"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.
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.
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.
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.
When her husband arrives home, the narrator refuses to unlock her door. When he returns with the key, he finds her creeping around the room, rubbing against the wallpaper, and exclaiming, "I've got out at last... in spite of you." He faints, but she continues to circle the room, creeping over his inert body each time she passes it, believing herself to have become the woman trapped behind the yellow wallpaper.
Many feminist critics focus on the degree of triumph at the end of the story. Although some claim the narrator slipped into insanity, others see the ending as a woman's assertion of agency in a marriage in which she felt trapped. The emphasis on reading and writing as gendered practices also illustrated the importance of the wallpaper. If the narrator were allowed neither to write in her journal nor to read, she would begin to "read" the wallpaper until she found the escape she was looking for. Through seeing the women in the wallpaper, the narrator realizes that she could not live her life locked up behind bars. At the end of the story, as her husband lies on the floor unconscious, she crawls over him, symbolically rising over him. This is interpreted as a victory over her husband at the expense of her sanity.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" provided feminists the tools to interpret literature in different ways. Lanser argues that the short story was a "particularly congenial medium for such a re-vision ... because the narrator herself engages in a form of feminist interpretation when she tries to read the paper on her wall". The narrator in the story is trying to find a single meaning in the wallpaper. At first, she focuses on the contradictory style of the wallpaper: it is "flamboyant" while also "dull", "pronounced," yet "lame," and "uncertain" (p. 13). She takes into account the patterns and tries to organize them geometrically, but she is further confused. The wallpaper changes colors when it reflects light and emits a distinct odor that the protagonist cannot recognize (p. 25). At night the narrator can see a woman behind bars within the complex design of the wallpaper. Lanser argues that the unnamed woman was able to find "a space of text on which she can locate whatever self-projection". Just like the narrator as a reader, when one comes into contact with a confusing and complicated text, one tries to find a single meaning. "How we were taught to read," as Lanser puts it, is why a reader cannot fully comprehend the text. The patriarchal ideology had kept many scholars from being able to interpret and appreciate stories such as "The Yellow Wallpaper". With the growth of feminist criticism, "The Yellow Wallpaper" has become a fundamental reading in the standard curriculum. Feminists have made a significant contribution to the study of literature but, according to Lanser, are falling short because if "we acknowledge the participation of women writers and readers in dominant patterns of thought and social practice then perhaps our own patterns must also be deconstructed if we are to recover meanings still hidden or overlooked."
In Paula A. Treichler's article "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'", she focuses on the relationship portrayed in the short story between women and writing. Rather than write about the feminist themes which view the wallpaper as something along the lines of "... the 'pattern' which underlies sexual inequality, the external manifestation of neurasthenia, the narrator's unconscious, the narrator's situation within patriarchy", Treichler instead explains that the wallpaper can be a symbol to represent discourse and the fact that the narrator is alienated from the world in which she previously could somewhat express herself. Treichler illustrates that through this discussion of language and writing, in the story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman is defying the "... sentence that the structure of patriarchal language imposes". While Treichler accepts the legitimacy of strictly feminist claims, she writes that a closer look at the text suggests that the wallpaper could be interpreted as women's language and discourse. The woman found in the wallpaper could be the "... representation of women that becomes possible only after women obtain the right to speak". In making this claim, it suggests that the new struggle found within the text is between two forms of writing; one rather old and traditional, and the other new and exciting. This is supported in the fact that John, the narrator's husband, does not like his wife to write anything, which is why her journal containing the story is kept a secret and thus is known only by the narrator and reader. A look at the text shows that as the relationship between the narrator and the wallpaper grows stronger, so too does her language in her journal as she begins to increasingly write of her frustration and desperation.
Despondent, the narrator tells us how she is becoming more obsessed by the yellow wallpaper, especially at night when she is unable to sleep and so lies awake watching the pattern in the wallpaper, which she says resembles a fungus.
The short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was published in 1892 and is considered to be a very important work of feminist literature. In this paper the short story will be analyzed in regard to the critical theory of feminism. The main part will give special attention to stereotypes of women represented in the story, namely the perfect housewife and the hysterical woman, as well as the traditional gender power structure in the late nineteenth century. However, at the beginning there will be a brief explanation of the aspects of feminism as a critical literary theory. The following part will pay close attention to symbols like the bedroom to demonstrate how they reflect the social and emotional state of the narrator and what they reveal about her defeat or liberation. Additionally, it will illustrate the main characters of the short story, specifically the unknown narrator herself, and which stereotypes of people from the Victorian era they represent. The narrator tells the reader about her life as a wife and mother. She has great problems in fulfilling her duty as a mother because of depression since the birth of her child. The narrator and her husband stay in an old mansion house so that she can recover, but her husband does not really think that she is sick. He leaves her alone almost every day, supposedly because of his work, but this emotional loneliness and the absent of her family and friends, lead her to break down at the end of the story. But is the short story The Yellow Wallpaper really about depression or does it actually reveal something about the woman`s role in society in the late nineteenth century?
The Yellow Wallpaper story portrays a patriarchal society where men control the actions and thoughts of their wives. In this relationship, women are expected to take orders from men whose decisions are final. The author has expressed underlying feminist perspectives to illustrate the mental and physical hardships encountered by women during the 1800 era. These perspectives are hidden in the dominating actions of John, hidden thoughts of his wife Jane, and the room where the plot is played. However, Jane is determined to escape this prison by directing her thoughts in a hidden journal. Gilman has reflected on the psychological and physical imprisonment of the women through the symbolic use of the wallpaper, poorly painted room, and mental illness.
The room in which the narrator stays is covered in yellow wallpaper. She spends quite a bit of time staring at it and finds ''one marked peculiarity about this paper,'' which upon closer examination ''becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.''
Possibly in order to lend the story a mystique as a previouslyunappreciated feminist text, most critics and anthologists have adopted aversion of the incomplete (and therefore misleading) publishing historyabove. A few bibliographers, however, have worked to rectify this difficulty.Gary Scharnhorst's 1985 Gilman bibliography lists a total of ninereprintings (one a Finnish translation and one the 1899 book printing)between the 1892 magazine publication and the 1973 Feminist Press edition(60, 63).(2) Recent research on the story in PMLA self-professedly seeks toamend inaccurate Gilman scholarship and claims ten reprintings (Dock 53).These appearances are not specified.(3) However, independent research andcollation of several sources reveals well over twenty reprintings(4) of thestory before the feminist "recovery" in 1973, laying forever torest the myth that "The Yellow Wall-Paper" has been obscure duringany part of its century of existence. It was printed a fourth time duringGilman's lifetime (1860-1935) in the New York Evening Post of January21, 1922. A copy of this printing was found in the Gilman Papers at RadcliffeCollege. The fifth printing was in American Mystery Stories (New York: OxfordUP, American Branch, 1927); the sixth in Golden Book 18 (October 1933), aliterary magazine; and the seventh in A Book of the Short Story (New York:American Book, 1934). The books containing the fifth and seventh printingsare scholarly collections. The Finnish translation by Irene Tokoi appeared inNykyaika, 15 (June 1934), bringing appearances during Gilman's lifetimeto a total of eight. 2b1af7f3a8