What is an analysis of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?
When analyzing "The Yellow Wallpaper," there are three important aspects to look consider first: characters, plot, and style. Let’s take each of these in turn.
In context, one should first understand that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is semi-autobiographical. Charlotte Perkins Gilman did have a doctor by the name of Silas Weir Mitchell who prescribed a "resting cure" that nearly drove her mad. Gilman herself suffered from mental illness as well as the confines of married life. She sought to work and believed intellectual labor would be best to bring her out of depression, but she was not allowed to do so during the "resting cure."
The interactions between characters are germane to a critical analysis, so it is useful to look at dialogue and search for evidence of conflict. Take note that John, the narrator's husband, is the "active" member of the family and takes a domineering role. In paragraph 5, the narrator—somewhat ironically—states that John laughs at her. But the most telling lines that indicate his superiority are when he is attempting to console the narrator while in bed. "What is it, little girl?" and "Bless her little heart" are phrases one might utter to a child, not a grown and autonomous woman. John's sister Jennie, who is also the housekeeper, acts in a similar manner as the warden who will not allow the narrator to write, as indicated by the lines "I must not let her find me writing" and "There's sister on the stairs."
One noticeable plot device is the lack of backstory. Gilman propels the reader forward by keeping us searching for clues as to whether the narrator is reliable. Also, essential to the gothic horror genre is the way Gilman holds the denouement until the final line of the story. This forces the reader to keep reading in order to deduce the reality of what is happening in the midst of the surreal action. The reader should also note that the first-person, present-tense narration serves to keep them in the midst of the choreography.
Finally, look at the style of Gilman's writing—the tone, word choice, and syntax. The tone changes as the story progresses and the narrator's mental health deteriorates. In paragraph 19, she describes the house as "the most beautiful place," and in paragraph 20, she asserts the gardens are "delicious," her word choice indicating an optimistic and pleasurable attitude. In this opening section, Gilman uses long sentences with complex syntax as a suggestion of the narrator's more normal mental state. She says in paragraph 19,
I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.
But as the narrator experiences greater internal conflict and both John and Jennie limit her ability to act autonomously, the syntax turns to short, staccato phrases formed as individual paragraphs.
I don’t know why I should write this.
I don’t want to.
I don’t feel able.
The author continues this technique through to the end, which forces the story into a frenzied pace, propelling the reader toward the climax and denouement.
Why, there’s John at the door!
It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!
How he does call and pound!
Now he’s crying for an axe.
By these phrases, the once pensive tone has deteriorated in order to reflect the narrator's mental breakdown, and the word choice focuses on simple, quick actions lacking embellishment or rumination.