The Yellow Wallpaper” is, on its surface, about a woman driven insane by post-partum depression and a dangerous treatment. However, an examination of the protagonist’s characterization reveals that the story is fundamentally about identity. The protagonist’s projection of an imaginary woman — which at first is merely her shadow — against the bars of the wallpaper’s pattern fragments her identity, internalizing the conflict she experiences and eventually leading to the complete breakdown of the boundaries of her identity and that of her projected shadow.
Constantly alone and forbidden to leave her bedroom, the lack of something to occupy her time causes the protagonist to become delusional. With “barred windows for little children and rings and things in the walls” the room is much like her prison (Gilman 174). Even the pattern on the wallpaper (which at first was completely random) “at night in any kind of light, twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all moonlight, becomes bars” as if she is caged (Gilman 182). Both times here she refers to aspects of her room as bars. As she begins to feel imprisoned she projects her feelings onto the wallpaper, but the idea of the room being her prison goes from figurative to more literal as the isolation deepens her need for an escape.
Not just the wallpaper, but everything about her bedroom (including those that occupy it with her) sets the stage for the protagonist’s insanity. When her husband John says: “bless her little heart; she shall be as sick as she pleases” we catch glimpses of his childlike treatment of her (Gilman 181). The use of the word “little” to describe her heart gives the image of a small body to go along with it, like that of an infant. The fact that he says she is “as sick as she pleases” reflects the way a child conjures up illnesses to escape certain chores they do not wish to do. This would make sense because he also diagnosis her with “temporary nervous depression;” which is what was...
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