In "The Yellow Wallpaper," why is "behind" the appropriate word? 

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analiesev eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", the word "behind" is used nine times. In all but one of these times, the word describes the position of the mysterious woman-shaped figure that the speaker claims to see behind her wallpaper. It is an appropriate word because is indicates that the woman is trapped by the wallpaper. As the story unfolds, it seems that the narrator of the story identifies more and more with the woman she thinks she sees. Eventually the narrator wants to help the woman escape from her imprisonment in the wallpaper, and begins to tear it off the wall. At last the narrator has taken over the creeping action that she had previously described the woman doing, and makes a final declaration to John that she cannot be put back [behind the wallpaper]. 

Another interpretation of the word "behind" in relation to the situation at hand is that is represents the oppression of the narrator and suppression of her personality. According to her, John does not allow her to engage in activities that are too exhausting, such as writing. Left alone for long stretches of time without any way to communicate with other people or with herself in writing, the narrator's mind fills in the void by finding something else to concentrate on: the shapes she sees in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator's situation seems to be more restrictive than she realizes it is throughout much of the story. She believes at first that she is merely on vacation with her husband, but it becomes clear that their relationship is rather like a doctor and patient and that the house she thinks they have rented is something more like a mental hospital. Like the woman behind the wallpaper, Jane is restricted behind the walls of the room she is held in. 

The story's author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, experienced a similar sort of restrictive treatment in her own life, and some scholars have pointed out that the story is highly representative of her feelings about the so-called "rest cure" she was prescribed during a period of depression that she had suffered. In writing this story, she too was able to escape from "behind" the shroud of misinformation and patriarchal attitude toward women's mental health issues in her day and age.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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