In "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, what are two literary devices used to develop the central idea?

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In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," two literary devices she uses to develop the central idea are style and characterization. Style is defined as...

...manner of expression; how a speaker or writer says what he says.

In this story, the narrator tells her story in a series of writings constructed in secret. She has conversations where she describes what goes on around her and how she feels. At first the narrator sounds quite grounded. The concerns she has with regard to recovering her health are brushed aside as unimportant by her husband (the doctor), and she takes this all in stride, often responding with a rhetorical:

But what is one to do?

Her stoic attitude changes dramatically as she becomes more mentally unsound: since her husband does not believe that she is ill at all, we can only learn of the narrator's decline through her writing. When she wants to remove the wallpaper, her husband decides to leave it up:

At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterward he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.

John thinks he has all the answers—the reader has been able to follow the narrator's progress all along. She is never aggressive, but begins to lose touch with the world as it is: the yellow wallpaper is at the heart of her problem.

At one point, she describes:

There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.

Another clear indication that the narrator is losing her grasp on reality is found in the following:

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all; I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Of course I never mention it to them any more—I am too wise—but I keep watch for it all the same.

As the story progresses, and the narrator becomes more obsessed by the wallpaper, and her connection to those around her deteriorates to the point that no one else in the house would know her anymore. She sees things that are not real.

The front pattern does move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

When his wife locks the door to her room and throws the key outside into the bushes, John has to get it to open her door. When he enters, there is his wife, creeping along the wallpaper. She believes that she is the woman trapped behind the paper and is allowed to come out at night to creep around. When John sees his wife, he faints dead away.

It is the style Gilmer adopts that take the audience through the various stages in mental illness. The second literary device used is characterization, described as...

...the way an author presents characters. In direct presentation, a character is described by the author, the narrator or the other characters. In indirect presentation, a character's traits are revealed by action and speech.

In this story, the narrator's character traits are revealed by what she does and says: this is indirect presenation. As shown above in the style the author uses, we also see the characterization of the narrator. She tries not to be difficult, appreciates Mary's help with the baby, but loses herself to the woman she comes to believe is trapped behind the wallpaper. Her actions show us that she suffers from mental illness.


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The Yellow Wallpaper

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