“The yellow wallpaper” is a classic written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is considered one of the early feminist works dealing with a woman’s mental health issues. This short story uses “the yellow wallpaper” as a prominent symbol to show the narrator’s gradual descent into psychosis.
The author has brought two issues to the forefront of the readers – mental health and women’s self-identity using various themes and symbols. In fact, this haunting psychological story explores 3 major themes – the importance of self-expression, the evils of “rest cure,” and women’s subordination in marriage.
The journal entries by the narrator form the basis of the story, which is written in the first person. Along with the protagonist, her husband and his sister are other prominent characters in the story.
The story begins with the protagonist arriving at a large house for vacation with her husband, John, a doctor. John thinks the vacation will benefit the narrator, who just gave birth to their baby and likely suffers from postpartum depression.
Right from the beginning, the protagonist feels something queer about the whole situation that led them to vacation in the large house. The queer feeling is about her illness – nervous depression and marriage.
However, her concerns and thoughts are sidelined and belittled by her husband. It’s interesting to note the contrast between husband and wife, where the husband is practical and rationalistic. But, the wife is imaginative and sensitive.
The treatment for the narrator’s illness is not to do anything active, and she especially is not allowed to work or write. However, she believes that movement, freedom, and an intriguing job might benefit her condition, and she starts writing a private journal to “relieve her thoughts.” Her writings mostly describe the house and the yellow wallpaper that she finds hideous.
Although the protagonist finds the wallpaper revolting, she becomes obsessed with it as time passes. She describes her husband’s condescending ways in the journal and continues describing the wallpaper, which turns menacing in the course of the story.
As time passes, the protagonist grows tired and spends sleepless nights, becoming more obsessed with the wallpaper. It must be observed that the revolting wallpaper has become her obsession, and she is fond of it. The narrator tries decoding the pattern of the wallpaper as her primary entertainment.
As her fascination for the wallpaper deepens, the sub-pattern of the wallpaper becomes more explicit. It resembles a lady “stooping down and creeping” behind the main pattern of wallpaper, which resembles the bars of a prison.
When the narrator expresses an interest in leaving the house, John dismisses her concerns, essentially silencing her. This seemingly pushes her toward the wallpaper, and the repulsive attraction to the paper deepens with each such dismissal from John.
Soon we can see that the wallpaper dominates the protagonist’s imagination, and she grows secretive about her interest in the yellow wallpaper. The subpattern resembles a woman attempting to get out of the main pattern as time passes. According to the narrator, she is seen shaking the bars at night and creeping about during the day.
She feels John and Jennie are aware of her preoccupation, so she destroys the paper once and for all, ripping much of it off at night. The next day, she is alone and goes into a frenzy, biting and tearing at the paper in an attempt to rescue the captive woman, whom she sees struggling from within the pattern.
By the conclusion, the narrator is persuaded that many crawling women have emerged from the wallpaper—that she is the trapped lady. She wanders about the room incessantly, smearing the wallpaper as she goes. When John enters the locked chamber, he realizes the full horror of the circumstance and faints in the doorway, forcing the narrator to “crawl over him every time!”
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