In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” the setting takes place in the 19th century at a “vacation home” during the summer months. The narrator of the story recently had a child, and she is suffering from post-partum depression. Her husband whom is a physician, recommend that they get away for a little while because she needed her rest. Throughout the story she describes in great detail how she feels about the wallpaper that surrounds her in isolation, where she is not allowed to express herself through writing. Ultimately the setting she is in, and not being able to write therapeutically along with the wallpaper drives her insane.
The main setting occurs in a room upstairs. It is a bare room with bars along the windows. The walls are covered with this horrid yellow wallpaper. “The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulpur tint in others” (722). The bare room used to be an old nursery, which is ironic considering she is suffering from post-partum depression. She is already mentally unstable. “It was a nursery first, and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge, for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls” (722). It makes perfect sense to put her in isolation in a room that used to be some sort of children’s room. The bed is nailed down to the floor, which makes it crystal clear that she is in a sanitarium. “I lie here on this great immovable bed-it is nailed down” (725).
The longer she sat in the bare room the more fixated she became with the yellow wallpaper. The wallpaper consumed her life as the story progressed. The narrator became even more disassociated with reality. While she was in this dreary room, she began to write about her emotions and thoughts. She hid her writings from her family because she did not want them to be angry with her. “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing” (724). Her family believed it was best for her not to think at all, that she should just have an idle mind.
Towards the middle of the story her writings are not as frequent as they were in the begging of the story. This gives her more time to be obsessed with the yellow wallpaper. She describes the yellow wallpaper in great detail, of how she truly detested the paper. “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and revoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions” (722). She began to see a woman behind the paper. There was a significant difference in the way she described the woman behind the paper during the night and day. “There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes” (727). During the day time she would see the woman out roaming the grounds in the gardens and by the bay. During the night time the woman would be trapped behind the wallpaper again.
Some people may argue that the true meaning behind the story is not a true insane woman, but a woman who was trying to break through the chains she was bound to, being from that time period. The narrator was just trying to express herself through the yellow wallpaper, and she was willing to peel that wallpaper off to see what was underneath. Women were second class citizens back in those days. If a woman wanted to be independent, and if she did not agree with the “norm” of society she was considered “mad.” People often thought an individual were crazy, if they had a different opinion than the rest of society. In actuality, society is just scared of the unknown. However, one can perceive that the story is about a woman who is truly insane due to her surrounding environment. Her writing had a therapeutic effect on her. Her family did not want her to write because they wanted her to have an idle mind. She was simply trying to write to improve her illness. They would not let her express herself, which sends her on a downward spiral. Her family believes an idle mind will heal itself. The narrator was locked up in a dreary room with the grotesque wallpaper and isolated from society. Ultimately the paper consumed the narrator’s life. She began to say the wallpaper was moving, and as a result she went crazy. “But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way” (731)!
Society has come a long way since the early 19th century. If a woman suffers from postpartum depression in this day and age, society does not lock her up and throw away the key. This is what the narrators’ family did to her. As time went on the narrators’ condition deteriorated rapidly. Her family believed an idle mind would heal itself. If they would have kept her at home around the baby, and society the disorder would have healed itself. If the narrator would have been given the chance to express herself through writing, and not have had to hide it and ultimately stop writing she would not have gone insane. Ultimately the narrator was driven to insanity. She became a product of her own environment. When someone is secluded from society, and locked in a room with horrendous wallpaper, and the only piece of furniture is a bed bolted to the floor. This individual is also not allowed to express their thoughts and feelings through writing; eventually they would go crazy too.
Gilman Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Exploring Literature. Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Ed. Frank Madden 4th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 720-731
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