The Yellow Wallpaper
“The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is gothic psychological short story written in journal-style with first-person narrative. Other elements used in the story are symbols, irony, foreshadowing, and imagery. “The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman who suffers from postpartum depression. Her husband, a physician, puts her on “rest cure of quiet and solitude. ” (Wilson 278). This cure consisted of the narrator being confined to rest in one room and forbidden to do any physical work, read, write, or have any other type of mental stimulation. She secretly kept a journal to write in.
The wallpaper in the room irritated the narrator to the point of her asking her husband to replace it. The wallpaper soon becomes a distraction. References to the yellow wallpaper become more frequent and keep developing through the course of the story as the narrator gives way to insanity. Gilman uses several gothic elements including horror, dread, suspense, and the supernatural. Describing the women, the room, and the malevolent shapes, “Gilman tricks the reader into seeing Jane as simultaneously mad and in the grips of some haunting supernatural spectors.
” (May 4724). The development of the story may imply possession as much as it does hallucination. The house that is “quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (Gilman 473) gives the reader a sense of isolation producing a dreaded tone which is common in gothic writings. The yellow color of the wallpaper also carries some gothic elements, portraying something stale, old, and decayed. The yellow is described as a “smoldering unclean yellow. ” (Gilman 474).
In addition to the color of the paper, the room the narrator is kept in seems to give the feeling of being a haunted space, even though the haunting may come from the narrator herself. The story is a great example of first-person narrative because it is told solely from the viewpoint of the unnamed leading character and the reader is given access only to her thoughts and feelings allowing the reader to understand and experience the narrator’s feelings as she begins her path to insanity.
Since the narrator is having a mental breakdown, she would be considered an unreliable narrator because the reader cannot be positive if she is correctly reciting the incidents of the story. First-person narrative also allows the readers to sympathize with her. For instance when she was told she could not go visit her cousin she said, “I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished. ” (Gilman 477). Giving the reader a sense of pity for the narrator.
The reader is present in the narrator’s head at every stage of her insanity, making the story more powerful and shocking. One of the more significant symbols used in the story is the yellow wallpaper. The wallpaper depicts the state of mind of the narrator. Even though the narrator gives a detailed description of the wallpaper, it still remains mysterious throughout the story. The narrator’s unhealthy fascination with the yellow wallpaper is “the first clue of her degenerating sanity. ” (Hudock 3). At first the ripped, soiled, and unclean color seem offensive.
The wallpaper seems to be letting off a “yellow smell” (Gilman 480) all through the house, even getting into her hair, symbolizing how the wallpaper is infecting the narrators mind. After the narrator stares at it for hours, she sees a ghostly sub-pattern, only visible in certain light. As the sub-pattern comes into focus there seems to be a desperate woman crawling and stooping trying to find a way out from behind the bars of the main pattern that resembles a cage. Ultimately it becomes clear that the figure crawling through the wallpaper is both the narrator and the narrator’s double.
The narrator sees heads of women being strangled as they try to escape out of the cage. The desperate woman that is trapped symbolizes the narrator’s “emotional and intellectual confinement. ” (Wilson 280). With no way of showing her feelings and no way of escape, the narrator controls her disappointment and her rage eventually giving way to insanity. The nursery, another important symbol, was decorated with “rings and things. ”(Gilman 474). This was the room she was confined in. This room was possibly used to represent the way nineteenth-century people viewed women, as children.
The nursery contained barred windows which could be viewed as the emotional, social, and intellectual prison women of that era were kept in. “At night the pattern in the paper becomes clearly bars, like the bars on the windows, and the woman in the wallpaper becomes plainly visible, imprisoned behind the bars at night, just as the young woman imagining her feels imprisoned. ” (Kivo 51). Verbal irony is used in the journal especially when the narrator speaks of her husband. She says, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that.
No one in a healthy marriage would expect that. Later she says, “I am glad my case is not serious,” (Gillman 474) at a point where she is obviously concerned that it is very serious. Dramatic irony is used when the narrator assumed Jennie shared her interest in the wallpaper, “I caught Jennie with her hand on it once,” (Gilman 480) when it was clear that Jennie was looking for the source of the yellow stains that were getting on their clothes. Jennie said “the paper stained everything it touched.
Situational irony occurred when John’s course of treatment did the opposite, causing his wife’s condition to get worse, driving her to go insane. “I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. ” (Gilman 482). The location of the house, which was three miles away from the nearest town, foreshadows isolation and despair. Another foreshadow that Gilman used was the deterioration of the narrator’s symptoms, using the phrase, “one reason I do not get well faster. ” (Gilman 473).
The discovery of teeth marks on the bed post foreshadows the narrator’s insanity and is not revealing everything about her behavior. The strange mark around the bottom of the wall foreshadows an action the narrator will take at the end of the story. The use of the word “creepy,” (Gilman 478) foreshadows the increasing desperation of the narrator’s situation and her own eventual “creeping. ” (Gilman 483). Strong imagery is used to set a strong story setting. Imagery that is used throughout the story foreshadows the inevitable madness of the narrator.
The location of the house imagery suggests a lack of freedom and isolation. The description of the nursery in the narrator’s mind depicts the room more like a prison and a way to isolate her from people. Eventually the odor of the wallpaper becomes more prominent. The smell, according to the narrator “creeps all over the house . . . a peculiar odor . . . it is not bad . . . very gentle . . . a yellow smell. ” (Gilman 480). The olfactory imagery affects the reader by making the reader question already known smells. Imagery in this story takes the reader along for the slow decent into insanity.
The imagery of the house location and the nursery indicate desperation and isolation. In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman the use of several elements such as gothic, first-person narrative, symbols, irony, foreshadowing, and imagery takes the reader into the story through the narrator’s mind. Experiencing firsthand what the narrator is experiencing in her mind; following the several stages of madness the narrator endures before finally reaching insanity. The elements give the story a suspenseful, mysterious, firsthand experience leaving the reader wondering what will happen next.