Identify the narrative style of "The Yellow Wallpaper." What is the effect of this style of narrative in developing the main character? How does it influence how the reader understands the main character?

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman utilizes first-person narration in her celebrated short story "The Yellow Wallpaper ," which is told from Jane's point of view as she suffers from postpartum depression and psychosis. In the story, Jane is depicted as an unreliable narrator, who writes in her secret journal as she...

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman utilizes first-person narration in her celebrated short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," which is told from Jane's point of view as she suffers from postpartum depression and psychosis. In the story, Jane is depicted as an unreliable narrator, who writes in her secret journal as she remains secluded on the top floor of a country home. In addition to utilizing first-person narration, Gilman also employs a stream-of-consciousness writing style, which reflects the narrator's continuous thoughts, feelings, and emotions. First-person narration and the stream-of-consciousness style give the audience the impression of being inside the narrator's tortured mind.

By utilizing first-person narration, the audience sympathizes with Jane's traumatic situation, which allows Gilman's primary message regarding the dangers of the "rest cure" and the oppressive nature of gender roles to resonate with the audience. Utilizing an unreliable narrator also creates dramatic irony and emphasizes the narrator's diminishing mental health. As the story progresses, the narrator continues to lose touch with reality and believes that there is a woman trapped inside the yellow wallpaper as she begins to chew on the bed post and tear at the wall. She unknowingly transforms into a desperate, mentally unstable woman, who is determined to free the woman inside the wallpaper. Despite her efforts, the audience recognizes that the woman trapped inside the wallpaper is a reflection of the narrator herself. Overall, first-person narration allows Gilman to highlight the dangerous effects of postpartum depression as the audience experiences a firsthand account of the disorder. The audience also feels sympathy for the narrator, who has completely lost her mind over the course of the story due to the disastrous effects of the "rest cure."

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" is told from a subjective, first-person point of view. The narrator is keeping a journal account of what is happening to her, written in a conversational style as if she is talking directly to the reader. We know she is writing because she notes:

There comes John, and I must put this away,—he hates to have me write a word.

She later states:

I don’t know why I should write this.

The style of the journaling becomes more and more stream-of-consciousness as the story progresses, which has the effect of making us feel more and more that we are inside the head of the narrator, experiencing events as if we were her. This is increasingly disorienting, but it helps us understand how the treatment she is receiving for what appears to be postpartum depression isn't working, and is, in fact, worsening her problems, leading her finally to decompose entirely. By not providing the kind of narrative distance an objective third-person narrator would impose, Gilman insures we are up close to the speaker as she disintegrates. Her character develops for us from the inside out, not from the outside in, because we meet her at the point of her own interiority.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in a narrative style known as epistolary fiction. This type of fiction unfolds via the writings of one or more characters. In this case, the main character, Jane, journals her thoughts while she is undergoing a "rest cure" for depression. Epistolary fiction creates a subjective point of view. In this story, we only know what Jane tells us, and because of her mental state, she is a highly unreliable narrator. The reader does not realize that at the beginning of the story, but it becomes clearer and clearer as the story develops. Epistolary fiction, because of its subjective perspective, is ideal for the genre of psychological realism. Gilman allows the reader to accompany her main character in her descent into insanity, but the reader must pay close attention and read between the lines because Jane does not understand everything that is happening to her.

For example, when Jane lapses into long-winded rants about the wallpaper, the reader begins to suspect that her perceptions are not normal. Jane obviously has too much time on her hands, which is causing her to perseverate. She moves from perseveration, to paranoia, to hallucinations, to severe psychosis, but she herself doesn't realize the extent of her worsening condition. It is up to the reader to take what Jane is saying and translate it into the world of normality, where it is seen to be completely unhealthy. The condition of the room and home as Jane describes it requires careful interpretation by the reader as well. Jane remarks that there are bars on the window, that the bed is nailed down, that the other furniture in the room has been removed at one point, and that there are teeth marks on the bed frame. These details could be seen to show that the family is concerned that Jane may commit suicide and that she is displaying highly abnormal behaviors. Near the end of the story Jane finally records that she has bitten off a piece of the bedpost; that makes the reader suspect that the other bite marks mentioned previously may have also been her doing.

The epistolary narrative style of this story allows us to sympathize with Jane and understand Jane better, but it also can hide some truths about her. Therefore, the reader must take everything Jane says with a grain of salt and read between the lines to extrapolate the truth about Jane as she becomes more and more mentally unstable.

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