The Yellow Wallpaper Essay

the yellow wallpaper / character / treatment / husband / wife / depression / health / insanity

 The Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman

Gilman’s main character is the physician’s wife that had just gave birth to a baby in 1870. She suffers from post-partum depression and is treated by her husband. The treatment method consists in being locked in an upstairs bedroom with lurid yellow wallpaper.

Along with her husband John they had temporarily moved into a colonial mansion for three months to rest and recover from her slight hysterical tendencies and nervous depression. Over her stay therein, she does not contact many people, and denies socializing with her friends. Worse than that, while staying in the mansion she is separated from her baby cared for by another woman, called Mary.

The only contact she basically holds is with a housekeeper Jennie. Furthermore, the woman is forbidden to write, however she writes despite the prohibition. In accordance with the treatment plan, she is strongly encouraged to stay indoors despite the beautiful grounds surrounding the estate. She is also convinced not give into fancies and get as much sleep as possible.

Her bedroom is dark with bars over the windows, scratches on the floor and holes and dents in the plastered walls. At that, her bed is nailed to the floor, and certain sections of the walls hold patches of yellow printed wallpaper despised by her.

In spite of her claims to leave the house or at least change the rooms, her husband adamantly refuses claiming that her health is improving regardless that her behaviour has actually become twisted and bizarre.

As a result, she gets vision of patterns in the wall-paper in the form of faces with bulging eyes. Subsequently, the faces transform into figures, and the latter into a woman. Gradually the woman begins to despise the new image. Without noticing John or Jennie, the woman starts to figure out the secrets of the yellow wallpaper.  

She actually hates the pattern, its design and colour, which al make her irritated and confused, as well as repelled and provoked. All this eventually destroys her mind transforming it into the state of virtual insanity. Not the wallpaper bur her state of mind calls for reader’s attention: “The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight”.

She permanently thinks of her nervous depression and is overloaded by her thoughts. She worries about her nervousness and feels guilty for being a burden to her husband. Overall, she is psychologically obsessed, which state is worsened by hallucinations. She imagines that she is able to see “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design”.

The wall-paper becomes an obsession. Earlier it was an interpretation of the smell of wallpaper which slowly transfers into the movement of the woman. While paying much attention to minute fanciful detail and the woman, her psychological fancy provokes a great deal of suspicion from John and Jennie

Herewith, Charlotte Perkins Gilman emphasizes on the importance of exercising self control and hold control over imagining; conversely, anyone can allow his/her mind dominates them to stop imagining. The main character’s fanciful flights of imagination are endless: “nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies..... He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on”.

Critics argue that The Yellow Wallpaper is a semi-autobiographical story providing readers with extreme radicalism that was hardly understood in 1892. This vivid study of female madness assumes that 19th-century patriarchy was the main cause of females’ loss of sanity.

The text requires careful reading with the focus on the correlation between first-person experience of gradual loss of rational control and the guiding hand of the author signaling a complex social and gender politics.

The woman speaking to us obscurely recognizes that her conforming to the then stereotype of ideal womanhood of the time is the core reason for her nervous depression. The main dilemma faced by the woman consists in either being good and mad, or bad and sane. Ruled like a child by her domineering husband John, Anita Hegh is confined to the room papered with ‘sickly yellow’ wallpaper.

Over the story she had been transferred from the carefully schooled enunciation of a lady to the uninhibited creature dragged around the hateful, yellow walls of her ‘imprisonment’. Nonetheless, she manages to capture the frightening intimacy while recording her thoughts and speaking them to us. At that, she struggles to maintain the fiction of the ‘good’ wife, mother, sister-in-law and patient.

The woman’s subtle progression from bewilderment to madness indicates the male’s patriarchal dominance and control particular to the then society. Hence, the wallpaper symbolizes the inscrutable and devious social codes according to which the woman is disempowered: ‘On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law that is a constant irritant to a normal mind. The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you...”


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