"The Yellow Wallpaper" Literary Analysis, Sample Essay (2023)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a seemingly personal account of the oppression of women in the 19th century.IsCentury. At this time in history, women were generally viewed as possessions or property rather than equal partners to their spouses. The story describes the narrator's journey and explains many details about the people and places around her that are highly symbolic of a range of subjects. Not only are relationships and society restrictive, she also finds her home and bedroom particularly repressive to her physical being and emotional growth. This article will examine the various symbolic meanings in Gilman's story and relate them to the oppressive nature of women at this time in history. The narrator identifies her feelings of oppression and imprisonment in her marriage, as well as the "woman behind the wallpaper"; both women are looking for a way out, but cannot escape the physical limitations.

A summer retreat for Blue Devils

The story begins with an account of the house and land where the narrator and her husband will live during a summer vacation. She is very expressive with her descriptions, but spends a lot of time explaining why she thinks there is something odd or "strange" about the house and grounds. As soon as he enters the house, he begins to imagine and even describe the patterns on the wallpaper and walls of the house. The negative energy you use to explain could be why your husband, who is also a doctor, diagnosed you with a "mental breakdown." He claims he has been "prescribed phosphates and tonics...and absolutely forbidden to work until he is well" (Gilman 1). In order to better understand the narrator and her feelings, it is necessary to understand the point of view and beliefs about women at the time. At this point in history, women suffering from mood swings or other emotions were often thought to be insane or suffering from depression that needed to be treated with rest and restricted activities. This is exactly what the narrator has to do, rest, stay in her room and is expressly forbidden to write or express her thoughts. Her creative expression stored in her journal is seen as bad John and she is forced to hide her journal from him and others who enter the house.


One of the most symbolic meanings of the story is the limitation of the narrator's ability to write in his journal or express his thoughts. This suggests that her thoughts and feelings are not important to her husband, John, or anyone else. She tells the reader that John suggests that her writing is simply a neurotic pursuit and not good for her treatment. Her treatment, of course, is to rest and avoid her husband most of the time, making her see herself as a burden (Gilman 3). At this time in history, mental illness was not well understood and sufferers were often locked away or isolated from others. It was believed, as the narrator noted, that the affected person should take control of their emotions and make the necessary changes. Women were often treated like children because they needed guidance and could not make their own decisions. To further this line of thinking, John commonly referred to his wife in the story as "the blessed goose" and even as a lass (Gilman 7). While it seems that John gives his wife affectionate names, they are more symbolic of a person unable to take care of themselves or being childish, which was consistent with beliefs of the time.

Not only was he trying to control his wife through marriage, he was also a doctor who could prescribe a "treatment" for her, further limiting her.

bars on the windows

The narrator was confined on the second floor and her husband and sister-in-law Jennie and a nanny were her caretakers. Food is brought to her and the nanny takes care of her child while Jennie is said to be the perfect housekeeper. There is no reason for her to leave her room as she is supposed to rest and not work. The room she was placed in is described as light and spacious, but suggests that the children may have been housed there. The way he describes it leads the reader to believe it is a child's room, as the windows are barred and there are rings and things hanging on the wall (Gilman 2). She explains that there are bars on the windows, probably put there because of the children who entertained the room. The symbolic window bars pointed out by the narrator represent the feeling of being trapped against your will with no way out. On the one hand she is confronted with a repressive husband who refuses to listen to her concerns and for whom the only other way out is blocked. She sees her marriage and her surroundings as a prison, bars on the windows and locked in a room where her actions are dictated by others. You are not free to exercise or participate in activities on the grounds that it would make your condition worse. Ironically, depression is said to improve as a person's activity level increases, which is another symbolic form of oppression in history and society in general during this time.

oppression of women

At a certain point in the story, she claims that she likes to fantasize about people walking on the sidewalk or farmland, but is discouraged by her husband. This represents contempt for your imagination or creative thought process. This is also shown in her contempt for her writing when she says, "She hates that I write a word" (Gilman 2). A woman's ability or entitlement to work is an expression of herself, and this story shows how it withered. Instead, a woman's only job was to provide for her family, and in this story even that was taken away from the narrator. It was up to the woman to devote herself to caring for both the children and the spouse at home, without working outside the home or having an income of her own. Society has imposed many restrictive beliefs on women that grant them little freedom or rights as citizens. During this time in history, women who divorced or disobeyed their husbands were considered second-class citizens. In some cases, they were barred from social life because they violated the sacred code of marriage. In a way, the narrator's physical self is trapped in her room, but her emotional self is trapped in her inability to write, work, care for her children, or even explain her medical condition.

The patterned wallpaper

The narrator describes the wallpaper as yellow with a disgusting, hideous pattern (Gilman 2). He sees bulbous images and what he calls broken necks in paper design. She asks her husband to change rooms; However, he says it is the best space for his recovery. Since it is a day care center, again the comparison can be made that the child is treated like a child. According to the narrator, part of the wallpaper has already been ripped off or torn. As the story progresses, he begins to see what he believes to be a female prisoner behind the wallpaper. This shadow or captive woman is described as "faint forms brightening every day" (Gilman 10).

At first, the narrator could only see strange patterns, but not the women she thought were captives. She says the woman will remain behind bars while they tie her up. During the day the woman is silent or stands still, but when night falls the woman shakes the bars that hold her in the wall or behind the wallpaper. Her beliefs about this woman could be viewed as her own mental illness or as a struggle against oppression from her husband and society. She claims that this woman is still in her infancy and wants so badly to free herself from the constraints of wallpaper.

Just as the narrator hides her diary and her husband's intimate thoughts, the woman hides behind the wallpaper in the sunlight but moves in the moonlight. That means hiding the female presence but only expressing yourself when no one is looking. As the story progresses, the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with the wallpaper, the characters, and the pattern movement. This is his only source of entertainment and he begins to identify with the imprisoned woman. As the story progresses and she becomes even more depressed, she makes plans to free the woman. Your goal is to do this in up to two days, which is the estimated departure date. She begins touching and tearing the wallpaper, not only to free the woman she sees but to take control of herself (Gilman 11). She challenges her husband as he would certainly not approve of her actions or thoughts. As he tears off the wallpaper, he hears screams, but wants to free the woman. As he peels off the paper, he thinks about jumping out the window, but he can't because the windows are barred. She also notes that she's afraid all the other women will get away with it. Some may feel that the wallpaper has driven the narrator insane at this point, but it seems that the meaning is her ultimate choice not to care what her husband thinks. Going with what he feels, he defends his own freedom by freeing the woman behind the wallpaper. Upon discovering her actions, her husband enters the room and faints upon seeing what she has done. He, of course, thinks she's completely insane and collapses. The story ends with the narrator crawling around the room, even stepping on her body in the process (Gilman 12). Again, her crotch across his body is a symbol that he is no longer under her control, although he has probably suffered a nervous breakdown and gone insane.

In summary, Gilman's story is a personal account from a woman's perspective. The narrator begins to identify with the women on the wallpaper that she imagines. Of course, these delusions are due to her illness, which is likely related to depression and childbirth since the story references a baby. Medical conditions were not understood and the general consensus at the time was to use natural remedies along with rest. Those suffering from depression or other mental disorders would likely be excluded from the larger community as they simply wouldn't know what else to do with them. In addition to the narrator, who suffers from depression, she was also a victim of historical oppression. During this time, women were viewed as less than equal and were not allowed to express an opinion or take an active role in decision-making. His place was a domestic role and nothing more. While some might say the wallpaper drove the narrator insane, others see it as an escape from an oppressive reality that she can only control; Your own bizarre thoughts and actions!

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte. "The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; The yellow wallpaper side 1.”Books page by page. Read classic books online for free.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . n.p., n.b. Lokal im Internet. 27. September 2011. <http://www.pagebypagebooks


What is the literary analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

"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.

What is a good thesis statement for The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

Thesis #1: "The Yellow Wallpaper" uses descriptive imagery to chart the progression of Jane's madness. Thesis #2: Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in the form of a diary kept by an allegedly hysterical woman who uses the diary as a means of escape.

What are the literary elements in The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

Gilman uses multiple literary devices in ''The Yellow Wallpaper. '' These include imagery, metaphor, simile, personification, repetition, and connotative diction.

What is the literary analysis conclusion on The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

Conclusion. The Yellow Wallpaper is a clear representation of life in the 19thcentury. During this period, women seem to have been under male domination, and society seems to have accepted this fact. Throughout the story, the narrator seems to be fighting to get a voice of her own.

What type of literary style is The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

An “epistolary” work of fiction takes the form of letters between characters. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a kind of epistolary story, in which the narrator writes to herself.

What is the deeper meaning of The Yellow Wallpaper? ›

The yellow wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a symbol of society and patriarchy. It is ugly, faded, and torn in some spots, and a figure of a woman is trapped in the paper. It symbolizes women, or the woman in the story, being trapped within the constraints of a patriarchal society.


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