The Yellow Wall Paper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wall Paper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, is a first-person narrative written in the style of a journal. It takes place during the nineteenth century and depicts the narrator’s time in a temporary home her husband has taken her to in hopes of providing a place to rest and recover from her “nervous depression”. Throughout the story, the narrator’s “nervous condition” worsens. She begins to obsess over the yellow wallpaper in her room to the point of insanity. She imagines a woman trapped within the patterns of the paper and spends her time watching and trying to free her. Gilman uses various literary elements throughout this piece, such as irony and symbolism, to portray it’s central themes of restrictive social norms and expectations placed on women as well as mental illness.
The narrator is a married woman suffering from depression, presumably postpartum depression as it is mentioned she has a newborn child she is anxious to be around, “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous” (Gilman 3). Her physician husband, John, has taken them to a colonial mansion for the summer in hopes that rest will help his wife recover from her nervousness, which he believes has no reasonable cause. There are various examples and types of irony within “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, the most discernible being that while John is trying to help is wife heal, he does not believe that she is truly ill and ultimately contributes to the worsening of her condition. “John is a physician, and… perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick” (Gilman 1). He instructs his wife to take various phosphates and tonics, forbids her...


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...(Gilman 8). The yellow wallpaper is symbolic of a women’s place in society within the nineteenth century. It was not commonplace, or deemed acceptable, for women to be financially independent and/or engage in intellectual activity. The wallpaper is symbolic of those economic, intellectual, and social restrictions women were held to, as well as the domestic lives they were expected to lead. The narrator is so restricted by these social norms that her proper name is never given within the story, her only identity is “John’s wife”. At the climax of the story, the narrator identifies completely with the woman in the wallpaper and believes that by tearing the wallpaper, both she and the woman would be freed of their domestic prisons, “…there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?” (Gilman 10)

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