Overview

  • In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which was first published in 1892, Gilman extends the rigid gender roles of the time period to create an uncanny horror story of “temporary nervous depression” and its treatment.
  • Gothic elements of the story include first-person narration, madness, and suspense.
  • Various literary devices—such as personification, simile, and dramatic irony—emphasize the horror of the narrator’s shifting understanding of reality.
  • Gilman includes various symbols to highlight the story’s themes. The wallpaper, for example, serves as a physical reminder of the narrator’s imprisonment by her husband, her illness, and her womanhood.

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Overview

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is the semi-autobiographical story of Gilman’s experience with depression, told through the narrator’s journal entries. The first-person perspective and shifting tenses allow readers to intimately experience the narrator’s mental deterioration. Through the setting, Gilman creates a foreboding tone to establish one of the story’s dark themes: the narrator’s only path to freedom from her oppression is an escape into insanity. Using a variety of literary devices, the story touches not only on the narrator’s life under her husband’s control but also on larger themes of the treatment of women in late 19th-century society. 

Historical Context

Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892. To get the most out of reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it is important to grasp the historical context of Gilman’s story. During the late 19th century, women were considered weaker than men, both physically and... (Read more on Historical Context in "The Yellow Wallpaper.")

Tone

Early readers considered “The Yellow Wallpaper” a work of gothic fiction, a popular literary genre in the 19th century defined by its attention to horror, madness, death, decay, suspense, and romance. The tone of the short story reflects this genre. Gothic elements are... (Read more on Tone in "The Yellow Wallpaper.")

Literary Devices

Gilman employs multiple literary devices throughout "The Yellow Wallpaper," including personification, simile, and dramatic irony, to touch on various themes and highlight the torment the wallpaper imposes on the narrator... (Read more on Literary Devices in "The Yellow Wallpaper.")

Symbols

Through the use of symbols, Gilman crafts a complex exploration of individuality, self-expression, and sexuality during the late 19th century. Because of the multiple themes “The Yellow Wallpaper” addresses, many of these symbols can be interpreted in more than one way... (Read more on Symbols in "The Yellow Wallpaper.")

Historical Context

Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892. To get the most out of reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” it is important to grasp the historical context of Gilman’s story. During the late 19th century, women were considered weaker than men, both physically and mentally, and were allowed very little personal agency. Though the narrator of the short story realizes she has an illness, her husband’s feelings of expertise and superiority prevent her from obtaining treatment. Even her diagnosis of “hysteria” is rooted in her society’s understanding of women’s health and anatomy. Late 19th-century expectations regarding marital roles and mental health laid the groundwork for this story.

Hysteria

In modern contexts, “hysteria” refers to an uncontrollable experience or display of strong emotion. Although it was discounted as a medical disorder in the late 20th century, historically hysteria was a common diagnosis for women who displayed a range of physiological and psychological symptoms, such as faintness, nervousness, high libidio, irritability, and loss of appetite. Ancient Greeks believed the disorder was caused by a “wandering womb” and could be cured by marital intercourse. This diagnosis of hysteria as an expression of misplaced sexual impulses continued throughout the 18th and...

(The entire section is 2,981 words.)