“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a symbolic tale of one woman’s struggle to break free from her mental prison. Charlotte Perkins Gilman shows the reader how quickly insanity takes hold when a person is taken out of context and completely isolated from the rest of the world. The narrator is a depressed woman who cannot handle being alone and retreats into her own delusions as opposed to accepting her reality. This mental prison is a symbol for the actual repression of women’s rights in society and we see the consequences when a woman tries to free herself from this social slavery.
The story unfolds as the nameless narrator’s condition is revealed. She is a common woman suffering from “slight hysterical tendencies.” As a result, her husband, John (a respected physician), has taken her to an isolated country estate in an attempt to help her recuperate and recover. From the outset it becomes apparent that she is an unreliable narrator due to her state of mind. The paragraphs of the story are short and choppy, indicating an inability to concentrate and possession of a mind that jumps from one random topic to the next. The narrator talks about her imaginings that the house is haunted, " . . . There is something strange about the house - I can feel it." She also relates how every exertion completely exhausts her. These symptoms, as well as the numerous referrals by the narrator to the baby, indicate depression and paranoia. While an ordinary mother feels an intense bond and a desire to be with her child,...
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...otte Perkins Gilman. New York: Harper & Row, Colophon Books, 1975.
---. "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper". Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction. Ed. Denise D Knight. New York, Twayne Publishers, 1997. 106-107.
Hill, Mary A. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, 1860-1896. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1980.
Kennard, Jean E. "Convention Coverage or How to Read Your Own Life." New Literary History 13 (Autumn 1981): 69-88.
Palis, James., et al. "The Hippocratic Concept of Hysteria: A Translation of the Original Texts." Integrative Psychiatry 3.3 (1985): 226-228.
Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th-Century America," Social Research 39 (Winter 1972): 652-78
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