In "The Yellow Wallpaper," what is the relationship between the narrator and her husband?

The relationship between the narrator and her husband in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is strained at best. He is acting more like a father or authority figure than a spouse, forcing her to stay in her room and rest when she feels as though some mental stimulation would actually help her. He infantilizes her, laughing at her and calling her pet names. She, meanwhile, grows worse as a result of his "treatment."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would argue that the relationship between the narrator and her husband is a patriarchal one in which the man makes the decisions and the woman adopts an accepting, subservient role. The first indication we get of the state of their relationship is when the narrator tells us, “Jack laughs at [her], of course, but one expects that in marriage.” This quote tells us that John sees himself as superior to his wife, who is something to be laughed at. We also quickly learn that he does not believe that his wife is sick.

It is a relationship in which John, who is a physician, plays down his wife’s symptoms and tells people that there is nothing really wrong with his wife other than a “temporary nervous depression.” In other words, he disrespects his wife by adopting a professional opinion that her illness and symptoms exist only in her head.

In this marriage, what John says goes, and little attention is paid to his wife’s desires. While she expresses a desire to stay in a room on the ground floor, he refuses, insisting that she take the room with the yellow wallpaper. He controls more and more of her life, denying her requests to see her friends and insisting that she can get better through sheer “will and self control.”

In a nutshell, the relationship between the narrator and her husband is one-sided. The narrator is expected to accept her husband’s word as truth and has no real say over her own circumstances.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Yellow Wallpaper" has an unreliable narrator, but she becomes progressively less reliable as she descends into depression and insanity. At the beginning of the story, the narrator seems clear and focused. The first thing she reveals about her relationship with her husband is that he laughs at her rather than taking her concerns seriously. She then adds, tellingly, that one expects to be laughed at in a marriage. This suggests that her husband has never treated her as an equal or valued her opinion.

The narrator also says that her husband, like her brother, is "a physician of high standing." It quickly becomes clear that the doctor-patient relationship has superseded that of husband and wife between them. John appears to be the type of doctor who does not really listen to the patient, but relies entirely on his own medical training for diagnosis and treatment. The mention of her brother also suggests that John's respect for his own profession means he seeks the opinion of another doctor if he requires reassurance that he is doing the right thing rather than consulting his wife about her feelings. The relations between the two, therefore, are those of an over-confident doctor who does not listen and a patient who feels that she does not have the standing to challenge his prescriptions, though she feels they are wrong.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship between the narrator and her husband, John, in The Yellow Wallpaper is not exactly a healthy one...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

by twenty-first-century standards. However, it is likely to have been seen as very appropriate to those living at the end of the nineteenth century. John is a doctor, and the narrator believes that his profession is one reason that she “do[es] not get well faster.” John, in fact, “does not believe” that she is ill at all because there are no physical signs or symptoms of illness. He thinks of her malady as a “temporary nervous depression” that she is very much in control of. John believes that it simply requires a measure of self-discipline on the narrator’s part, and then her “hysteria” will cease to be.

The narrator declares that “John is practical in the extreme” and she admits that she does get “unreasonably angry with John” at times, especially because he laughs at her and insists that, if she would only exercise “proper self-control,” then her condition would improve. The narrator says that John does not allow her to work at all or to have company, even though she feels that some mental and social stimulation would be good for her. However, she is not allowed to have a say in her treatment. In fact, she says that he “hardly lets [her] stir without special direction.” This level of confinement and control is not helping the narrator but, rather, is exacerbating her condition.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator is a doctor who although probably filled with good intentions, comes off seeming domineering.  He treats his wife almost  like a little child. Right off the bat she mentions that "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage."He is laughing at her silly ideas about the vacant house they've taken; she tries to blow it off by saying that's just what marriage is like.  She is trying to obey and play the role of a "good wife"; already though, you sense a strain.  She mentions that he doesn't believe she's sick, and forbids her to work.  Personally, she disagrees, but supposes he is right, so she acquiesces.  The tension makes her "unreasonably angry with John sometimes" which causes friction, so she takes "pains to control myself -- before him, at least". She says that "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction" which indicates that he likes to feel in control of her, like he is taking care of her, but might go overboard and be a bit manipulative and controlling.

All of these things point to a forced relationship that is outwardly polite, but inwardly strained and unhappy.  In the end as the narrator slowly loses control of her mental state, we see that anger towards John come out as she locks him out of the room, refusing to let him in and help.  That inward strain finally takes its toll, and the results are disturbing and unfortunate.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," is the narrator afraid of her husband, John?

The narrator certainly does not feel that her husband understands or believes her when she describes her feelings of illness.  She says, "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in a marriage."  He tends to speak down to her, as though she were a child who requires coddling or correcting.  Further, she says, "he does not believe I am sick!"  John doesn't seem to give his wife any credit for knowing her own mind or body, what she can or cannot handle, and he keeps her locked away in her room under the pretense of helping her to avoid too much stimulation.  She is to engage in perfect rest, he says, if she is to improve.

As the story progresses, the narrator says, "The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John" because he looks at her wallpaper as though he were trying to figure it out.  She doesn't fear that he will hurt her or anything like that, but she becomes suspicious of him and his interest in her wallpaper, especially after she begins to believe that there is a woman in the paper who is trapped there.  

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," what are the narrator's feelings toward her husband?

The picture that we are given of the narrator in regards to the way she feels about her husband is that she is clearly trying very hard to be a loving and devoted wife. She does not argue and she does not try and persuade him that his ideas about her health and what is best for her is wrong, and she tries to overtly show him that she is being obedient to his requests, such as the way in which she hides her writing and tries to rest in bed.

However, in spite of this, what comes out of the narrative of this brilliant story is the way that the narrator is incredibly frustrated by her position as a sick woman, and how her own ideas and opinions are automatically disregarded and discounted because of her status. Note the way that she begins her narrative by saying that because her husband is a physician, this is why she is not getting better faster. Consider how she presents her hopeless position:

If a physician of high standing and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency--what is one to do?

The way that she repeats this final phrase, "What is one to do?", many times only serves to reinforce the profound helplessness of her position. Thus we can see that, although she loves her husband and wants to please him, at the same time, she is incredibly frustrated by the way that he refuses to listen to her own opinion and ideas about what is best for her.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are your views on the husband/wife relationship in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

The husband in "The Yellow Wallpaper" treats his wife condescendingly and like a child, leading her to be very unhappy and unfulfilled.  She is already experiencing post-partum despression, for which in modern times she would be able to receive treatment.  At the time, though, this was misunderstood, and she is simply prescribed "rest" as a means of getting well.  Since her husband is a doctor, he is expected to know best, and the wife submits to his judgment for she does not know what else to do.

The husband decides to rent a "colonial mansion" for her rest period, and when the wife questions the house, he laughs at her - "but one expects that in marriage," she says.  Obviously, she is used to not being treated with respect.  In fact, she says "he does not believe that (she is) sick," and she recognizes that, perhaps, this plays a role in why she has not gotten well.  He has even assured her friends and relatives "that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression-a slight hysterical tendency," so the wife is left without comfort or real compassion, and even perhaps a bit of "eye rolling" from those closest to her.

When they go to home in the countryside, the wife sees a room in which she would like to stay, where she can have a view of roses from the windows, but the husband determines that the old nursery, with bars on the window, is a better place for her.  When she complains about the "repellent" and "revolting" wallpaper - "one of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin" - he at first agrees to repaper the room, but then decides "that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies," so decides to keep the room the way it is.

John's total disregard for his wife's concerns, wishes, thoughts, dislikes, and desires show he is a very arrogant, insensitive, controlling man who thinks he always knows best.  His wife believes that "congenial work, with excitement and change, would do (her) good," but he does not agree, so she remains stuck in the room. She also believes writing will do her good, but he considers this unnecessary work, so she must hide her writing from him, as well as his sister.

Her husband shows a lack of emotional connection, as well, in that he doesn't recognize his wife is getting worse and worse as she spends time in the room.  Thus, he is in for a shock when he opens the door to find her creeping around the room on all fours - and she continues creeping right over him after he faints.  She doesn't let him hold her back any more - but she has lost her sense of sanity.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In what ways is the narrator's husband implicated as part of her predicament in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

As much as Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, whose rest therapy of quiet and solitude for the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" restricts her psychological healing, so, too, does the patriarchal attitude of the narrator's husband, John, repress the narrator, exacerberating her nervous depression. Adhering blindly to the domineering and unsolicitous theories of Mitchell, John ignores the wishes of his wife to be outside in the beautiful garden.  When she protests against being confined alone in the "atrocious nursery" with the hideous wallpaper which disturbs her artistic nature by its unsymmetrical pattern and color that "commits every artistic sin," John puts even more stress upon her by insisting that she remain in this room where she feels imprisoned:

I don't like our room a bit.  I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings!  But John would not hear of it.

In a patronizing manner, John tells the narrator that they have come to this house "solely on [her] account."  And, he laughs at the narrator's protests against this atrocious wallpaper, saying "that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies."  Indeed, he even "insists" that the room is doing her good when she has voiced repeated protests. 

Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.....John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least.  He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency.

At every turn, John frustrates the creative nature of the narrator which in truth would be the very thing to help heal her depression.  The narrator herself declares,

I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.

With her imagination denied and repressed, it becomes perverted; thus, the narrator projects her imaginings upon the "inanimate thing" of the wallpaper. Her obsession with this wallpaper and the "inharmonious" objects in the room occurs because her husband has ridiculed her wishes and denied her any outlet for her depression in his adherence to the philosophy of Dr. Mitchell and the cultural wisdom of a patriarchal Victorian society.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Where is love in the relationship between the narrator and her husband in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

This is an interesting topic.  I am confident that there is love in the relationship between the narrator and her husband.  I don't sense that he is abusive to her or is one that seeks to humiliate his wife.  However, what he does to her, even if it is done out of "care," is quite oppressive to her.  Her voice is silenced, or even smothered.  I think that this is where their relationship lies.  There might be love present, but there is not respect present.  The arc of the relationship between them is one where the husband does not respect the needs of his wife.  Rather, is convinced it is "nerves" and does not authenticate that her experience might be fundamentally different, one that needs to be understood with a voice that needs to be acknowledged.  The fact that the narrator can only experience this validation through the wallpaper is reflective of the lack of respect present in this relationship.  In the end, love is there.  Yet, the desire to control or to take care of someone else is smothering the identity and experiences of the narrator, who finds that her voice must be heard and respected no matter what, reflecting the ending of the story.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on