The Yellow Wallpaper The Need for Self-Expression
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper book cover
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The Need for Self-Expression

The narrative structure of “The Yellow Wallpaper” expresses one of the major tensions in the short story: the conflict between the narrator’s desire to express herself and her inability to actually do so. Her imaginative sensibility and her desire to write expressively (what she describes as “work”) are both at odds with her husband’s expectations for her behavior. John is unable to grasp the importance of her writing, just as he fails to understand the narrator’s complex inner life. Instead, he believes that her penchant for creativity is the root cause of her illness. The narrator’s journal entries indicate otherwise; she initially believes that writing would improve her mental state. It is only after being forced to hide her writing from everyone around her that the process of writing itself becomes burdensome and tiring.

Rather than confront John openly with her wishes, the narrator instead attempts to suppress her creative thinking and desire for purpose outside the home. Both of these channels end up being redirected in destructive ways: the narrator’s thoughts fixate on the wallpaper, which becomes the focal point of her delusions, and her writing is confined to her diary, which becomes a tool in her fixation. As the narrator becomes more and more invested in the yellow wallpaper, her journal entries become more disjointed and energetic. By the end of the story, the narrator is unhinged from reality and her journal transitions into the present tense, seemingly narrating her actions as they are happening. The short story demonstrates the effects of inhibiting or eradicating creativity and self-expression. Relegated to a position of domicility and subservience, without the potential to act in a creative capacity, the narrator is left with only one course of action: to descend into madness.