What is the value of the story 'The Yellow Wallpaper'?
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'The Yellow Wallpaper' is an important and valuable text in several ways. It deals with important issues - the treatment of women and mental illness in society, based upon Gilman's own experience of post-natal depression - and it does so in a striking manner, employing the style of psychological horror. Indeed, this approach led it initially to be regarded as little more than horror in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, but subsequently it has come to be recognised as a seminal social and feminist text in its depiction of a woman whose mental breakdown is worsened by the medical treatment foisted upon her by her male carers.
In the time in which the story was written, women were often diagnosed vaguely with hysteria and condemned to a rest-cure which, as Gilman knew from her own experiences, often worsened the problem. Confined to her bed, forbidden to do anything so taxing as writing - something she herself realises would be therapeutic for her - the narrator almost literally goes out of her mind with boredom.
As this character narrates her own story, she is able to directly communicate her thoughts and feelings to the reader, in a style that is at once monotonous and agitated. We, as readers, are able to sympathise directly with her, and that makes us more involved in the story and the issues that it raises.
The story also makes effective use of imagery with the yellow wallpaper which becomes a sinister symbol of the narrator's mental problems and her feeling of entrapment:
The colour is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
This grim description conveys the narrator's own sense of sickness, and even hellishness, with the reference to the 'sulphur tint'. With the use of such sophisticated literary techniques, the story leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It deals with important social issues in a memorable way and that is its enduring value.
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