The Significance of the Yellow Wallpaper

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Dead Paper

“I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind.” (2)

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story about a woman being treated for post-partum depression in a colonial mansion in the country. Her doctor-husband is administering her prescription of rest-cure with a watchful eye and a doting demeanour. It is recommended that she take as much rest as possible in the room with the best access to natural light and fresh air – the nursery, at the top of the stairs, with bars on the windows, and peeling yellow wallpaper. This is a technically reasonable, but fundamentally flawed description of the short story. It captures the details, but not the sensation. The Yellow Wallpaper is, in fact, the story of a woman being driven insane, and her decline is exacerbated by or simply in tandem with the disrepair of her ugly, torn wallpaper. Taken as a short history of the subjugation and dismissal of women, it becomes clear why the “hereditary estate”(2) is comfortable and ordinary for John, but feels “haunted” to the protagonist. The subjugation of women is obsolete, defunct, and moribund, just like the mansion, and peeling like the wallpaper in the nursery, though it still makes it presence felt. In the persona’s interaction with the paper, there is the full cycle of domination and subjugation, and the inevitable result, when captivity is the cure. When the protagonist is first moved into the nursery for the sake of air and light, like a potted plant, she remarks on the paper, finding it revolting, purposeless, and needlessly frustrating.

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. (3)

This mirrors her current opinion of her husband’s care. She...
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