The Yellow Wallpaper The Narrator
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper book cover
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The Narrator

The narrator is an upper-middle-class young woman who has just given birth to a baby boy. She suffers from an unnamed affliction, which her physician husband, John, diagnoses as “temporary nervous depression.” He prescribes a behavioral regimen akin to the “rest cure,” a treatment in which patients minimize mental and physical stimulation and rest in bed for long periods of time. Although her husband prevents her from performing any imaginative activities, including writing, the narrator keeps a secret diary in which she records her experiences, emotions, and growing fixation with her bedroom’s yellow wallpaper.

The narrator’s diary includes very little information about her life before her diagnosis. She considers herself and John “mere ordinary people” and describes their interpersonal dynamic, in which John laughs at her ideas, as something to be expected in a marriage. While she doesn’t know exactly what is wrong with her, she believes that work and stimulation would help her improve. This belief is at odds with the medical opinions of her husband and brother (another doctor), and John’s supervision leaves her feeling powerless. The narrator’s reliance on her husband demonstrates the subordinate position of women in late 19th-century society.

In some respects, the narrator embodies traditional values of late 19th-century womanhood. She is deferential to her husband’s opinions and feels guilty that her illness prevents her from being the ideal wife for him. She refers to their baby as “dear,” despite her emotional inability to spend time with him. However, as John prevents her from expressing her imaginative impulses, she channels them into the yellow wallpaper. As it becomes necessary to deceive her husband in order to experience any sort of inner life, she sheds her late 19th-century values and personas.

The rest cure has the opposite of its intended effect, and without stimulation or the ability to express herself, the narrator begins to detach from reality. Her diary entries, which constitute the...

(The entire section is 511 words.)