Symbolism Theme in The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman is an exciting story that touches on the delicate issue of gender roles. For many years, females and males have contested to do well in their roles in society. While males have been dominant, females have been subjects. The story narrates the participation of women in their domestic roles, not because they are conventionally designed to excel in these roles but because they have been forced to do so by traditional conventions. Interestingly, the author primarily uses symbolism to depict the women in society and how they are restricted from pursuing their interests by the males, who assume authority in everything females do. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the author uses the pattern, the mysterious figure in the yellow wallpaper, and the moonlight as significant symbols to convey a message of women’s oppression in society.
The Pattern and the Mysterious Figure on the Wallpaper
First, there is a pattern shown in the wallpaper. The wallpaper carries significant symbolism in the short story. The narrator highlights the wallpaper as one of the conspicuous but unpleasant things in the nursery room. Gilman (1892) notes, “I never saw a worse paper in my life” (648). These words show how the wallpaper scares the narrator and keeps her uncomfortable. It depicts the narrator’s way of life in the short story. In the story, the wallpaper signifies the restrictions in the narrator’s life, especially under her husband’s authority, a situation the narrator dislikes (Budhianto, 2008). A close turn of events in the story shows that these patterns symbolize a woman’s life in society, where they are subject to men. The patterns imply the society’s imprisonment of women, who are pinned down by inevitable societal norms and the patriarchy (Budhianto, 2008). The yellow wallpaper is the biggest trouble the narrator has to deal with every day. She notes, “I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long” (Gilman, 1892, p. 649). It represents the struggle that females have to overcome under authoritative males.
Again, there is the symbol of the mysterious figure. As the story progresses, an interesting, mysterious figure appears, again confined in the wallpaper. This mysterious figure of a woman crawling to escape symbolizes the feeling of oppression of the narrator in her house by her husband (Goswami, 2021). In the story, there is nothing the narrator can do independently as the husband retains authority, a situation he misrepresents as a sign of love. For example, the narrator’s husband takes control of her medication, which leads to the deterioration of her health (Gilman, 1892). Thus, the mysterious figure reveals the confinement the narrator experiences in her life. The narrator notes, “I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (Gilman, 1892, p. 650). All the moves and behaviors of the mysterious figure are similar to the narrator’s situation in the book.
The moonlight symbolizes a moment of freedom for women. The story paints two different stories, the daylight and moonlight. In the daylight, the narrator’s husband has it all, exerting authority over the wife (Gilman, 1892). During this time, the narrator feels suppressed in her life. However, the story is different when the moonlight strikes the wallpaper, signifying a moment for liberation. During the moonlight, the narrator watches it while the husband is asleep and notices the effort to shake the pattern. Gilman (1892) notes, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (652). With these turn of events, the moonlight symbolizes a feminine moment to seek their space from the struggles. With the moonlight, there is a chance for women to defy the odds and seek freedom for their self-interests. In the modern world, women are constantly shaking the confining societal patterns to become women of substance, far from being the conventional primary caregivers.
Unarguably, symbolism is evident in the short story, where the pattern, the mysterious figure in the yellow wallpaper, and moonlight help convey the narrator’s terrible life in the nursery room. The yellow wallpaper with the patterns depicts an environment in which the husband has suppressed and imprisoned the narrator. The wallpaper is the story’s center, always making the narrator feel uncomfortable. In the story, the mysterious struggling figure symbolizes the narrator’s feeling of oppression. The figure’s movements represent the eternal suffering and unpleasant experiences the narrator goes through in the house. The mysterious figure’s attempts to crawl against the restrictions of the patterns show how society suppresses women. Above all, the moonlight highlights the time for freedom that comes when the narrator’s husband is asleep. While the husband exerts authority during the daylight, during the moonlight, the narrator has time to watch the yellow wallpaper, noticing it is shaking. It is a moment for females to seek freedom. Symbolism significantly brings out the narrator’s situation in her life, especially under her husband’s restrictions.
- Budhianto, H. (2008). The symbols in the yellow wallpaper that represent Gilman’s messages for women in patriarchal society. Sanata Dharma University. https://repository.usd.ac.id/26031/2/014214135_Full%5B1%5D.pdf
- Gilman, C. P. (1892). The yellow wallpaper. The New England Magazine.
- Goswami, R. (2021). Actual understanding of Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins. 8(9). Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research. https://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR2109336.pdf
- LitCharts. (2019). The yellow wallpaper. LitCharts. https://files.schudio.com/unity/files/documents/The-Yellow-Wallpaper-LitChart.pdf