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A Short Essay on "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Updated on May 24, 2012


The Book Cover
The Book Cover
Trapped in her own mind
Trapped in her own mind

"The Woman Behind Bars" A short essay

Many people knows what it feels like to be “trapped” in the emotional sense of things, but how many can say they have been both physically and emotionally trapped?Charlotte Gilman uses her protagonist, a woman who is never given a name, to show what being trapped in all ways can do to a person.The woman begins to see a shadowy figure in her wallpaper – which represents her life and herself – all the while being imprisoned in a room with a bed nailed down to the floor.Those things lead to the major themes of the story – freedom, confinement, and madness.

A readers’ first impression of the protagonist is not that she is crazy, like her husband claims, but she is just bored and she wants to write.The couple has just moved to a new home, while their other home is being renovated, and the first thing the woman truly complains about is the “smoldering unclean yellow” wallpaper that covers the walls of the ex-nursery that she is confined in.The paper takes on a personality of its own in a sense, the woman believes she sees it move, but can only watch it in the moonlight when her husband, John, is not watching her.During the day, the wallpaper makes very little “movement”; it is almost as if the shadowy figure is being still and silent, like a façade for what it really is. The figures movements represent the protagonists movements, during the day she is prim and proper, trying to make her husband believe she is doing exactly what he wants by “sleeping”; at night the woman is alive, trying to discover herself and the things that she likes, realizing how trapped she is against her husbands’ wishes, trying to break free from the bars that are holding her back.Eventually, the real woman sees a woman behind bars in the moonlight, rattling the wallpaper – which is just her imagination trying to show the woman what is going on.

The madness the main character comes down with in the end was not originally there.Due to her husband not allowing her to write, wanting her to follow the norms and patterns of society, she went crazy.Being trapped, alone in the room, with nothing to do but think and watch the paper, she begins to see things that are not really there and she begins to resent her husband.The more she is confined to the room, the stronger her resentment is, there are times that “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes” she says.For instance, she only watches the wallpaper when John is sleeping, unable to watch and judge her.Also, the misguided woman strips the wallpaper down, trying to “release” the woman in the shadow and when John gets to her she simply says “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back.”Those last few lines give proof to the themes of madness, confinement and freedom in the story, but also, they reveal how crazy the protagonist is now, compared to the beginning.


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    • sarbear25 profile image

      Sara Whitley 4 years ago from Indiana

      I studied this story and the class discussion ended up in an argument over whether or not the protagonist was going through post-pardem depression. Probably another feminist factor.