In 'The Yellow Wallpaper', what is the narrator's tone?
The narrator's tone is a rather agitated one, reflecting her general state of mind. She uses many short sentences and exclamation marks, giving the impression of a nervous, jerky restlessness. She has been ordered to rest and do absolutely nothing by the trio of her doctor, brother and husband, who have diagnosed her as suffering from nervous depression. She mulls uneasily over this verdict:
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
Her agitation is evident here, with the short crisp paragraphs and the despairing question at the end, which she often repeats: 'what is one to do?'
In the above extract, the narrator has actually pinpointed the cause of her trouble - that the rest cure is doing far more harm than good and is in fact helping to drive her out of her mind with sheer boredom, to the point that she begins hallucinating about a woman creeping out of the yellow wallpaper of her bedroom. This figure can be readily taken as a symbol of her own entrapment.
In the period that the story was written, women were often diagnosed vaguely as being hysterical and the rest cure applied. (This happened to Gilman herself.) The story shows how limiting and damaging such an approach could be and forms a comment on the inequality of gender relations at this time. Men have the power to issue commands which the narrator is helpless to assert herself against - although she appears to be standing up to her husband by the end of the story, when, in an ironic reversal of gender roles, she frightens him into a faint.
However the men in this story are not represented as being wilfully oppressive, they simply cannot understand the narrator's situation. They are shown to be well-meaning, but wholly unimaginative.