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"The Yellow Wallpaper" is written in a first-person point-of-view, with both present- and past-tenses. The narrator writes in present-tense, but recounts conversations and other events in past-tense; this is typical of epistolary writing, and the tense structure of the story has little to do with the themes.
The first-person narration, however, is vital to the story's impact. By showing the reader a narrator who is suffering deep emotional and mental problems, and who is therefore unreliable, the story becomes less about the factual events and more about the culture of the times. The narrator is essentially held captive against her will; the story becomes more of a prison account than a typical diary. Her slow mental breakdown is echoed in the writing, which becomes more and more fragmented as the narrator loses her sanity.
When we think of point of view, there are normally three different types that are used in literature: omniscient third person, limited third person, and first person. Omniscient third person is distinguished by having a narrator that is not part of the action but is looking into the story and has has access to all of the characters' thoughts, feelings, motives and emotions. It is written by an impersonal narrator in the third person ('he,' 'she' and so on). The limited third person is again written in the third person but the difference is that the narrator tells the story from the point of view of one character only, having only access to this one character's thoughts and motives. Finally, first person point of view can be easily identified because the story is told to us by one of the characters in the story itself from their point of view, in the first person ('I,' 'we' and so on). Have a look at how this excellent story starts:
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity--but that would be asking too much of fate!
So, based on this example you can hopefully see that the point of view in 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is first person.
This story is told from a first-person point of view, which makes it especially interesting. The narrator is an unreliable one because of her mental state. At the beginning of the story, she is submissive and complacent, accepting the treatment her husband has chosen for her. By the end of the story, she is combative and indignant. She says, after locking the door to the room, "I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, until John comes. I want to astonish him" (Enotes).
The story is told from the point of view of the unnamed protagonist in the first person. She tells the story from the confines of a closed room, where she is taking the "rest cure" for depression. As the story progresses, the woman gets more and more desperate, and her story becomes stranger and stranger. By the end, she sees "creeping women" within the intricate yellow wallpaper.
Because the woman's perspective is distorted by her confinement and her depression, she is also what is known as an unreliable narrator.
title · “The Yellow Wallpaper”
author · Charlotte Perkins Gilman
type of work · Short story
genre · Gothic horror tale; character study; socio-political allegory
language · English
time and place written · 1892, California
date of first publication · May, 1892
publisher · The New England Magazine
narrator · A mentally troubled young woman, possibly named Jane
point of view · As the main character’s fictional journal, the story is told in strict first-person narration, focusing exclusively on her own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Everything that we learn or see in the story is filtered through the narrator’s shifting consciousness, and since the narrator goes insane over the course of the story, her perception of reality is often completely at odds with that of the other characters.
tone · The narrator is in a state of anxiety for much of the story, with flashes of sarcasm, anger, and desperation—a tone Gilman wants the reader to share.
tense · The story stays close to the narrator’s thoughts at the moment and is thus mostly in the present tense.
setting (time) · Late nineteenth century
setting (place) · America, in a large summer home (or possibly an old asylum), primarily in one bedroom within the house.
protagonist · The narrator, a young upper-middle-class woman who is suffering from what is most likely postpartum depression and whose illness gives her insight into her (and other women’s) situation in society and in marriage, even as the treatment she undergoes robs her of her sanity.
major conflict · The struggle between the narrator and her husband, who is also her doctor, over the nature and treatment of her illness leads to a conflict within the narrator’s mind between her growing understanding of her own powerlessness and her desire to repress this awareness.
rising action · The narrator decides to keep a secret journal, in which she describes her forced passivity and expresses her dislike for her bedroom wallpaper, a dislike that gradually intensifies into obsession.
climax · The narrator completely identifies herself with the woman imprisoned in the wallpaper.
falling action · The narrator, now completely identified with the woman in the wallpaper,spends her time crawling on all fours around the room. Her husband discovers her and collapses in shock, and she keeps crawling, right over his fallen body.
themes · The subordination of women in marriage; the importance of self-expression; the evils of the “Resting Cure”
motifs · Irony; the journal
symbols · The wallpaper
foreshadowing · The discovery of the teeth marks on the bedstead foreshadows the narrator’s own insanity and suggests the narrator is not revealing everything about her behavior; the first use of the word “creepy” foreshadows the increasing desperation of the narrator’s situation and her own eventual “creeping.”
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