The Yellow Wallpaper

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story about a woman’s gradual descent into insanity, after the birth of her child. The story was written in 1892 after the author herself suffered from a nervous breakdown, soon after the birth of her daughter in 1885. Gilman did spend a month in a sanitarium with the urging of her physician husband. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a story about herself, during the timeframe of when Gilman was in the asylum.

While on vacation for the summer, the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is, at the most, depressed at the beginning of their visit to a colonial mansion. Her husband John, however, thinks there is nothing wrong with her except temporary nervous depression (pg 391) and has her confined to a bedroom upstairs. I believe John loves her very much and is trying to help her get well, but he won’t believe there is an illness unless he can read about it or see something physical with his own eyes. "He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures." (pg 391) During the time of this writing it was the norm that men dominated women. Women were to be seen but not heard. They were not to argue with men, so she was forced to do as he said. Her husband has forbidden her to "work" until she is well again. (pg 392) She is held prisoner in her bedroom and has nothing to do to keep her mind active except stare at the wallpaper, although she did sneak in writing in her journal when possible.

The wallpaper in her bedroom is a hideous yellow. "It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others" (pg 393) The wallpaper is symbolic of the sickness the author has by the end of the story. Yellow is often a color associated with illness. It’s been suggested that she herself was clawing at the paper during moments of insanity. But there are many times when she is sane, and sees the marks on the wallpaper, and she writes about how others who had spent time in this room tried to remove the paper as well.

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