First published in 1892, "The Yellow Wallpaper" brought different reactions from what has come from modern commentators who have perceived Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story as a feminist indictment of the subjugation of women, praising its thematic depth. While early reviewers of the story noted the skillful use of Gothic elements that Gilman used, perceiving "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a horror story, still both early and modern critics agree that Gilman creates the most compelling characterization.
The unnamed narrator presents a woman who suffers from the repression of male Victorian cultural attitudes about women, entering into a harrowing journey into madness. Gilman's skill at describing the woman's frustration with the unsymmetrical pattern of the wallpaper in the room where she is confined, and then her hallucinations of seeing a woman behind this hideously yellow paper, a woman she feels compelled to free take the reader through the convoluted path of the narrator's tortured mind. Indeed, through her character, Gilman demonstrates the psychological horror that such a treatment as that of Dr. Weir Mitchell's program of rest and separation could produce.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's characterization of her unnamed narrator is both significant and innovative as one of the earliest modernist portrayals of the unaware narrator with an intense focus on what she thinks and feels. The narrator struggles with this self-expression as it runs against the conventional Victorian wisdom that both her husband and sister-in-law embrace; at times she blames herself: "I am a comparative burden already!" Certainly, Gilman's character remains a striking model of the repressed and tortured woman who seeks desperately for self-expression but is unsure of her direction.