Contrary Interpretations of The Yellow Wallpaper

Powerful Essays
Contrary Interpretations of The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was first published in New England Magazine in 1892. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an advocate for the advancement of women, authored the short story. She intended the piece to bring to light the inherent ineptitude of the Weir Mitchell “rest cure.” Though this subject is addressed, many other pertinent topics are broached, ever so subtly. Other themes in the book include the role of women in a society dominated by men, the role of the mother, and how oppression can affect the mind of a creative individual. These themes, however, can be altered merely by how the tale is edited. I intend to point out some of the pertinent differences that exist between the full text of the story and an abridged version, describing how they give the same story contrary interpretations.

To better understand the differences I will be noting, one may find it helpful to be familiar with the basic plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Both versions relate the story of a woman losing her mind. She has not been feeling well for some time, so her husband, a physician, decides a summer spent relaxing in the country would benefit her. While there, she is forbidden to write in her journal, as it indulges her imagination, which is not in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Despite this, the narrator makes entries in the journal whenever she has the opportunity. Through these entries we learn of her obsession with the wallpaper in her bedroom. She is enthralled with it and studies the paper for hours. She fancies she sees a woman trapped behind the pattern in the paper. The story reaches its climax when her husband must force his way into the bedroom, only to find...

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...woman being driven mad by her position in life. The wallpaper merely serves as a catalyst for her breakdown. This interpretive discrepancy, as well as the loss of authenticity and finally the weakening of John’s power, ultimately leaves the two versions of “The Yellow Wallpaper” open to varying interpretations.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Ed. Dale M. Bauer. Bedford Cultural Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998.

---. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Great American Short Stories. Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1977. 195-206.

Works Consulted

Golden, Catherine, ed. The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on "The Yellow Wallpaper." New York: Feminist Press, 1992

Kasmer, Lisa. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Symptomatic Reading." Literature and Psychology. 36, (1990): 1-15.