The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte gilman.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" tells the story of a young woman’s gradual descent into psychosis. " The Yellow Wallpaper" is often cited as an early feminist work that predates a woman’s right to vote in the United States. The author was involved in first-wave feminism, and her other works questioned the origins of the subjugation of women, particularly in marriage. "

The Yellow Wallpaper" is a widely read work that asks difficult questions about the role of women, particularly regarding their mental health and right to autonomy and self-identity. We’ll go over The Yellow Wallpaper summary, themes and symbols, The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, and some important information about the author.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" Summary

"The Yellow Wallpaper" details the deterioration of a woman's mental health while she is on a "rest cure" on a rented summer country estate with her family. Her obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom marks her descent into psychosis from her depression throughout the story.

The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" begins the story by discussing her move to a beautiful estate for the summer. Her husband, John, is also her doctor , and the move is meant in part to help the narrator overcome her “illness,” which she explains as nervous depression, or nervousness, following the birth of their baby. John’s sister, Jennie, also lives with them and works as their housekeeper.

Though her husband believes she will get better with rest and by not worrying about anything, the narrator has an active imagination and likes to write . He discourages her wonder about the house, and dismisses her interests. She mentions her baby more than once, though there is a nurse that cares for the baby, and the narrator herself is too nervous to provide care.

The narrator and her husband move into a large room that has ugly, yellow wallpaper that the narrator criticizes. She asks her husband if they can change rooms and move downstairs, and he rejects her. The more she stays in the room, the more the narrator’s fascination with the hideous wallpaper grows.

After hosting family for July 4th, the narrator expresses feeling even worse and more exhausted. She struggles to do daily activities, and her mental state is deteriorating. John encourages her to rest more, and the narrator hides her writing from him because he disapproves.

In the time between July 4th and their departure, the narrator is seemingly driven insane by the yellow wallpaper ; she sleeps all day and stays up all night to stare at it, believing that it comes alive, and the patterns change and move. Then, she begins to believe that there is a woman in the wallpaper who alters the patterns and is watching her.

A few weeks before their departure, John stays overnight in town and the narrator wants to sleep in the room by herself so she can stare at the wallpaper uninterrupted. She locks out Jennie and believes that she can see the woman in the wallpaper . John returns and frantically tries to be let in, and the narrator refuses; John is able to enter the room and finds the narrator crawling on the floor. She claims that the woman in the wallpaper has finally exited, and John faints, much to her surprise.

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Background on "The Yellow Wallpaper"

The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was a lecturer for social reform, and her beliefs and philosophy play an important part in the creation of "The Yellow Wallpaper," as well as the themes and symbolism in the story. "The Yellow Wallpaper" also influenced later feminist writers.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, known as Charlotte Perkins Stetsman while she was married to her first husband, was born in Hartford, CT in 1860. Young Charlotte was observed as being bright, but her mother wasn’t interested in her education, and Charlotte spent lots of time in the library.

Charlotte married Charles Stetsman in 1884, and her daughter was born in 1885. She suffered from serious postpartum depression after giving birth to their daughter, Katharine. Her battle with postpartum depression and the doctors she dealt with during her illness inspired her to write "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The couple separated in 1888, the year that Perkins Gilman wrote her first book, Art Gems for the Home and Fireside. She later wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1890, while she was in a relationship with Adeline Knapp, and living apart from her legal husband. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was published in 1892, and in 1893 she published a book of satirical poetry , In This Our World, which gained her fame.

Eventually, Perkins Gilman got officially divorced from Stetsman, and ended her relationship with Knapp. She married her cousin, Houghton Gilman, and claimed to be satisfied in the marriage .

Perkins Gilman made a living as a lecturer on women’s issues, labor issues, and social reform . She toured Europe and the U.S. as a lecturer, and founded her own magazine, The Forerunner.

Publication

"The Yellow Wallpaper" was first published in January 1892 in New England Magazine.

During Perkins Gilman's lifetime, the role of women in American society was heavily restricted both socially and legally. At the time of its publication, women were still twenty-six years away from gaining the right to vote .

This viewpoint on women as childish and weak meant that they were discouraged from having any control over their lives. Women were encouraged or forced to defer to their husband’s opinions in all aspects of life , including financially, socially, and medically. Writing itself was revolutionary, since it would create a sense of identity, and was thought to be too much for the naturally fragile women.

Women's health was a particularly misunderstood area of medicine, as women were viewed as nervous, hysterical beings, and were discouraged from doing anything to further “upset” them. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that rest would cure hysteria, when in reality the constant boredom and lack of purpose likely worsened depression .

Perkins Gilman used her own experience in her first marriage and postpartum depression as inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper, and illustrates how a woman’s lack of autonomy is detrimental to her mental health.

Upon its publication, Perkins Gilman sent a copy of "The Yellow Wallpaper" to the doctor who prescribed her the rest cure for her postpartum depression.

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" Characters

Though there are only a few characters in the story, they each have an important role. While the story is about the narrator’s mental deterioration, the relationships in her life are essential for understanding why and how she got to this point.

The Narrator

The narrator of the story is a young, upper-middle-class woman. She is imaginative and a natural writer, though she is discouraged from exploring this part of herself. She is a new mother and is thought to have “hysterical tendencies” or suffer from nervousness. Her name may be Jane but it is unclear.

John is the narrator’s husband and her physician. He restricts her activity as a part of her treatment. John is extremely practical, and belittles the narrator's imagination and feelings . He seems to care about her well-being, but believes he knows what is best for her and doesn't allow her input.

Jennie is John’s sister, who works as a housekeeper for the couple. Jennie seems concerned for the narrator, as indicated by her offer to sleep in the yellow wallpapered room with her. Jennie seems content with her domestic role .

Main Themes of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

From what we know about the author of this story and from interpreting the text, there are a few themes that are clear from a "Yellow Wallpaper" analysis. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was a serious piece of literature that addressed themes pertinent to women.

Women's Role in Marriage

Women were expected to be subordinate to their husbands and completely obedient, as well as take on strictly domestic roles inside the home . Upper middle class women, like the narrator, may go for long periods of time without even leaving the home. The story reveals that this arrangement had the effect of committing women to a state of naïveté, dependence, and ignorance.

John assumes he has the right to determine what’s best for his wife, and this authority is never questioned. He belittles her concerns, both concrete and the ones that arise as a result of her depression , and is said so brush her off and “laugh at her” when she speaks through, “this is to be expected in marriage” He doesn’t take her concerns seriously, and makes all the decisions about both of their lives.

As such, she has no say in anything in her life, including her own health, and finds herself unable to even protest.

Perkins Gilman, like many others, clearly disagreed with this state of things, and aimed to show the detrimental effects that came to women as a result of their lack of autonomy.

Identity and Self-Expression

Throughout the story, the narrator is discouraged from doing the things she wants to do and the things that come naturally to her, like writing. On more than one occasion, she hurries to put her journal away because John is approaching .

She also forces herself to act as though she’s happy and satisfied, to give the illusion that she is recovering, which is worse. She wants to be a good wife, according to the way the role is laid out for her, but struggles to conform especially with so little to actually do.

The narrator is forced into silence and submission through the rest cure, and desperately needs an intellectual and emotional outlet . However, she is not granted one and it is clear that this arrangement takes a toll.

The Rest Cure

The rest cure was commonly prescribed during this period of history for women who were “nervous.” Perkins Gilman has strong opinions about the merits of the rest cure , having been prescribed it herself. John’s insistence on the narrator getting “air” constantly, and his insistence that she do nothing that requires mental or physical stimulation is clearly detrimental.

The narrator is also discouraged from doing activities, whether they are domestic- like cleaning or caring for her baby- in addition to things like reading, writing, and exploring the grounds of the house. She is stifled and confined both physically and mentally, which only adds to her condition .

Perkins Gilman damns the rest cure in this story, by showing the detrimental effects on women, and posing that women need mental and physical stimulation to be healthy, and need to be free to make their own decisions over health and their lives.

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The Yellow Wallpaper Analysis: Symbols and Symbolism

Symbols are a way for the author to give the story meaning, and provide clues as to the themes and characters. There are two major symbols in "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The Yellow Wallpaper

This is of course the most important symbol in the story. The narrator is immediately fascinated and disgusted by the yellow wallpaper, and her understanding and interpretation fluctuates and intensifies throughout the story.

The narrator, because she doesn’t have anything else to think about or other mental stimulation, turns to the yellow wallpaper as something to analyze and interpret. The pattern eventually comes into focus as bars, and then she sees a woman inside the pattern . This represents feeling trapped.

At the end of the story, the narrator believes that the woman has come out of the wallpaper. This indicates that the narrator has finally merged fully into her psychosis , and become one with the house and domesticated discontent.

Though Jennie doesn’t have a major role in the story, she does present a foil to the narrator. Jennie is John’s sister and their housekeeper, and she is content, or so the narrator believes, to live a domestic life. Though she does often express her appreciation for Jennie’s presence in her home, she is clearly made to feel guilty by Jennie’s ability to run the household unencumbered .

Irony in The Yellow Wallpaper

"The Yellow Wallpaper" makes good use of dramatic and situational irony. Dramatic literary device in which the reader knows or understands things that the characters do not. Situational irony is when the character’s actions are meant to do one thing, but actually do another. Here are a few examples.

For example, when the narrator first enters the room with the yellow wallpaper, she believes it to be a nursery . However, the reader can clearly see that the room could have just as easily been used to contain a mentally unstable person.

The best example of situational irony is the way that John continues to prescribe the rest-cure, which worsens the narrator's state significantly. He encourages her to lie down after meals and sleep more, which causes her to be awake and alert at night, when she has time to sit and evaluate the wallpaper.

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of the defining works of feminist literature. Writing about a woman’s health, mental or physical, was considered a radical act at the time that Perkins Gilman wrote this short story. Writing at all about the lives of women was considered at best, frivolous, and at worst dangerous. When you take a look at The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, the story is an important look into the role of women in marriage and society, and it will likely be a mainstay in the feminist literary canon.

What's Next?

Looking for more expert guides on literary classics? Read our guides on The Cask of Amontillado and The Great Gatsby .

Need important and interesting quotes? Check out these 18 To Kill a Mockingbird Quotes and 9 Great Mark Twain Quotes .

For help analyzing literature and writing essays , read our expert guide on imagery , literary elements , and writing an argumentative essay .

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Carrie holds a Bachelors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and is currently pursuing an MFA. She worked in book publishing for several years, and believes that books can open up new worlds. She loves reading, the outdoors, and learning about new things.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

By charlotte perkins gilman, the yellow wallpaper themes.

In the story, wallpaper, a usually feminine, floral decoration on the interior of walls, is a symbol of female imprisonment within the domestic sphere. Over the course of the story, the wallpaper becomes a text of sorts through which the narrator exercises her literary imagination and identifies with a feminist double figure.

When John curbs her creativity and writing, the narrator takes it upon herself to make some sense of the wallpaper. She reverses her initial feeling of being watched by the wallpaper and starts actively studying and decoding its meaning. She untangles its chaotic pattern and locates the figure of a woman struggling to break free from the bars in the pattern. Over time, as her insanity deepens, she identifies completely with this woman and believes that she, too, is trapped within the wallpaper. When she tears down the wallpaper over her last couple of nights, she believes that she has finally broken out of the wallpaper within which John has imprisoned her. The wallpaper's yellow color has many possible associations - with jaundiced sickness, with discriminated-against minorities of the time (especially the Chinese), and with the rigid oppression of masculine sunlight. By tearing it down, the narrator emerges from the wallpaper and asserts her own identity, albeit a somewhat confused, insane one. Though she must crawl around the room, as the woman in the wallpaper crawls around, this "creeping" is the first stage in a feminist uprising.

Creativity vs. Rationality

From the beginning of the story, the narrator’s creativity is set in conflict with John’s rationality. As a writer, the narrator thrives in her use of her imagination, and her creativity is an inherent part of her nature. John does not recognize his wife’s fundamental creativity and believes that he can force out her imaginative fancies and replace them with his own solid rationality. In essence, a large part of the “rest cure” focuses on John’s attempt to remove the narrator’s creativity; by forcing her to give up her writing, he hopes that he will calm her anxious nature and help her to assume her role as an ideal wife and mother.

However, the narrator is not able to suppress her creativity, despite her best efforts to follow John’s instructions. Because she is not able to write openly and feels the repression of her imagination, she inadvertently exercises her mind via the yellow wallpaper. Although the narrator attempts to incorporate John’s rationality into the chaotic pattern of the wallpaper, she fails; the wallpaper cannot be quantified in John’s way. Her repressed imagination takes control, and she loses all sense of reality, becoming lost in delusions and the idea that she herself was the woman trapped in the wallpaper.

Gilman believes in creativity without restraints and argues that the narrator’s repressed imagination is the fundamental cause of her psychotic breakdown. Gilman also suggests that the narrator’s attempt to deny a fundamental part of her nature was doomed from the beginning. John should have been able to accept the true nature of his wife, rather than trying to force her to adhere to the prescriptions of his own personality.

The Domestic Sphere as Prison

Throughout the story, Gilman presents the domestic sphere as a prison for the narrator. Just as the woman in the wallpaper is trapped behind a symbol of the feminine domestic sphere, the narrator is trapped within the prison-like nursery. The nursery is itself a symbol of the narrator’s oppression as a constant reminder of her duty to clean the house and take care of the children. The numerous barred windows and immovable bed also suggest a more malignant use for the nursery in the past, perhaps as a room used to house an insane person. The narrator's sense of being watched by the wallpaper accentuates the idea of the room as a surveillance-friendly prison cell.

John’s treatment of the narrator perpetuates this sense of the domestic sphere as a prison. As a practical doctor, John automatically patronizes his imaginative, literary wife. He views her writing as unimportant, rarely takes her anxieties seriously, and constantly refers to her with the diminutive “little.” The narrator has no option of escaping her role as a wife and mother; John is unable to perceive her as anything more than that. However, the narrator is imprisoned even further because Jennie and Mary assume her identity as wife and mother; the narrator has no identity left to her because even the ones provided by the society have been taken from her. Unlike the narrator, Mary and Jennie do not have any aspirations beyond the prison of the domestic sphere and thus, they do not recognize it as a prison at all.

The "Rest Cure"

Because of Gilman’s personal experience with the “rest cure,” it is not surprising that S. Weir Mitchell’s treatment plays a significant role in the context of the narrative. From the start of the story, the narrator is supposed to be suffering from neurasthenia, a disease that requires Weir Mitchell’s particular technique for nervousness. Yet, it is unclear if the narrator is actually ill, or if the “rest cure” treatment causes her to go insane. Gilman’s argument is that a treatment that requires complete inactivity is ultimately far more detrimental to a woman suffering from a minor anxiety disorder. Significantly, according to Gilman’s autobiography, she sent a copy of “ The Yellow Wallpaper ” to Weir Mitchell, and he subsequently changed his treatment for neurasthenia.

Beyond the “rest cure,” Gilman also criticizes any sort of medical treatment in which the personal opinion of the patient is not considered. Although the narrator repeatedly asks John to change the treatment over the course of the story, he refuses to acknowledge her requests, believing that he had total authority over the situation. This is also a reflection of the society conditions of the time, but either way, John abuses his power as both a husband and physician and forces the narrator to remain in an oppressive situation from which her only escape is insanity.

Role of Women in the 19th Century

According to the social norms of the time period, women in the 19th century were expected to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers and be content in their existence as nothing more. Men and women were divided between the public and private sphere, and women were doomed to spend their lives solely in the domestic sphere. Not coincidentally, women who dared to enter the masculine public realm were viewed as something akin to prostitutes, the lowest level of society.

With that in mind, although John could be seen as the domineering villain of the story, he is simply a reflection of his society. The narrator’s desire to have more in her life than John and her child does not correspond to social expectations. Moreover, her love of writing and creativity further distinguishes her from the idealized “angel of the house” that she is supposed to emulate. Gilman herself rebelled against these social expectations and, by leaving her first husband and moving to California to write, was not deemed fit to belong in respectable society.

The Narrator vs. The Woman in the Wallpaper

From the start, the narrator has a constant bond with the woman in the wallpaper. Even when the narrator is unable to discern her figure beyond the pattern, she is still preoccupied with the wallpaper and feels an uncanny connection to it. As the story continues, the narrator’s connection to the woman in the wallpaper is heightened, and Gilman begins to present the wallpaper woman as a sort of doppelganger to the narrator. Although the woman is trapped behind the chaotic yellow wallpaper, she is essentially in the same position as the narrator: imprisoned in the domestic sphere and unable to escape without being strangled by the bars of social expectation.

By the end of the narrative, the narrator’s insanity has reached such a heightened state that she can no longer differentiate herself from the figure that she has seen in the wallpaper. She is the woman in the wallpaper and no one, not even John, can imprison her in the wallpaper again. There is no doubt that the narrator will be physically imprisoned at some point in the future. After John regains consciousness and discovers his wife still creeping around the nursery, he will have no choice but to send her to Weir Mitchell or place her in a mental institution. Yet, the narrator’s mind will still remain “free,” mirroring the freedom enjoyed by the woman in the wallpaper. In other words, the woman in the wallpaper can be seen as a manifestation of her creative imagination that finally breaks through the rigid expectations of the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, the escape of her imagination means that she cannot ever regain any sort of rationality; by freeing the woman in the wallpaper, the narrator ensures that her mind will be trapped in a prison of insanity.

Sunlight vs. Moonlight

Although the yellow color of the wallpaper has associations with illness, its most developed motif is the conflict between sunlight and moonlight. In Gilman's story, sunlight is associated with John's ordered, dominating schedule and the rational sphere of men. John prescribes something for the narrator for every waking hour while he goes about his daily rounds, forcing her to take on the same order and control that defines his life.

At night, however, the balance shifts. Men's day jobs in the public sphere are irrelevant, and women can achieve a more equal level with their husbands. While he is asleep, John is unable to monitor the narrator’s behavior, and she is not in a perpetual state of inferiority or being constantly controlled. More importantly, the narrator’s flexible subconscious roams free at night, as in during dreams. It is always by moonlight, a traditional symbol of femininity and the Goddess Artemis, that the narrator understands more about the figure trapped within the wallpaper. In sunlight, the woman stays still, afraid of being caught, and, once she creeps about outside, she does so boldly only at night. Moreover, the narrator cannot see the figure under the oppressive glare of sunlight in her room and is overwhelmed by the pattern of the wallpaper. By the cool, feminine light of the moon, the narrator is able to grasp the woman’s plight and ultimately recognize in it a reflection of her own imprisonment.

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The Yellow Wallpaper Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for The Yellow Wallpaper is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

Which of the following best summarizes a central idea of the text?

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what is the central idea of the text

None of these really match but C is the closest.

Why is she not able to make a “very good case for [her]self”? .

I think the narrator is under a lot of stress and suffers under her oppressive husband. She has mental health issues.

Study Guide for The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper study guide contains a biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About The Yellow Wallpaper
  • The Yellow Wallpaper Summary
  • Character List

Essays for The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper.

  • Responding to the Wallpaper
  • The Stages of Feminine Injustice
  • "Personally, I Disagree With Their Ideas"
  • Paper, Paper, On the Wall...
  • Prescription to Madness

Lesson Plan for The Yellow Wallpaper

  • About the Author
  • Study Objectives
  • Introduction to The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Relationship to Other Books
  • Notes to the Teacher

E-Text of The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper E-Text contains the full text of The Yellow Wallpaper

  • Full Text of The Yellow Wallpaper

Wikipedia Entries for The Yellow Wallpaper

  • Introduction
  • Plot summary
  • Interpretations
  • Dramatic adaptations

what is a good theme for the yellow wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

This article by Custom-Writing.org experts provides a wide-ranging and diverse explanation of The Yellow Wallpaper’s themes. The core issues represented in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story are gender roles, mental illness, and freedom.

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Although the writer speaks about her own time, these themes are just as relevant today, if not more so.

The key themes of The Yellow Wallpaper are: freedom & self-expression, gender roles, & mentall illness.

  • 🌟 Themes List
  • 🕊️ Freedom & Self-expression
  • 🚻 Gender Roles
  • 🤯 Mental Illness

🔗 References

🌟 the yellow wallpaper themes list.

The main themes discussed in the short story are:

  • Freedom, identity, and self-expression.  
  • Gender roles and feminism.  
  • Mental illness and its treatment.  

Below, we’ll discuss them in more detail.

🕊️ The Yellow Wallpaper Themes: Freedom & Identity

Freedom and identity is probably the most important The Yellow Wallpaper’s theme. In the story, John, the husband, puts restrictions on the narrator’s freedom to make her feel better. However, this has the reverse effect, although the physical limitations hurt her less than the emotional ones.

She is unable to share her worries with anyone and has to pretend that everything is alright. It even seems as though she is getting better at some point. However, we know that it is not enough of a victory in a battle against depression .

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The worst part of this so-called “ rest cure ” is that the narrator is restrained from any mental activity. However, she understands the benefits she receives from writing, so her journal is her salvation.

By the end of the story, the reader understands the irony of this treatment. It is not her imagination that drives her mad, but the constant muzzling of her self-expression. John believes that she needs to control it. Otherwise, it would get out of hand.

In this way, Gilman shows that there is nothing worse than trapping a mind in a cage of inactivity. This containment leads the main character to lose her identity. She is stuck in a loop, where she can increasingly no longer recognize herself. This inner conflict finally emerges at the end of the story.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Quotes on Freedom

I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. But I find I get pretty tired when I try. It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 2
I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to. I don’t feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief! The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 4
I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope—you don’t get me out in the road there! The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 11

🚻 The Yellow Wallpaper Theme: Gender Roles

One of the main themes in The Yellow Wallpaper is gender roles. In the nineteenth century, these roles were very well established . However, the author expresses her disagreement with them.

Gilman was an active contributor to feminism at the time, and her works on the role of women were quite famous.

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John is portrayed as a typical head of the family. His decisions cannot be challenged. He treats his wife as a child and does not think her requests and wishes are valid.

However, we cannot label him as the clear antagonist in this story. John tends to act with the best of intentions. One can notice that in his reaction at the end of the narrative. Moreover, these strict, traditional rules have also affected him negatively. He can do nothing but follow them and watch his family relationships being destroyed.

The narrator obeys her dominant husband , staying at home and not working. Yet, the diary symbolizes her rebellion against him. In some way, she feels trapped in this family routine and the woman’s role that she identifies with the shadow on the wallpaper. Finally, she suffers a breakdown.

We might conclude that the whole story bases on the belief that women are forced into their homemakers’ domestic roles. Moreover, the writer might even point out the patriarchy as the reason for all the family issues.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Quotes on Gender Roles

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 1
And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head. He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well. The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 4
Bless her little heart!” said he with a big hug; “she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let’s improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning! The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 5

🤯 Theme of The Yellow Wallpaper: Mental Illness

Mental disorder is another exciting The Yellow Wallpaper’s theme. The story offers an exciting perspective on how mental illness used to be treated in the nineteenth century, specifically the “rest cure” that John uses, which ultimately fails.

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Gilman’s life story is connected to the experiences of the main characters . Like the narrator, she suffered from postpartum depression. She also had to keep up with the same routine. The enforced abstinence from writing drove her mad.

John’s perspective is purely practical. Anything that could threaten his wife’s well-being should be prohibited. Thus, she is not allowed any activity that might overwhelm her or contribute to her anxiety and exhaustion. This means no guests, no writing, and no free will.

Altogether, the restrictions make the narrator feel trapped and powerless. She has no one to talk to about her concerns. John ignores them as much as possible. It makes the reader rethink the methods used in treatments at the time. Such vulnerable patients as the narrator would require more human contact and a personalized approach for a successful recovery.

Therefore, the story might be a representation of how mental disorders are neglected and undermined in society. Even nowadays, some women’s complaints about their mental health are counted as mere moodiness.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Quotes on Mental Illness

But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him. Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way! The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 2
I’m feeling ever so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing. The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 7
And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give. She said I slept a good deal in the daytime. John knows I don’t sleep very well at night, for all I’m so quiet! He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him! The Yellow Wallpaper , entry 10

We hope that the above information is useful. If you want to be fully aware of the true meaning of the story, you should check out both The Yellow Wallpaper summary and analysis . And if you’re looking for exciting essay ideas on the story, please read this article .

  • On “The Yellow Wallpaper” – UMBC
  • Gothic and the Female Voice: Examining Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Women’s Pain | JSTOR Daily
  • Understanding The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary and Analysis
  • “She Shall Be Sick As She Pleases”: Madness and Identity in The Yellow Wallpaper and The Haunting of Hill House
  • Feminist Criticism, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” – JStor
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Interesting Literature

Key Quotes from ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ Explained

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is an 1892 short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman . A powerful study of mental illness and the inhuman treatments administered in its name, the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman who is incarcerated in the nursery room of a large house she and her husband have rented.

Her husband believes that locking her away will give her the rest she needs, but it ends up worsening her mental state, until she locks herself inside the nursery in which she is being kept.

Told in the form of a diary the woman is secretly keeping, ‘ The Yellow Wallpaper ’ succeeds in part because of this first-person narrative voice. Let’s take a look at some of the most important and illustrative quotations from Gilman’s story.

‘If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do?’

This quotation from early in Gilman’s story establish the crux of the story in one sentence. The narrator’s husband is not only a man – at a time when men had a good deal of control over their wives, including (in many cases) their money and property – but is also a qualified doctor. In other words, she has to trust that he knows best , even if she suspects that his proposed treatment is not going to do her good.

It is easy to view the story as a one-sided feminist account of the powerlessness of women in a male-dominated world, but ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is more nuanced than this assessment implies. Although we can see that her incarceration (for that is what it amounts to) in the nursery at the top of the house is not helping her condition, would a mentally unstable patient or a sane, qualified doctor be the best person to decide what is ‘best’ for the patient?

Of course, in this case, the narrator does know best, but as well as being a work of feminist literature, Gilman’s story is also at bottom a tragedy about the ways in which well-intentioned people – such as doctors who want to help their wives – can sometimes get it terribly wrong.

‘The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.’

Gilman’s story contains some very revealing descriptions of the titular yellow wallpaper. The narrator is simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by it (see below for her attempts to describe its peculiar odour).

This description comes early on in the story, not long after the narrator has been placed inside the nursery at the top of the house she is renting with her husband. At this point, her account of the wallpaper’s appearance is fairly objective and straightforwardly descriptive: although words like ‘repellent’ and ‘revolting’ clearly indicate a particular response to the paper, they are not a million miles away from the kind of observation an ‘omniscient’ and detached third-person narrator might make in a work of realist fiction.

However, this objectivity will be abandoned in later diary entries, as the quotations below make clear.

‘There comes John, and I must put this away, – he hates to have me write a word.’

The narrative style of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is as intrinsic to the story’s ‘message’ as the ‘plot’ or action itself. Having the woman narrate her own story and her own observations about the room in which she is (effectively) imprisoned, in order to ‘cure’ her, allows us an unfiltered insight into her own mental state.

The quotation mentioned above is also a key one in the story because it directly invites us to consider whether the woman’s diary-keeping is doing her good. She descends further into madness as the story progresses, but that descent isn’t necessarily hastened by her writing: indeed, it might even help her to retain some fragments of sanity amidst her illness.

On the other hand, perhaps writing her diary allows her imagination free rein and it does actually worsen her state, since it allows her even more time with her own thoughts. Rather than writing about things she remembers outside the room, she finds herself obsessively writing about the nursery and its wallpaper.

‘And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder – I begin to think – I wish John would take me away from here!’

The verb ‘creeping’ comes at us again and again in this short story. It suggests surreptitious movement – echoing the narrator’s own clandestine writing of her secret diary – but it also creates an unsettling tone.

It is another reminder of the narrator’s unsettled and disordered mind, suggesting as it does something out of sight but sensed on the fringes of consciousness – a movement that we are aware of without being able to see it.

‘It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.’

The narrator becomes obsessed with not only the moving shapes she thinks she can see in the wallpaper, and its foul smell, but also its yellowness – a colour which here symbolises sickliness, unwholesomeness, and perhaps even putrid decay. The narrator ends up abandoning her attempt to describe the strange smell of the paper, simply labelling it a ‘yellow smell’.

‘It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.’

This late entry to her diary reveals to us that the narrator has descended completely into madness. She believes the woman behind the wallpaper comes out from behind it during the day and creeps around. But the narrator’s remark that ‘most women do not creep by daylight’ is interesting because it reveals something about her attitudes to her own sex.

In other words, since we know the creeping woman is nothing more than a figment of her disordered mind, and that it is probably on some level a reflection of herself, is it really true that ‘most women’ do not creep during daylight? Or are they not forced by society to act cautiously and even quietly so they do not attract too much attention, or lest their husbands think they need locking up?

‘It does not do to trust people too much.’

Written about the diary she is keeping, these words are – as with so much of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ – multi-layered. On the one hand, they reveal her neuroticism and paranoia, but on the other, she is justified in being wary, since her husband has forbidden her to keep the diary and is closely monitoring her behaviour.

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The Yellow Wallpaper: Essay Examples

what is a good theme for the yellow wallpaper

Welcome to The Yellow Wallpaper Essay Samples page prepared by our editorial team! Here you’ll find a heap of excellent ideas for The Yellow Wallpaper essay. Absolutely free research paper and essay samples on The Great Gatsby are collected here, on one page.

📝 The Yellow Wallpaper: Essay Samples List

  • Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Point of View Genre: Essay Words: 1098 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper: literary analysis Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes & Symbols Genre: Essay Words: 881 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • The Need for Change in Ragged Dick and The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 929 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper context Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • Depression due to Repression in The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Research paper Words: 1837 Focused on: Feminism in The Yellow Wallpaper Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • A Rose for Emily and The Yellow Wallpaper: Compare & Contrast Essay Genre: Essay Words: 875 Focused on: Compare & contrast Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • Feminism in The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 896 Focused on: Feminism in The Yellow Wallpaper Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John
  • Loneliness in The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 955 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John, Jennie
  • Gender Roles in the The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 1480 Focused on: Feminism in The Yellow Wallpaper Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John, Jennie
  • Marriage in The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Critical writing Words: 598 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • The Story of an Hour & The Yellow Wallpaper: Characters Comparison Genre: Essay Words: 1319 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper characters Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John
  • The Yellow Wallpaper Essay Genre: Essay Words: 1734 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John
  • The Yellow Wallpaper: Symbolism Genre: Argumentative essay Words: 570 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper symbolism Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • Women’s Role in The Yellow Wallpaper, The Awakening, & The Revolt of Mother Genre: Essay Words: 700 Focused on: Compare & contrast Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • Solitude as a Theme in The Yellow Wallpaper & A Rose for Emily Genre: Essay Words: 1821 Focused on: Compare & contrast Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary, Analysis, & Interpretation Essay Genre: Essay Words: 609 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper analysis Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • The Yellow Wallpaper: Symbolic Interpretations Essay Genre: Essay Words: 648 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper symbols Characters mentioned: the Narrator
  • Gender Roles in The Yellow Wallpaper & Trifles Genre: Essay Words: 2159 Focused on: Compare & contrast Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John
  • Mental Illness as a Theme of The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 1395 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator, John
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Study Guide Menu

  • Summary & Analysis
  • Themes & Symbols
  • Quotes Explained
  • Essay Topics
  • Essay Examples
  • Questions & Answers
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Biography
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what is a good theme for the yellow wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte perkins gilman, everything you need for every book you read..

The tone at the beginning of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is anxious yet optimistic. Jane is nervous about her illness (it’s implied that she’s suffering from postpartum depression) but still hopeful that she will be cured. However, as the story progresses, the tone becomes darker, reflecting her anger and misery.

Jane begins the story as an articulate narrator who's still in control of her mind. She worries about her depression, but she is still able to enjoy her life. Sitting by the window of her new room, she takes in the beautiful view and describes it in her second diary entry:

Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees. Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. Cite this Quote

The room in which Jane sits is unwelcoming and unnerving: its windows are barred shut, the bed is bolted down, and there is major damage to the walls. Moreover, she is worried about her illness. Nevertheless, the story’s tone at this point is hopeful and appreciative. Despite her situation, Jane is able to admire nature, like the garden, the bay, and the “beautiful shaded lane.” Additionally, she may disagree with her husband, John’s, course of treatment (he believes that isolating her in a room will cure her depression), but she is somewhat optimistic that he will help her recover.

However, the slightly optimistic tone gives way to a much bleaker attitude that reflects Jane’s gradual descent into madness. As her seclusion in the room begins to take a toll, she considers extreme measures to escape her situation, which she expresses in her twelfth entry:

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise but the bars are too strong even to try. Cite this Quote

Jane goes from admiring her view to contemplating suicide as a means to escape her mental and physical captivity. She has lost all hope of returning to normalcy—John’s cure is not only ineffective but is actually making her illness worse. When she has control over her mind, her tone is confused, frightened, and miserable. When she loses control, her tone is agitated, hopeless, and desperate.

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  1. The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

    The Yellow Wallpaper Themes Next Mental Illness and its Treatment Themes and Colors LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Yellow Wallpaper, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work. Mental Illness and its Treatment

  2. Themes of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' Explained

    Themes of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' Explained By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) ' The Yellow Wallpaper ' is an 1892 short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A powerful study of mental illness and the inhuman treatments administered in its name, the story explores a number of 'big' themes and ideas.

  3. The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes

    "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an illustration of the way a mind that is already plagued with anxiety can deteriorate and begin to prey on itself when it is forced into inactivity and kept from healthy work. To his credit, Mitchell, who is mentioned by name in the story, took Gilman's criticism to heart and abandoned the "resting cure."

  4. The Yellow Wallpaper

    Symbols Quotes Gender Roles and Entrapment The narrator's mental health crisis, which escalates over the course of the story, can be seen as a consequence of her inability to fit into expected gender roles of the time. When the story begins, the narrator has just had a baby, and she's not acclimating to motherhood easily.

  5. Understanding The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary and Analysis

    The Yellow Wallpaper" is a widely read work that asks difficult questions about the role of women, particularly regarding their mental health and right to autonomy and self-identity. We'll go over The Yellow Wallpaper summary, themes and symbols, The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, and some important information about the author.

  6. The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

    The Yellow Wallpaper. In the story, wallpaper, a usually feminine, floral decoration on the interior of walls, is a symbol of female imprisonment within the domestic sphere. Over the course of the story, the wallpaper becomes a text of sorts through which the narrator exercises her literary imagination and identifies with a feminist double ...

  7. The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

    The main themes in "The Yellow Wallpaper" are the oppressive nature of gender roles, appearance versus reality, and the need for self-expression.

  8. The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes & Symbols

    / Lit. Guides / The Yellow Wallpaper / Themes & Symbols The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes & Symbols by IvyPanda Updated on: Aug 13th, 2023 9 min 9,308 There is no one major theme of The Yellow Wallpaper, but a few central ones: feminism and gender roles, freedom of expression, and mental illness. We will write a custom essay specifically

  9. The Yellow Wallpaper: Study Guide

    Overview. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that was first published in 1892. It is a pivotal work of feminist literature that explores the mental and emotional challenges faced by women in the 19th century. The story is presented in the form of a series of journal entries written by an unnamed woman likely ...

  10. The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide

    Themes Quotes Characters Symbols Lit Devices Theme Viz Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Yellow Wallpaper makes teaching easy. Everything you need for every book you read. "Sooo much more helpful than SparkNotes. The way the content is organized and presented is seamlessly smooth, innovative, and comprehensive." Get LitCharts A +

  11. The Yellow Wallpaper Theme: Gender, Depression, Freedom

    The Yellow Wallpaper, entry 5 🤯 Theme of The Yellow Wallpaper: Mental Illness. Mental disorder is another exciting The Yellow Wallpaper's theme. The story offers an exciting perspective on how mental illness used to be treated in the nineteenth century, specifically the "rest cure" that John uses, which ultimately fails.

  12. A Summary and Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

    'The Yellow Wallpaper', an 1892 short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, has the structure and style of a diary. This is in keeping with what the female narrator tells us: that she can only write down her experiences when her husband John is not around, since he has forbidden her to write until she is well again, believing it will overexcite her.

  13. The Yellow Wallpaper: Theme Analysis

    The theme which pervades, and in a very real sense defines, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a feminist critique of the role of women in late nineteenth century society. Better known in her time as a leading writer of feminist non-fiction, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is Gilman's only work of fiction to achieve status as a canonical work in its ...

  14. Themes in The Yellow Wallpaper

    Themes in The Yellow Wallpaper. Themes. in. The Yellow Wallpaper. Treatment of Mental Illness: Although one of the central themes in "The Yellow Wallpaper," mental illness was a taboo topic during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, those with mental illnesses and emotional distress were often extremely misunderstood and ...

  15. The Symbolism of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' Explained

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an 1892 short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A powerful study of mental illness and the inhuman treatments administered in its name, the story succeeds largely because of its potent symbolism. Let's take a look at some of the key symbols in….

  16. The Yellow Wallpaper: Study Guide

    Learn More The Yellow Wallpaper study guide prepared by our editorial team is an extensive collection of materials necessary for understanding the most famous short story by Gilman. Along with the summary and analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper, you'll find here short reviews of the key themes, symbols, and literary devices used in the story.

  17. Mental Illness and its Treatment Theme in The Yellow Wallpaper

    Below you will find the important quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper related to the theme of Mental Illness and its Treatment. First Entry Quotes. John is a physician, and PERHAPS— (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.

  18. The Yellow Wallpaper: Quotes Explained

    The Yellow Wallpaper: Quote #1. "I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin…. The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.". The Yellow Wallpaper, entry 1.

  19. Key Quotes from 'The Yellow Wallpaper' Explained

    'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an 1892 short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A powerful study of mental illness and the inhuman treatments administered in its name, the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman who is incarcerated in the nursery room of a large house she and her husband have rented ...

  20. The Yellow Wallpaper

    Combine it all together for a cohesive thesis statement: "The woman's postpartum depression begins an ever increasing spiral into insanity, as evidenced by her growing suspicion of her husband ...

  21. The Yellow Wallpaper: Full Plot Analysis

    The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide Charlotte Perkins Gilman Full Plot Analysis Previous Next Given the distinct first-person narration and writing style of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator's sense of internal conflict regarding her identity and inability to fulfill social expectations quickly emerges as the driving force of the story.

  22. The Yellow Wallpaper: Essay Examples

    The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes & Symbols Genre: Essay Words: 881 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper themes Characters mentioned: the Narrator The Need for Change in Ragged Dick and The Yellow Wallpaper Genre: Essay Words: 929 Focused on: The Yellow Wallpaper context Characters mentioned: the Narrator Depression due to Repression in The Yellow Wallpaper

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  24. The Yellow Wallpaper Literary Devices

    Symbols Lit Devices Theme Viz Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Yellow Wallpaper makes teaching easy. Everything you need for every book you read. "Sooo much more helpful than SparkNotes. The way the content is organized and presented is seamlessly smooth, innovative, and comprehensive." Get LitCharts A + Previous Style

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