How have the gothic conventions in "The Yellow Wallpaper" been adapted and manipulated to its context and culture reflecting attitudes and values?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly I think that every tale that can be described as "Gothic" is adapted so that it fits into its context better. Here of course we have a very different Gothic tale from various others such as Vathek or Dracula, for example, because the author chooses to focus the narrative on one character alone and how they respond to post-partum depression. Thus it is that this story has the first person point of view which allows a highly subjective narration to be presented to us as the central protagonist sinks ever further into madness. The dichotomys of insanity and sanity are present as we as readers need to discern her actual state, and then also we have, as with every Gothic text, an extremely isolated setting. Note the description that the unreliable narrator gives us of the location where she is recuperating:

The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.

It is interesting that in this description the characteristics of this house are all things that block people in, whether that be hedges, walls or "gates that lock," creating an impression of entrapment from the start. However, apart from the beauty of this house, the narrator says that she can "feel" that "there is something strange about this house." Odd presentiments and overtones of entrapment combine to create a sinister setting, which is confirmed when we have the yellow wallpaper described to us:

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

Note the inclusion of violence in this description with the curves "committing suicide." Thus this story has a number of classic Gothic characteristics that have been adapted to focus on the descent into madness of its central character.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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