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Literature Discussion: The Yellow Wallpaper

Updated on April 2, 2013

Introduction


Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of The Yellow Wall-Paper, brings to us a story which acquaints the reader most intimately with the process by which one goes mad. One thing that struck me while perusing the text was how the description of the wallpaper changed, and the relative time spent discussing the wall-paper as the story progressed chronologically. Thus, my question stands, though the wall-paper has an increased effect on our protagonist when analyzed chronologically, is there anything within the story that increases in an amount of change proportional to the amount of perceived change in the wall-paper?

Book Cover

Journal Entries

In the first journal entry, the discussion of the wall-paper comprises four small paragraphs, or thirteen lines. We learn that it is stripped off in places, and that it is peeling in places. The patterns upon it are called flamboyant, and that they are committing “every artistic sin”. Even in this first mention of the wallpaper, something is not right. The writer also writes a lot about the fact that her husband disbelieves that she is ill. It could be that writer is mourning her loss of validation with her husband.

In the second journal entry, the discussions of the wall-paper are not contiguous, and there are three distinct discussions of it, taking up nearly five times the space as previously, with fourteen paragraphs dedicated to discussion of the wall-paper in one form or another. Moreover, more than half of this entry is discussing the wall-paper. It is also in this chapter that the protagonist writes about a sub-pattern that can only be seen in certain lights “and not clearly then”, which shows a formless figure behind the wallpaper. This sub-pattern is introduced at the same time that the reader learns of the writer’s husband’s sister, which certainly plays a role in household affairs.

The Yellow Wallpaper

In the third journal entry, the writer uses about eighty percent of the short space to discuss the wall-paper, but it is not until the fourth journal entry that we reach saturation, with every bit of the journal entry discussing the paper in one form or another. Now John and his sister are involved with the paper, and John still disbelieves his wife’s illness. Every journal entry thereafter is also completely saturated with nothing that doesn’t have to do with the wallpaper in some way. The formless figure mentioned earlier has become a woman who has occupied the sub-pattern of the wall-paper. This happens in correlation with the lack of trust that the writer’s husband, John, has in her, and also in correlation with the household’s demands on the writer, whether it is to “be more careful” not to rub one’s clothes against the wall-paper, which stains clothing, or whether it is to not write, because it is detrimental to one’s health. In the penultimate journal entry, the writer conceives that she needs to remove the top pattern from the bottom pattern, so the woman could be freed from the sub-pattern. Because she is to be moving in two days, she notes that she must do it by that time. At this point, she does not even trust her journal to keep her information safe, as we find with the line she writes which reads “I have found out another funny thing, but I shan’t tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much”.

In the final journal entry, she is celebratory in that she will be leaving the house soon, but that is likely to be more speaking to her thought of escaping the wall-paper (for she had become the woman trapped behind the wall). As expected, her husband walks in and sees the writer crawling along the floor, rubbing up against the wallpaper and her sentiments cause him to faint. However, it is undoubtedly John’s increasing advice not to write or to leave her room which has caused his wife to come to use the metaphor about being behind a wall (whether consciously or not).

Conclusion

Thus, it is clear that the level of insanity reached by the writer is directly proportional to the advice from her husband to seclude herself from every sort of expression available to her. Gilman does not say it expressly, but it is certainly evident throughout the text.

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