A Literary Analysis of 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

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The Yellow Wallpaper

In the grips of depression and the restrictions prescribed by her physician husband a woman struggles with maintaining her sanity and purpose. As a new mother and a writer, and she is denied the responsibility and intellectual stimulation of these elements in her life as part of her rest cure. Her world is reduced to prison-like enforcement on her diet, exercise, sleep and intellectual activities until she is "well again". As she gives in to the restrictions and falls deeper into depression, she focuses on the wallpaper and slides towards insanity. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story written from a first-person perspective about a young woman's mental deterioration during the 1800's and the adverse affects of the restriction place on her. The setting of the story is a colonial mansion in the country rented for the summer by the narrator's husband while she is treated for her "nervous condition". As the story progresses and the narrator describes her surroundings the setting focuses from the mansion and surrounding gardens to a bedroom in the mansion and finally on the wallpaper in the bedroom. This narrowing focus of the setting directly parallels the narrator's mental deterioration. Gilman's emphasis on the complex symbolism of the wallpaper illustrates the narrator's depression and the adverse affects of limited intellectual activity which, in this case, leads to insanity.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator confides that she may not be well, but she disagrees with the prescribed treatment for her "nervous depression" when she states:

Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

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


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...ted to, the wallpaper. The focus of her surroundings is narrowed to the point that she exists only in the bedroom, fearing the outdoors and limiting her contact with other people. The wallpaper provides the foundation for her fantasy world and represents breaking away from the confinement of her prescribed treatment and the loss of her sanity. The narrator is unable to fulfill her intellectual needs, whether it is by writing, interacting with friends and family, or experiencing changes in her prescribed daily routine. The wallpaper develops details and animation as the story progresses and symbolizes the confinement, struggle and acceptance of one woman's struggle with debilitating depression.


Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. In Heath Literature for Composition. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company, 1990.
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