In "The Yellow Wallpaper," what is the narrator's tone?

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Initially, the narrator's tone is confident but helpless.  She clearly expresses her disagreement with the treatments that her husband and brother, both physicians, have recommended for her.  She says, 

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

Her tone is confident; she feels that she knows what would be best for her in her "nervous condition," and not being listened to by her husband and brother is more than upsetting.  She tells us that John, her husband, doesn't believe that she is sick, "And what can one do?" she asks.  Further, she thinks she knows what treatment would work for her, "But what is one to do?" she asks again.  Her constant asking about what one can do makes it seem as though she feels there is not much she can do; she is powerless to effect change in her situation because her husband prevents her from doing everything she wants.  This explains why she gets "unreasonably angry with [him] sometimes."  She's been made to feel that such anger would be unreasonable, but given her circumstances, it doesn't necessarily feel that way to readers.

As the story progresses, the narrator's disempowered tone turns to one that is much more empowered.  Now, rather than be ruled by John's directions, she only pretends to do what he says, like sleep.  When he makes her lie down after each meal, she says, "It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don't sleep.  And that cultivates deceit, for I don't tell them I'm awake—O no."  With her wallpaper to study, the narrator says that "Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be."  She hides her hypothesis about the wallpaper making her better from John because she fears he'd want to remove it.  She now says that John "pretends to be very loving," starting to blame him a great deal more for her situation, at least subconsciously.  

Finally, she calls the woman in the wallpaper a "poor thing" because she is trapped, and so the narrator "got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper."  In the end, when the narrator comes to believe that she IS the woman she has freed from the paper, she says, "'I've got out at last [...].  And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'"  She now feels totally empowered: first, she was the helpless woman; then she became the woman who would save the woman trapped in the wallpaper; finally, she is the woman who has been freed from the paper.  Her disempowerment and imprisonment compelled her to find a way to experience the freedom she lacked, so her mind invented an alternate identity for her to embody: in her own mind, she liberates herself from imprisonment.  Ironically, this means...

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that she's essentially had a complete mental breakdown, but in her own mind (and thus in her tone), she is powerful and free.  

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a story showing the mental breakdown of a female narrator from a first-person perspective. The story is essentially psychological, and the narrator's attitude and tone in describing external events reveals the narrator's state of mind.

The first thing we note is that, especially in comparison with other works written in the same period, the writer tends to use very short disjointed sentences and sentence fragments, often interrupting herself or changing topic quite abruptly. This is intended to show the incoherence of her thought process.

The tone gradually shifts from relative calm to hysteria and from close observation to paranoid suspicion and thence to horror. This is mirrored by language that becomes increasingly hyperbolic. 

Her tone also varies with context. In direct or indirect discourse with her husband, the narrator strives to sound like a conventional wife, namely, calm and reasonable, but her inner thoughts reveal her growing mental disturbances. 

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In Charlotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," her narrator's tone is passive, disturbed, paranoid, and intimate.

The narrator is torn between sanity and sickness/insanity; masculine and feminine roles; and the freedom of nature and the prison of the domestic bedroom.  So says Enotes:

Since the protagonist is suffering a mental breakdown, she is also considered an unreliable narrator because the reader cannot be certain if she is accurately relating the events of the story. This adds emotional impact to the narrative because the reader is given an intimate account of the protagonist's growing feelings of despair and confusion.

Here's a few quotes as support:


There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.

There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.

There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years.


Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.


The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.

It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis, -- that perhaps it is the paper!


There comes John, and I must put this away, -- he hates to have me write a word.

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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. 

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What is the mood of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

A lot of the mood of "The Yellow Wallpaper" has to do with nervousness and madness. That unsettling, uncomfortable feeling is something the protagonist shares with the reader as both start to question what exactly is the truth about the wallpaper.

The woman who narrates the story is first brought to the room to heal, as she seems to have postpartum depression. For most of the story, it's unclear whether the narrator gets better or worse, and whether the room is supernatural or not. Her attitude regarding her baby is one of the only places where the narrator seems to comply with the initial diagnosis—she claims she cannot bear to be near the child.

From there, the story unfolds into confusion and many possible layers interpretation. The narrator's physician husband insists on a "rest cure," depriving the woman of any mental stimulation, company, and so on. She is not allowed to work or write; she's discouraged from socializing or exercising too much.

It is no wonder she starts to question his methods and her own sanity. As she sits day after day in that strange room, both the narrator and the reader get more anxious, which could be called the main mood of the story.

Is she losing her mind? Is the room supernatural? What happened in the room previously? (It's quite clear to the reader that there was no "boys' gymnasium" in that nursery, as the narrator assumes. The bars on the windows, the nailed-down bed, the torn wallpaper "just as far as she can reach from the bed"—they all point to someone being restrained there.)

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of the finest examples of the unreliable narrator, a technique that doesn't allow the reader to fully trust the narrator's judgment or objectivity. As she becomes more worried and uncertain about the happenings in the room, so does the reader.

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What is the mood of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

The mood or atmosphere of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is eerie and ominous, foreboding. 

The woman is suffering from post-partum depression and kept prisoner in her room--she's not even allowed to see her baby.  No one listens to her or takes her ailment seriously.  She seems doomed from the start. 

The mood is established by the woman herself--the first-person narrator--by her description of the setting.  The isolated spot the couple venture to for her cure is "ancestral," maybe "haunted," at least in her imagination.  There is "something queer" about it.  It "came cheaply," and she speculates that there must be a reason for it.  Her husband laughs at her, and she suspects that she is taking so long to get better because he is a physician. 

All this combines to create the eerie, ominous, and foreboding mood. 

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Analyze the tone in "The Yellow Wallpaper."

“The Yellow Wallper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is an early work of feminist literature that has some aspects of Gothic literature or horror. The tone of the story changes somewhat from the beginning to the end. At the beginning of the story, the tone feels domestic, calling to mind wholesome, early American works like Little House on the Prairie. As the story continues, however, the reader begins to get a sense of how trapped and isolated the narrator feels. The tone begins to shift to one of desperation and isolation, and her journal entries become more disconcerting.

Finally, in the last few paragraphs of the story the tone shifts once more, to one of outright horror and fear. The narrator stops being as lucid and cogent as she was earlier, with her belief that she is the woman in the wallpaper acting as a classic horror turn.

Gilman was able to establish these changes in tone by having the story be told in first-person, and giving the readers an inside look into the mind of the narrator. Because the reader is able to follow her thought process so clearly for the first two thirds of the story, it becomes extra creepy when the sane woman unravels.

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