proves that he is wealthy enough to support his family without the needof his wife working. “…If a physician of high standing, and one’s husband,assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with onebut temporary depression, what is one to do” (Gilman). The narrator feels veryhelpless.
She believes that she could be sick, but physically—a possible mentalillness. Throughout the story, the narrator’s name is not mentioned by any ofthe characters. This represents her having no identity— being married to a manwho doesn’t understand her condition. Thewoman is taken to a “country house” so that she can recover from a nervouscondition. Her first impressions are ironically positive; he describes it as”the most beautiful place”. There was a delicious garden, and greenhouses, eventhough they were broken down.
Once in her room, the narrator has a change inheart—she is unhappy. She didn’t like the room one bit. The woman goes on todescribe the room as being, “a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, withwindows that look all ways…there are rings and things in the walls…the color isrepellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow” (Gilman).
She is nowtrapped, against her will, to a third-floor room of the house which used to bea nursery. The room, covered in yellow wallpaper, serves as a prison where thewoman is restricted from her favorite intellectual activities such as writingand reading. She says, “Out of the onewindow I can see the garden, those mysterious deep shaded arbors, the riotousold-fashioned flowers…out of another I get the lovely view of the bay”(Gilman). This really shows a contrast between her imprisonment within theyellow wallpapered room and distant beautiful, “delicious” garden and freedomthat she is unable to enjoy due to her mental illness. Thenarrator is extremely unhappy with how he has dealt with her illness andsituation. It is very difficult to convince him of her discomfort in the roomand the abnormal shapes she seen in the wallpaper.
She says, “John is practicalin the extreme…he has no patience with…he scoffs openly at any talk of thingsnot to be felt and seen and down in figures” (Gilman). He does not understandthe seriousness of his wife’s condition. As the situation progresses, John’ssister, Jennie comes along. She is brought to keep up the house. “Such a deargirl…she is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper and hopes for no betterprofession” (Gilman). Jennie does the housekeeping and childcare under John’sauthority.
She carriers out John’s orders to monitor the narrator’s activities. As the narrator slides deeper and deeperinto her depressive state, she views Jennie as a huge threat.Thecentral symbolism in this story is the yellow wallpaper. The woman believesthat there is indeed, a woman trapped in the wallpaper.
She can’t ignore the”absurd, unblinking eyes” or the “sub-pattern in a different shade” in thewalls. She goes on by saying, “There are things in the wallpaper that nobodyknows about me, or ever will” (Gilman). The woman continues to discover what isreally behind the wallpaper. This hints that her isolation deprived paranoia isthe catalyst of her insanity. She mentions that the wallpaper continues tochange: “daylight she is subdued quiet…by moonlight, it becomes bars” (Gilman).The wallpaper itself represents the narrator’s sanity. As the wallpaperchanges, so does the woman’s overall attitude. This “rest cure” leads to thedecrease of her mental stability as she becomes more and more obsessed with thewallpaper.
Throughoutthe story, the narrator is annoyed with everyone and eventually imagines awoman trapped behind the wallpaper of her room. Her fascination with thewallpaper eventually leads to her insanity to take full control of her. “I’vegot out at last…in spite of you and Jennie…you can’t put me back” (Gilman)!This may reveal that the woman trapped behind the yellow wallpaper was, infact, the narrator. This quote shows that the woman is finally free and canpursue a life full of freedom, instead of living in the background of hercontrolling husband. Thetheme of identity is highly prevalent in this work. Despite what “society” (herhusband) believes, she searches for her own identity.
The doctors and herhusband insisted that she remained isolated under bed rest. Her views andsociety’s views of her illness is completely different. The narrator’s ability tocreate her own identity is hindered through her inability to write in her journal.Writing is her way of feeling normal and maintain sanity in her life, but thisis stripped from her. The woman’s only sense of freedom is to create her own identitythrough the features she sees within the wallpaper.
Unfortunately, this causesher to tear the wallpaper down. “TheYellow Wallpaper” is a story that represents a controlled and dominatedcharacter that is trapped and driven to insanity. In the beginning, she is seenas normal, but things quickly turn for the worst. Author, Charlotte Perkins Gilmantells her personal story, indirectly, through the narrator. The short storysymbolizes the effect of women oppression in the nineteenth century. The audienceis informed thoroughly of how quickly insanity takes place when one is isolatedand being taken advantage of. The narrator is very symbolic for all women in thistime period; a prisoner of a confined society.