What are some literary devices in the story "The Yellow Wallpaper?"  

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some literary devices in The Yellow Wallpaper are:

1) Polysyndeton- this is what is termed as a scheme of repetition. It deliberately utilizes the repetition of many conjunctions:

So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again.

Here, the author is pained by the complete insensitivity of her physician husband; he has marginalized her suffering by claiming that she is not sick at all. The use of many conjunctions signal her sense of despair and overwhelm at being inundated with remedies that she knows are useless in curing her present dilemma.

2) Anaphora- this is another scheme of repetition. It repeats beginning words or word phrases of successive clauses. It is a literary device that produces a strong emotional effect. Here, the author is pleading her own case.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't feel able.

3) Parenthesis: this is a scheme of word order that veers from the traditional structure. Interjections of the author's voice appeal to our pity; we are given a glimpse into her mental suffering and emotional anguish. Below, we almost hear her desperation at being labeled 'hysterical.' She is also suspicious of the house and how her stay there will affect her.

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?

I am afraid, but I don't care—there is something strange about the house—I can feel it.

4) Parallelism: this is a scheme of balance. It presents a similar structure in terms of phrasing and clause construction. It contributes to the rhythm in sentences and it also emphasizes similarities. This short story has many examples of parallelisms.

It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you.

There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. (this is a tricolon, a type of isocolon. Isocolons are a type of parallelism. Isocolons are not only similar in structure, they are also similar in length).

Hope this helps!

rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses a variety of literary devices in "The Yellow Wallpaper," the ones that permeate the story and make it so effective are epistolary style, irony, and the use of an unreliable narrator. In epistolary fiction, the story is told in the first person as the narrator writes letters or journal entries. In this story, Jane writes in her journal, even though she has been forbidden to. This allows the reader to experience her descent into madness. Readers notice Jane becoming more and more obsessed with the wallpaper and more and more paranoid as the story progresses until she completely loses touch with reality at the end, speaking of herself in the third person and believing herself to be the escapee from behind the wallpaper.

Irony abounds in the story. Verbal irony, words that express the opposite of the truth, include such statements by Jane as the following:

"John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage."

"I am glad my case is not serious!"

"It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so."

The situational irony of the story is that the cure Jane's husband pursues for her, the "rest cure," actually exacerbates her condition.

Dramatic irony drives the story and creates the suspense. Readers understand so much more than Jane does about what's going on. They come to realize that the bars on the windows and the nailed-down bed are there to prevent Jane from harming herself, not because the room was formerly a nursery. They eventually realize that it is Jane herself who has made the "smooch" on the wallpaper that bothers her so. They also find out that Jane has made the bite marks on the bed. As the story unfolds, readers realize what Jane never does--that she is going stark, raving mad.

Finally, Gilman's use of the unreliable narrator follows in the best tradition of Edgar Allan Poe. At first readers take Jane at her word--at least for the most part. But as she becomes more paranoid and more obsessed, they start to doubt her interpretation of events. Readers know they must read between the lines to discern what is really happening to Jane. This keeps readers engaged with the story, waiting for reality--not Jane's interpretation of reality--to be revealed.

Gilman uses epistolary fiction, irony, and an unreliable narrator to make this story so gripping for the reader.


morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This story uses many literary devices in order to be effective. Firstly, its narrative style is a first person stream on consciousness. This style makes the protagonist seem unbalanced, diluted, and confused.

The story also contains several symbols. The yellow wallpaper itself symbolizes the psychological state of the narrator. The nursery is also a symbol of society's treatment of women as juveniles. The barred windows symbolize entrapment, or the prison of the room or mind. 

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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