“The Yellow Wallpaper”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is gothic psychological short story written in journal-style with first-person narrative. Other elements used in the story are symbols, irony, foreshadowing, and imagery. “The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman who suffers from postpartum depression. Her husband, a physician, puts her on “rest cure of quiet and solitude.” (Wilson 278). This cure consisted of the narrator being confined to rest in one room and forbidden to do any physical work, read, write, or have any other type of mental stimulation. She secretly kept a journal to write in. The wallpaper in the room irritated the narrator to the point of her asking her husband to replace it. The wallpaper soon becomes a distraction. References to the yellow wallpaper become more frequent and keep developing through the course of the story as the narrator gives way to insanity.
Gilman uses several gothic elements including horror, dread, suspense, and the supernatural. Describing the women, the room, and the malevolent shapes, “Gilman tricks the reader into seeing Jane as simultaneously mad and in the grips of some haunting supernatural spectors.” (May 4724). The development of the story may imply possession as much as it does hallucination. The house that is “quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (Gilman 473) gives the reader a sense of isolation producing a dreaded tone which is common in gothic writings. The yellow color of the wallpaper also carries some gothic elements, portraying something stale, old, and decayed. The yellow is described as a “smoldering unclean yellow.” (Gilman 474). In addition to the color of the paper, the room the narrator is kept in seems to give the feeling of being a haunted space, even though the haunting may come from the narrator herself.
The story is a great example of first-person narrative because it is told solely from the viewpoint of the unnamed leading character and the reader is given access only to her thoughts and feelings allowing the reader to understand and experience the narrator’s feelings as she begins her path to insanity. Since the narrator is having a mental breakdown, she would be considered an unreliable narrator because the reader cannot be positive if she is correctly reciting the incidents of the story. First-person narrative also allows the readers to sympathize with her. For instance when she was told she could not go visit her cousin she said, “I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.” (Gilman 477). Giving the reader a sense of pity for the narrator. The reader is present in the narrator’s head at every stage of her insanity, making the story more powerful and shocking.
One of the more significant symbols used in the story is the yellow wallpaper. The wallpaper depicts the state of mind of the narrator. Even though the narrator gives a detailed description of the wallpaper, it still remains mysterious throughout the story. The narrator’s unhealthy fascination with the yellow wallpaper is “the first clue of her degenerating sanity.” (Hudock 3). At first the ripped, soiled, and unclean color seem offensive. The wallpaper seems to be letting off a “yellow smell” (Gilman 480) all through the house, even getting into her hair, symbolizing how the wallpaper is infecting the narrators mind. After the narrator stares at it for hours, she sees a ghostly sub-pattern, only visible in certain light. As the sub-pattern comes into focus there seems to be a desperate woman crawling and stooping trying to find a way out from behind the bars of the main pattern that resembles a cage. Ultimately it becomes clear that the figure crawling through the wallpaper is both the narrator and the narrator’s double. The narrator sees heads of women being strangled as they try to escape out of the cage. The...