Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
The narrator, unnamed, who also is the protagonist. She is an imaginative, creative woman living in a society that views women who exhibit artistic and intellectual potential as anomalies, misfits, or, as in this story, ill. The narrator, having recently borne a child, apparently suffers from an ailment now identified as postpartum depression. Her husband, John, who is a doctor, misidentifies her condition and prescribes a “rest cure” made popular by the well-respected physician Weir Mitchell. The rest cure assumes that intellectual stimulation damages a woman physically and psychologically, so John requires the narrator to stop all writing, all reading, and essentially, all higher-level thinking. The narrator, however, cannot deny her creative imagination, so she writes in secret the document that is the novella, through which readers can trace the harmful psychological effects of the rest cure. She develops a fascination with the yellow wallpaper in their room. Her mental illness becomes more pronounced, until, finally, she openly displays madness.
John, the narrator’s husband, a physician. He differs from his imaginative wife in that he believes only in what he can see and touch. In his physical evaluation of his wife, he finds nothing wrong, so he believes she creates her own illness, that she is a hypochondriac. He enforces restrictions on his wife’s conduct in an attempt to end her...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
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Jennie is the narrator's sister-in-law. She helps to take care of the narrator and, more importantly, the narrator's newborn baby. She is described as "a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper." She represents the nineteenth-century view of the role of women as housekeepers and child rearers.
The husband of the unnamed narrator, John is a doctor who believes in the "rest-cure," a treatment developed by real-life neurologist S. Weir Mitchell, for women suffering from hysteria. Therefore, he prescribes complete bed rest, not allowing his wife to do anything. John in many ways treats his wife like a child, calling her his "blessed little goose" and "little girl." The character displays the nineteenth-century attitude that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere, aspiring only to be competent mothers and charming wives.
The unnamed narrator of ''The Yellow Wallpaper" is married to John, a doctor, and has just recently had a baby. She suffers from depression, or "nervous prostration," and is confined to a room that used to be a nursery, as a "bed-rest" cure, in a country house that she and her husband are renting for a holiday. While John does not allow her to read, write, or engage in any other type of mental stimulation, she does secretly write in a journal. The story itself is a transcription of these journal entries. Bored and restless, the narrator...
(The entire section is 299 words.)
Themes and Characters
"The Yellow Wallpaper" examines the role of women in nineteenth-century American society, including the relationship between husbands and wives, the economic and social dependence of women on men, and the repression of female individuality and sexuality. The Victorian era had a profound impact on social values in the United States, stressing that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, the protagonist is advised by her husband and doctor to get complete bed rest, despite her suggestions that she write and read. While she does secretly write in a journal, it is made clear that her husband is the final decision maker and that her role is to be a charming wife and competent mother. In fact, John often treats her like a child, calling her his "little girl" and "blessed little goose." When the narrator has a "real earnest reasonable talk" with John, during which she asks him if she can visit some relatives, he does not allow her to go.
Because of its first-person description of mental illness, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is also considered a work of psychological fiction. Gilman addresses such themes as madness, depression, despair, and self-worth by presenting a realistic and shocking account of the stages of mental breakdown. Because the narrator has nothing to occupy herself and because she has no say in her treatment, she comes to project all of her pent-up feelings...
(The entire section is 717 words.)