Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Yellow Wallpaper is a semi-autobiographical short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in which she describes the treatment of women during a rest cure prescribed for nervous disorders by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who was a famous physician. The story describes the submissive, childlike obedience of women to male authority figures that was considered typical at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The unnamed protagonist of the story is helpless to express her own needs. She is taken by her husband, John, to a country house so that she can recuperate from a nervous condition. The reader is immediately aware of the condescending attitude of the physician husband toward his wife. She is relegated against her will to a third floor room of the house, a room that the owners previously used as a nursery. Symbolically, the room with the yellow wallpaper serves as a prison where the wife is restricted, like a child, from the intellectual activities of reading and writing. At first, the narrator rebels against the constraints by keeping a secret diary. When John discovers her disobedience, she is chastised and her diary is cruelly destroyed.
Social interactions are also held to a minimum. The husband lectures in other cities, so the narrator is often left without emotional support for days at a time. When John is at home, his conversations are patronizing, and he dismisses her concerns about her condition. Clearly, her role is to comfort him and trust...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story unfolds slowly over many weeks, beginning with the arrival of the narrator (whose name, Jane, is not revealed until the end of the story) at an estate in the country. Jane has gone into a gradual decline, losing interest in her family and her surroundings, since the birth of her baby. Her husband, John, and her brother believe that a long rest is what she needs to feel more like herself. Because both men are respected physicians, Jane believes that they know what is best for her and tries to put on a good face, despite her increasing suspicions that her rest cure may do her more harm than good.
At first, the colonial estate where she is the only guest appears harmless and quaint, with large gardens and spacious rooms. Jane later reveals that her windows have bars and her bed is bolted to the floor. The only people whom she sees are her husband, who comes from the city to check on her, and her nurse, John’s sister, Jennie. Jane never has contact with her recently delivered child nor with friends. Her summer home takes on a more sinister tone as her mental condition deteriorates, with the very wallpaper in her room coming to grotesque life.
Jane’s husband blames her thinking for all of her problems and forbids her to do anything that will employ her mind productively. Jane rebels at first and keeps a secret journal, but as she weakens, even that endeavor becomes too tiring. She withdraws into her thoughts, which form the running...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
"The Yellow Wallpaper," first published in 1892 in the New England Magazine, is largely considered Gilman's best work of short fiction. The story is a first-person account of a young mother's mental deterioration and is based on Gilman's own experiences with postpartum depression. Like Gilman, the unnamed protagonist of the story is advised—in accordance with the theories of S. Weir Mitchell—to abstain from any and all physical activity and intellectual stimulation. She is not allowed to read, to write, or even to see her new baby. To carry out this treatment, the woman's husband takes her to a country house where she is kept in a former nursery decorated with yellow wallpaper.
Gilman initially had difficulty finding a publisher for "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Horace Scudder of The Atlantic refused to print it, stating, "I could not forgive myself if I made others as miserable as I have made myself!" Eventually, "The Yellow Wallpaper" began to attract readers, and William Dean Howells included it in his Great Modern American Stories: An Anthology in 1920. Early reviewers generally classified "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a horror story, with most commenting on Gilman's use of gothic conventions. It was not until Elaine R. Hedges's afterword to a 1973 edition of the story that it began receiving scholarly attention. Most modern commentators now interpret the story as a feminist indictment of society's subjugation of women and praise its...
(The entire section is 1445 words.)
"The Yellow Wallpaper" opens with the musings of an unnamed woman. She, her husband John, their newborn baby, and her sister-in-law have rented a summer house. The narrator is suffering from post-partum depression, and the summer house will function as a place for her to get better. The doctor has prescribed a rest cure of quiet and solitude, with an emphasis on avoiding any form of mental stimulation like reading or writing. The woman notes that the room in which she is staying seems to be geared more for incarceration than rehabilitation. John classifies her merely as "sick," thereby exhibiting the prevailing attitude of the day, that mental illness in women was not real. Following the doctor's strict orders, he forbids his wife from doing any type of work and does not allow her to see her baby. The narrator believes that work, excitement, and change would do her good, but her opinion does not matter. She would like to write, which is forbidden, and surreptiously keeping a diary exhausts her, as does trying to oppose her husband. With very little to do, the woman is left to contemplate the ugly yellow wallpaper in the nursery that is coming off the wall in great patches. She begins to trace the pattern of the wallpaper. The woman's narration abruptly ends because her husband is coming.
The story continues two weeks later when the narrator is able to write again. Even though she feels it might help relieve some of her tension, she generally gives in to...
(The entire section is 839 words.)