The Yellow Wallpaper


Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a well-known writer famous for her journalistic and feminist activities. Actually, she tended to pose herself as the follower of such women`s rights defendants as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There is a need to underline that Gilman was extremely concerned about political inequality and social division in general, as well as the unequal status of a woman in connection with the institution of marriage. The task of this paper is to dwell upon the plot of The Yellow Wallpaper, determine characters of the story, and research the effect of isolation on the wife.

For example, in Concerning Children, The Home, and Human Work, the author pointed out the fact that domestic sphere of life impacted women a lot and blocked her ability to express herself through creative activity or professional growth. That is a wrong idea that women should become housekeepers and take care of the family. It is a priority for any women, but self-development and professional activity are also valuable for a woman and could become extremely effective for the entire society.

Actually, Charlotte Perkins Gilman used to pay attention to the family structure and came to the conclusion that such family relationships in their current understanding could not make anybody happy.

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Plot of the Story Taken from Gilman`s Life

Nowadays, Gilman is well-known for her remarkable story The Yellow Wallpaper that shows the reader shocking ideas that are still the matter of concern for the entire society. It is a short work of fiction that includes only 6,000 words and depicts the life of a wife in an unequal marriage and her inner destruction happening because of the lack of expression. This story contains the personal idea of the author and is devoted to the life of a woman that became totally depended on the environment and was isolated from the society.

At the beginning of 1886 at the time of her first marriage, Gilman experienced severe depression. Later, in her biography The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, she used to speak about her “utter prostration” that could be characterized by deep depression that became even worse because of the presence of her husband and child. Such a psychological misbalance leads to various problems in personal life and influences the social activity. That was the reason why Gilman asked for professional help from Dr. S. Weir Mitchell and after that she used to ask for assistance of one of the best country`s specialists in nervous disorders. Her main treatment was a “rest cure” and it was presented as a life without ordinary mental or physical activity. Thus, no emotions were allowed and no activity could be performed due to the course of medical assistance. That was an idea presented by Dr. Mitchell that concerned his female patients and main reasons of their depression. He underlined that it could appear as a psychological reaction to an extremely intensive mental activity and absence of attention to everyday domestic affairs. However, such method was not applicable in case of Gilman as she was banned to work and it made her very nervous.

She used to change the way of her life and reduced treatment proposed by Dr. Mitchell. Actually, her mood and health conditions improved, but she underlined that the effect of the treatment would stay in her memory for the rest of the life. After she realized her own desires and ambitions, she started to succeed as a journalist, publisher, and lecturer. Her work The Yellow Wallpaper was written after she moved to California and she tried to depict her personal experience while writing the story. The plot of the story is concentrated on two main issues connected with the destiny of women in the contemporary society. She combined a detailed description of the woman`s fall into depression and an ability of creative woman to act under the influence of the society. Moreover, Gilman used to concentrate the plot of the story on a specific condition of isolation in which the main character used to live and to fight with inner misbalance in order to find harmony and become successful.

The Yellow Wallpaper as the Expression of the Inner Research of the Narrator

In a purely literary language, the essence of The Yellow Wallpaper is presented in the style of a psychological horror tale. A similar style of writing could be found in works of Edgar Allan Poe. In addition, Gilman also applied the tradition of Gothic romances written in the end of the eighteenth century that always depicted the story with a gloomy and mysterious atmosphere and specific characters. Her specific manner and style of writing made her story look familiar to those works presented by the most popular authors of the twentieth century such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Her moment-by-moment presentation of the narrator`s feelings and thoughts may be considered as a step forward to a special type of stream of consciousness narration and a new way of presentation in literature.

The central character of the story The Yellow Wallpaper is considered to be rather specific as she was isolated and actually was not in touch with the environment. Nevertheless, such isolation gave her a deep and clear understanding of her inner world and showed her the way to the harmony in life. There is a need to point out the fact that her every step is connected with relationships with certain people, objects, and specific situations that look like ordinary and innocent, but make the narrator fall into depression.

Actually, the plot of The Yellow Wallpaper is concentrated on the narrator`s attempt to avoid harsh reality and form the attitude to life based on her inner search and motivation. Thus, external factors play the role of aggressive environment for the main character and she is confused by the reality she has gotten as it differs from what she has in mind. From the beginning of the story, it is easy to notice that the narrator seems to be an imaginative woman. For example, the text of the story contains evidence that the narrator remembered terrifying herself with scary night monsters while being a child. Moreover, due to the course of her cure her husband should forbid her to use imagination in any way. However, both her reasons and her emotions were under the severe control during the treatment and she applied her imagination to simple and neutral objects such as a house and wallpaper. That was her attempt to reduce raising inner frustration. In addition, negative emotions that she experienced made her imagine the environment in dark and gloomy colors. Such an attitude to the surrounding atmosphere made her fix attention on the only bright thing in the house and that was the wallpaper.

What is even more important is that the woman started to concentrate her attention on the wallpaper and forgot about real details of her everyday life. She was losing concentration on the reality and substitued it with the reality existing in her imagination. The process of dissociation developed rapidly and it became obvious in the part of the story where the narrator came to an idea to use a secret diary as a special key to her mind. In such a way, she tried to hide her real thoughts and feelings from the outer world. However, she started to live in her fantasy world that she used to understand through specific symbolic terms and pictures.

Narrator`s Reasons to Come Back to Life

Gilman had an aim to show a division that happened in the narrator’s consciousness because of her desire to create the reality that would not be connected with the real life and would depend only on her imagination and personal vision. For example, the narrator was not likely to connect the facts that yellow stains on her clothing were similar to a long “smootch” presented on the wallpaper. In other words, the narrator faced the problem of realization as she could not understand that the woman in the wallpaper was a specific and symbolic version of the situation that happened in her life. There were even such moments when the narrator identified herself with the woman trapped in the wallpaper. Actually, she understood that other women used to hide behind domestic affairs and that she became the woman that should be rescued from such reality.

The main horror presented in The Yellow Wallpaper is that the main character needed to lose herself in order to understand herself and find harmony inside her inner world. She had experienced various roles in her life and this situation seemed to be her exit from the reality that she did not want to exist in. At the end of the story, the reader is able to realize how much the narrator sacrificed in order to find herself and come back to normal life. In the final lines of the story, the narrator had a monologue devoted to the real personality of Jane and her life. Finally, she came to the idea that only after the pain and scare of the images in her head, she became free of her marriage, the society, the environment, and her multiple efforts to take control over her mind.

Gilman was suffering from depression for a long period of time and she used to experience negative emotions in her life. Thus, the “rest cure” that was prescribed by her doctor made her feel worse every day. Actually, the main task of the treatment was concentrated on the issue that Gilman needed to lead a domestic way of life, meaning that she could not even touch a pen or a pencil. Moreover, she was allowed to perform mental stimulation only for two hours a day. After the period of three months when she became mad about her life and stopped believing in her own powers, she decided to stop the medical and professional treatment and start working again. Gilman wrote her The Yellow Wallpaper and even sent a copy to Dr. Mitchell, but she never received any response. Moreover, Dr. Mitchell continued his medical practice and in his later practice came to an idea of creating special hospitals to apply “rest cure” to his patients.


In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman shows the portrait of the narrator and emphasizes her insanity as the inner protest to the medical and professional influence on the woman at that period. Actually, while she was under the influence of her husband and male doctors, which were acting against her interest and her will, whereby the woman was described as fragile and mentally weak.  The story told by Gilman has an autobiographical character and the author tried to pay attention to the women’s rights and interests in the male-dominated society. She was sure that she was not the only woman who faced the same problem and could not find support in the society. The place of a woman was in the house and her main activity should be concentrated on the care about her husband and children. In such situation, women are not able to develop artistic traits or professional skills as they are totally involved into family life that is not connected with social activity, art, or science.

There are a lot of strange episodes that depict a harsh attitude to women`s rights. For example, women were not encouraged to practice writing and when starting to write, they began to identify themselves. That could make women become aware of the house affairs and bring them to the new level of development, including their participation in social, economic, and political life of the country.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman understood that writing could become one of the tools of expression for women and lead to the increasing interest to literature from the side of female population of the country. Writing and reading would make women educated and interested in the social activity. That was an essential threat to the reality ruled by men in addition to stating that men should be the only representative of the family’s interests and views of every member of it. Gilman underlined that the idea of the story was taken from her own life and was detailed with ideas that came to her mind when she was thinking about unfair inequality of women in the institution of marriage. She also pointed out that methods of treatment that she experienced in her life were not efficient and made here fall into an even deeper depression. That is why, she showed the way of the narrator that was passed in order to reach understanding of personal needs and interests.