Introduction to The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was originally published in The New England Magazine in 1892. The narrative is formed by a series of journal entries, which the narrator writes in secret. She has been forbidden to write or engage in strenuous activities and is confined to an estate by her husband. Her husband, a respected physician, has diagnosed her with hysteria, a catchall phrase often ascribed to women experiencing some form of mental illness or unrest. The narrator, who has recently had a child, begs her husband to allow her to see her friends or leave the estate, but he denies her requests, insisting that she must overcome her troubles through willpower alone. 

The narrator’s deteriorating mental state results in her seeing vivid hallucinations of a woman trapped behind the wallpaper of her room. She becomes fixated on the trapped woman and eventually tears down the wallpaper, which leads her to a crucial realization. The story’s themes surrounding women’s agency, medical neglect, the values of self-expression have made it enduringly popular in feminist circles. Furthermore, the story is at least somewhat autobiographical, as Gilman was prescribed a “rest cure” as treatment for her own depression. A rest cure mandated that the patient remain isolated from outside influences and avoid intellectual or creative activities, and it was commonly prescribed for women diagnosed with hysteria. Gilman experienced a major depressive episode during her period of rest, and she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” at least in part as a criticism of the practice of suppressing women’s intellectual and creative impulses.

A Brief Biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) was an American women’s rights activist, writer, and lecturer whose ideas heavily influenced the women’s movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gilman grew up in poverty and was abandoned by her father at a young age, leaving her with a limited education. In 1884, she married Charles W. Stetson. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of their daughter, Gilman was treated with the rest cure, which only worsened her depression. This experience inspired her to write her best-known short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” about the negative effects this treatment could have on women. Also renowned for her feminist novel Herland and her nonfiction manifesto Women and Economics, Gilman used her affinity for writing to educate her readers on the injustices that women faced during her time.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper

"The Yellow Wallpaper" abounds in irony—dramatic, situational, and even, at the beginning, verbal. When the narrator is thinking relatively clearly, she describes her marriage ironically, saying...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:54 am (UTC)

4 educator answers

The Yellow Wallpaper

The narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is unreliable because she is suffering from some form of mental illness that quickly begins to affect her perception, understanding, and even her own...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:18 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

By the end of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator believes that she has, by peeling the wallpaper off the walls, freed a woman who was trapped by and within the paper itself. The narrator says, I...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:03 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

John, the narrator's husband, is not the villain of this text. Not every work of fiction has a villainous character, and being the antagonist of a text is not the same thing as being a villain....

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:30 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

With or without the eponymous yellow wallpaper, the narrator would be going out of her mind with boredom. Cooped up all day in the nursery with absolutely nothing to do, she can be forgiven for...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:46 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

When "The Yellow Wallpaper" was written, medical knowledge was, of course, not as advanced as it is today. In particular, postnatal health wasn't particularly well developed. Then as now, it was...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:07 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

There's a weird smell pervading the narrator's house. What can it be? Where can it be coming from? The narrator quickly grasps that this strange odor is emanating from the yellow wallpaper, which...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:21 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is rightly seen as a feminist short story, dealing as it does with the oppression of women in society. The woman in the wallpaper may be imaginary, but the condition she...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:59 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

The narrator describes why she hates the wallpaper in some detail. First of all, she mentions its dilapidated state: great patches of it have been stripped off the walls. This is in keeping with...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:22 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

Postnatal depression is very common among women. Nowadays, thanks to advances in medical science and psychology, we have a much better understanding of the condition and how it can be treated....

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:31 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” draws from experiences that Gilman herself faced, but it is fiction rather than an entirely true story. After having a baby, Gilman...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:31 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

The fact that the bed in her room is nailed down is an ominous sign that the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is being treated like a prisoner who might move the bed to try to escape or harm...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 12:05 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" to protest a rest treatment she was subjected to for a temporary depression similar to the one the narrator of her story suffers. As with her story's...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 11:25 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

At the end of the story, the reader is left with the knowledge that the woman behind the wallpaper represents the narrator, who has been telling us her story. Being trapped in yellow wallpaper is...

Latest answer posted August 23, 2020, 2:54 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

Throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator's husband, John, has been treating his wife like an invalid who doesn't know what's best for her. As well as being the narrator's husband, John also...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 11:48 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

It's somewhat ironic that John, a doctor and man of science, should be the one to faint, when the narrator is supposed to be the one suffering from hysteria. Yet if we put ourselves in John's shoes...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 12:20 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

If we combine several different contextual clues, we have a pretty good understanding of what the narrator is dealing with mentally. She never comes out directly and labels her illness, and the...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 12:20 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

Before she even speaks of her symptoms, the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” remarks that her husband, John, who is a physician, simply doesn’t believe that she is sick. Yet he prescribes...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 1:22 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

At the end of "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator has become completely divorced from reality. She is in a psychotic state. She has pulled all of the yellow wallpaper that she can reach off the...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 12:12 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Yellow Wallpaper

The yellow wallpaper becomes symbolic of the narrator's mental state as she progresses through the story. At first, she loathes it, just as she loathes her confinement and tries to suppress her...

Latest answer posted August 22, 2020, 2:51 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer
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Summary