Why and for what effect does Charlotte Perkins Gilman use an unreliable narrator in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'?

Expert Answers
kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of an unreliable narrator allows the reader to understand the confusion experienced by the main character in the text. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is centered around the mental deterioration of a woman, suffering initially from post-natal depression, who is inhibited and sent mad by the ‘rest cure’ prescribed by her doctor and enforced by her husband.. The decline in the narrator’s grip on reality is communicated through her wild imaginings and disjointed expression. She sees bizarre shapes, then eyes, then a woman, trapped within the wallpaper, which symbolize her repression as she is denied company or creative diversion.

The use of a first person narrator shows clearly the decline which the narrator experiences as the story progresses. We are told that she feels worse-

 I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
 I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.

The narrator speaks directly to the audience of her observations of the paper, and the effect is sinister and terrifying-

On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.
        The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.
        You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.

As the wallpaper is all she has to contemplate, she does so with frightening intensity. The gothic nature of the story is thus magnified, and the realistic possibility of such a decline in any intelligent woman subject to such restrictions becomes apparent.


Read the study guide:
The Yellow Wallpaper

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question