Literary Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper is a classic feminist short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story was first published in the New England Magazine in 1892, reflecting a society guided by strict Victorian laws. Gilman utilizes her experiences with post-partum depression to explore the devastating impacts of such mental distress. The story focuses on a woman’s gradual descent into psychosis as she battles post-postpartum depression while struggling to find her identity and express herself fully in an oppressive society. The Yellow Wallpaper is a classic demonstration of feminism because of its significance at the time and its eternal relevance in our contemporary society. Gilman utilizes figurative language and a suitable setting that displays numerous gender stereotypes and restrictive social norms. The story is written from the narrator’s perspective as she keeps records of her psychological battle in a secret diary. Gilman successfully explores gender stereotypes, mental health, and oppressive social norms using an effective setting, symbolism, and point of view.
The setting of The Yellow Paper is vital in exemplifying the feeling of isolation, depression, and oppression. The story takes place in a sprawling country estate near the end of the 19th century. The historical context and the physical setting play a crucial role in illustrating the narrator’s captivity, isolation, and repression as a married woman (Barry, 2013). Most societies were governed by strict Victorian laws that restricted women’s expression and empowerment, especially for married women. Most societal expectations limited women to kitchen and household chores while husbands went to work. As a result, the narrator spends most of her time locked away from the rest of the world, contributing to her mental deterioration. Instead of being energetic, her husband, John, prescribes a relaxing cure for her post-partum depression, discouraging her from being active. The narrator describes, “he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen” (Gilman, 2020, p. 1). The narrator implies that her husband ignores her concerns as he brushes off her claims that the house is haunted.
Similarly, the house’s location contributes to the feeling of oppression and isolation that the narrator has been struggling with her entire life. The narrator states, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road, three miles from the village.” (Gilman, 2020, p.2). Apart from being isolated, the house has numerous locks and barred windows, illustrating the confinement and seclusion from the rest of society.
an A-level paper for you.
Symbolism and Point of View
Gilman uses various symbols that illustrate the protagonist’s predicament in a restrictive and oppressive society that causes her mental state to deteriorate. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes the speaker’s obsession and descent into madness, which is contributed by isolation and her husband’s lack of understanding (Barry, 2013). The narrator reiterates how the husband laughs at her for suggesting that the wallpaper is haunted. She implies that her husband does not understand her situation, just like society ostracizes her as a woman. Subsequently, she becomes obsessed with the paintings on the wallpaper, which portray a shadowy figure of a woman. As she tries to study the incompressible patterns in the wallpaper, she discovers a woman creeping stealthily. According to Davison (2004), these patterns represent the societal expectations that confine the narrator, just like the woman in the wallpaper. The narrator writes, “There are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast,” implying that many women are isolated and misunderstood just like her (Gilman, 2020, p. 10). Subsequently, the narrator uses her secret diary as a tool of expression to reject repressive societal norms because her husband barred her from witting.
The protagonist tells the story, giving the readers a deep insight into her predicaments in a patriarchal and oppressive society. Gilman uses the narrator’s point of view to exemplify the narrator’s thought process and to illustrate how her husband and society at large treat her. The narrator’s description of her husband indicates a controlling ad infantilizing partner who ignores her mental well-being and needs. She states, “He is cautious and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” (Gilman, 2020, p. 2) The narrator’s perspective helps the reader visualize how she is treated as a child and hardly makes her own decisions, indicating the husband’s domination (Davison, 2004). The narrator’s take is vital in illuminating the captivity and repression that she faces because the husband is either ignorant of her situation or simply does not care.
Generally, Perkin’s The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates the feelings of oppression, captivity, and depression through an adequate setting, symbolism, and the narrator’s point of view. Perkins develops a compelling narrative of how a restful gateway turns out to be a psychological battle, revealing the struggles of women in overcoming an oppressive marriage and a restrictive society. Through the predicament and experiences of the protagonist, the author effectively illustrates the misunderstanding of mental illness and gender stereotypes that restrict self-expression and women empowerment in a male-dominated society.
- Barry, D. (2013). Analyzing The Yellow Wallpaper (pp. 1-31). Debbie Barry.
- Davison, C. M. (2004). Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper .” Women’s Studies, 33(1), 47-75.
- Gilman, C. (2020). The Yellow Wallpaper. (pp. 1-10). Duke Classics.