Skip Nav

The Yellow Wallpaper Critical Essays

Welcome to the new SparkNotes!

❶University of Delaware Press, As the first few weeks of the summer pass, the narrator becomes good at hiding her journal, and thus hiding her true thoughts from John.

What Happens in The Yellow Wallpaper?

The Yellow Wallpaper
From the SparkNotes Blog
Navigation menu

Marriage, as a result, was a sticky situation. Family life, Gilman felt, could never really satisfy everyone in the family, and things needed to change. Women needed to have the opportunity to work, to grow and to make connections outside of the home.

While Gilman wrote many essays concerning concepts of social reform and progressive change, along with other poems, short stories and even an autobiography, her most famous work has been 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' which was inspired by her own experience.

While in her twenties, Gilman married and one year later, gave birth to a daughter. It was after the birth of her daughter that she suffered from what we know now was probably a severe case of postpartum depression. The suggested cure for this was She was, as prescribed by her doctor, to do absolutely nothing. A 'rest cure' as they called it back then was a length of time during which the patient did minimal physical activity and had very limited mental stimulation because, as some doctors believed, the condition was brought on by too much going on in the patient's mind or a kind of hysteria or nervousness.

It was a miserable time for Gilman, who was reduced to a mental breakdown. It was only after she stopped listening to the doctor and her husband that she started to improve. Gilman eventually left her husband and began her writing life soon thereafter but contended that the postpartum experience, the traumatic course of action and the lack of insight into her emotional state left scars that she felt for the rest of her life. Our story, it is important to remember, is written in the first person in the form of a journal.

Our female narrator , who remains nameless in the story, and her husband, John, have come to vacation in a large house for the summer after the birth of their daughter. It seems as though John believes this would be good for our narrator as she has been suffering from hysterical behaviors postpartum, which led to her rest cure treatment until she improves.

John feels that the best room for her during this time is an upstairs room believed to be a former nursery - one with bars on the windows, scratches on the floors and busy yellow wallpaper. Our narrator reveals that she does not agree with John, who also happens to be a doctor. He has told her that she should not write anything which she loves to do and that improvement will come by sticking to a strict regimen of doing almost nothing.

She disagrees and feels that distraction would be best for her, so she continues to write, hiding her journal. Her entries consist of descriptions of the house, imaginings of things going on nearby, revelations of the narrator's true feelings for her husband's ideas which feel oppressive. She does come back to descriptions of her room and specifically the wallpaper, more often. She finds it ugly and then a bit scary. She imagines designs in it, tries to figure out its pattern.

She believes she sees a small pattern behind a large one - a woman stooping in front of bars. At this point, our narrator is fixated. Our narrator's descent into madness is clear. Her obsession with the woman in the paper plagues her. She envisions the woman stooping around during the day when she is let out and shaking the bars of her prison at night when she is locked up.

Our narrator spends time trying to peel off all the wallpaper to free the woman. She begins a habit of crawling around the room on all fours. She is convinced that she herself is a trapped woman who was once in the wallpaper as well. In a scene of total madness with the narrator creeping along the walls of the room, John comes in to check on her.

When he sees the extent of the situation, he faints with horror. But she continues her course, stooping around and around the room, stepping over her husband as she passes. Before we address any story analysis, it's important to think about the context of this particular story. First of all, the historical context in which it was written has quite a bit to do with how it exists as a social and political commentary.

In other words, it was written during a time when women did not have the rights and freedoms that they do now. The author wrote this story as a response to her experience in this situation. The story's a critique of the way things worked among genders and the ways in which the lives of women were controlled and limited.

What, then, can we gather about 'The Yellow Wallpaper? She follows the advice of her husband, which is to rest. They are not in their own surroundings but rather they are in a rented house where the narrator has been given a room with metal bars and yellow wallpaper in which to spend her hours.

Remember - there was no TV at the time. She's not supposed to write but she does or have much mental stimulation at all. The rest is easy to summarize Get access risk-free for 30 days, just create an account.

It's through the situation itself and the narrator's own journal that the reader can infer that marriage and domestic life don't seem so satisfying to her. In fact, she feels as though a chance for individuality would support her growth as a person, but that would not fit in with the expectation that as a woman, she needed to serve the needs of her family only, unlike her husband.

Now throw in the image that the narrator continues to see the woman stooping behind the bars in the wallpaper, and then the way the narrator, in her madness, believes that she is like this woman. And now throw in the fact that there are actual bars on the windows. It's pretty tough to miss the way the story communicates one of its most prevalent themes - that women are kept in a kind of prison in marriage and in life when forced to live a domestic life without personal growth.

The way 'The Yellow Wallpaper' unfolds, the narrator doing what her husband and doctor tell her to do despite her instincts and desires, also underscores the fact that gender oppression was ruling the narrator's life.

This was in her marriage without a doubt, although it has to be recognized that John most likely loved his wife very much and thought he was doing what was best. But, according to history and according to society, men knew better than women, especially when women were hysterical or fragile as was often the characterization.

What her husband and the rest cure suggest to the reader is that women in general were grossly misunderstood by those who were making decisions. As a result, the narrator's situation suggests that there could never be true happiness for a woman in marriage. Overall, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' should be seen as feminist literature. While it communicates to the reader the lack of opportunity for women outside of the mother and wife role, it also dramatically illustrates what that kind of limitation can do to the mind.

Gilman used the short story form and a compelling tale of psychological decline to convey what she felt were the very dire circumstances of women in a male-dominated society. The story of 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an easy one to remember. The narrator remember the story is told in first person is told to rest after the birth of her child and some suspected postpartum depression.

Doing absolutely nothing in a room with yellow wallpaper. Her mental state deteriorates in this room until she eventually goes mad. It is very important to remember the image of the woman that she sees in the wallpaper because it parallels the narrator's own life.

Stooping behind bars is a metaphor for the narrator's existence and women in general , which is one that is limited by society and dictated by the men around them. And of course the narrator is literally stuck in a room with bars on the windows. This is a room in which, by the end, she is stooping from wall to wall as well. Major themes addressed in the story? The role of women in society, women and domestic life and even oppression in and out of the home.

Ultimately, the messages here include a bit of a warning - madness is a very viable end if one isn't given the freedom to grow, think and act as an individual. Marriage could never be happy for women in this kind of world. And also, it is clear that the medical community misunderstood and mistreated women in this case, despite even the narrator's instincts. An important final point is that this story grew out of the experiences of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was an activist and writer who felt that her own life needed to change in order to stop her own destruction.

She used this piece as a way to communicate what she thought and felt about the world - specifically, the ways in which the gender structure needed to change. Adapted into many film, stage and radio productions, the story is so popular because it's one-of-a-kind.

Fascinating and chilling in its narration along with being historically representative, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' was and is one of the most unique representations of feminist fiction in our country. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page. Not sure what college you want to attend yet? The videos on Study.

Students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. By creating an account, you agree to Study. Explore over 4, video courses. Find a degree that fits your goals.

We will consider the ways in which Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses the story to communicate about her own difficult experiences post-birth. Additionally, we will discuss her use of fiction as a vehicle to reveal what she felt was the less-than-equal existence of women during the 19th century. Try it risk-free for 30 days. An error occurred trying to load this video. Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support. You must create an account to continue watching.

Register to view this lesson Are you a student or a teacher? I am a student I am a teacher. What teachers are saying about Study. The American in Europe: Henry James' Daisy Miller. Are you still watching? Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds. Add to Add to Add to. Want to watch this again later? The Yellow Wallpaper Figurative Language.

Bliss by Katherine Mansfield: As she describes the bedroom, which she says must have been a nursery for young children, she points out that the paper is torn off the wall in spots, there are scratches and gouges in the floor, and the furniture is heavy and fixed in place.

As the Fourth of July passes, the narrator reports that her family has just visited, leaving her more tired than ever. John threatens to send her to Weir Mitchell, the real-life physician under whose care Gilman had a nervous breakdown. The narrator is alone most of the time and says that she has become almost fond of the wallpaper and that attempting to figure out its pattern has become her primary entertainment. As her obsession grows, the sub-pattern of the wallpaper becomes clearer.

Whenever the narrator tries to discuss leaving the house, John makes light of her concerns, effectively silencing her. Each time he does so, her disgusted fascination with the paper grows. At one point, she startles Jennie, who had been touching the wallpaper and who mentions that she had found yellow stains on their clothes.

But she sleeps less and less and is convinced that she can smell the paper all over the house, even outside.

She discovers a strange smudge mark on the paper, running all around the room, as if it had been rubbed by someone crawling against the wall. The sub-pattern now clearly resembles a woman who is trying to get out from behind the main pattern. The narrator sees her shaking the bars at night and creeping around during the day, when the woman is able to escape briefly.

The narrator mentions that she, too, creeps around at times. She suspects that John and Jennie are aware of her obsession, and she resolves to destroy the paper once and for all, peeling much of it off during the night. The next day she manages to be alone and goes into something of a frenzy, biting and tearing at the paper in order to free the trapped woman, whom she sees struggling from inside the pattern.

Be Book-Smarter.

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

A short summary of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. This free synopsis covers all the crucial plot points of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Privacy FAQs

Complete summary of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Yellow Wallpaper.

About Our Ads

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. Free summary and analysis of the events in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper that won't make you snore. We promise.

Cookie Info

The Yellow Wallpaper is written as a series of diary entries from the perspective of a woman who is suffering from post-partum depression. The narrator begins by describing the large, ornate home that she and her husband, John, have rented for the summer. John is an extremely practical man, a. From a general summary to chapter summaries to explanations of famous quotes, the SparkNotes The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide has everything you need to ace quizzes, tests, and essays.