Literary Criticism of Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper'

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"The Yellow Wallpaper"

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" first appeared in 1892 and became a notary piece of literature for it' s historical and influential context. Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" was a first hand account of the oppression faced toward females and the mentally ill,whom were both shunned in society in the late 1890's. It is the story of an unnamed woman confined by her doctor-husband to an attic nursery with barred windows and a bolted down bed. Forbidden to write, the narrator-protagonist becomes obsessed with the room's wallpaper, which she finds first hideous and then fascinating; on it she eventually deciphers an imprisoned woman whom she attempts to liberate by peeling the paper off the wall. The narrators' condition weakens at the end of the story, as she is driven mad by numerous influences who tried controlling her for what they believed to be assisting her. The images the character makes in her mind are related to her husband and the confinement she is forced to endure and because of the continuing pressure, until she finally cracks.

The story behind "The Yellow Wallpaper," is derived from Gilman's personal experience with numbing confinement. When S. Weir Mitchell diagnosed Charlotte Perkins Gilman as suffering from of "nervous prostration," he prescribed what many nineteenth-century physicians believed to be necessary rest. Included in Mitchell's Rest Cure treatment was locking Gilman away in his Philadelphia sanitarium for a month, enforcing strict isolation, limiting intellectual stimulation to two hours a day, and forbidding her to touch pen, pencil, or paintbrush ever again much like Gilman's character in "The Yellow Wallpaper."

Gilman's character is isolated "three miles ...

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...ntity as well. In the end, she never does get free and, in fact, has been defeated in the end - in short, destroyed. It is in her mind that she essentially tries to release herself from society and her husband but loses. Gilman's pivotal message was that, an individual subjected to constant observation can become paranoid and succumb to madness and separation: first from society, then from self. She delivered this message discreetly by using symbolism in place. Her husband was much like the wallpaper in they both monitored her to the point of madness and the woman she imagined was a self-reflective desire she had for herself. However no matter how the narrator tries to cope with her situation with images, she cannot escape the reality.


Gilman, Charlotte. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Making Literature Matter.2nd ed. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin's 2003.
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