American Literature
Research and Analysis Web Site

This page was produced by the students at Florida Gulf Coast University under the direction of Dr. Jim Wohlpart. For more information, please see the ALRA homepage.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"The Yellow Wallpaper"



   The Changing Role of Womanhood: From True Woman to New Woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"  -- by Deborah Thomas
  "The Yellow Wallpaper":  An Autobiography of Emotions by Charlotte Perkins Gilman  --by Kelly Gilbert
  The text of "The Yellow Wallpaper" with links for primary symbols and images  --by Viola Garcia
   Annotated Bibliography --by Jennifer Johnson
   Annotated Bibliography --by Stephen Landherr

The Changing Role of Womanhood:
From True Woman to New Woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
by Deborah Thomas

Prior to the twentieth century, men assigned and defined women’s roles.  Although all women were effected by men determining women’s behavior, largely middle class women suffered.  Men perpetrated an ideological prison that subjected and silenced women.  This ideology, called the Cult of True Womanhood, legitimized the victimization of women.  The Cult of Domesticity and the Cult of Purity were the central tenets of the Cult of True Womanhood. Laboring under the seeming benevolence of the Cult of Domesticity, women were imprisoned in the home or private sphere, a servant tending to the needs of the family.  Furthermore, the Cult of Purity obliged women to remain virtuous and pure even in marriage, with their comportment continuing to be one of modesty. Religious piety and submission were beliefs that were more peripheral components of the ideology, yet both were borne of and a part of the ideology of True Womanhood. These were the means that men used to insure the passivity and docility of women.  Religion would pacify any desires that could cause a deviation from these set standards, while submission implied a vulnerability and dependence on the patriarchal head (Welter 373-377).

The medical profession’s godlike attitude in “The Yellow Wallpaper” demonstrates this arrogance.  The Rest cure that Dr. Weir Mitchell prescribed, which is mentioned in Gilman’s work, reflects men’s disparaging attitudes.  His Rest cure calls for complete rest, coerced feeding and isolation.  Mitchell, a neurosurgeon specializing in women’s nervous ailments, expounded upon his belief for women’s nervous conditions when he said,

American woman is, to speak plainly, too often physically unfit for her duties as woman, and is perhaps of all civilized females the least qualified to undertake those weightier tasks which tax so heavily the nervous system of man.  She is not fairly up to what nature asks from her as wife and mother. How will she sustain herself under the pressure of those yet more exacting duties which nowadays she is eager to share with the man? (Mitchell 141)
On the other hand, the male sector of society enjoyed mobility.  Men reaped benefits from not only the private domain, but they were also free to leave and enter the public sphere.   They received nurturing from women in the private arena.  The public sphere was where men enjoyed the competition engendered in the market place through which they gained their identity.   In the public sphere, they made decisions that enhanced their own positions in society, while exploiting women’s biological makeup and employing blackmail to render women immobile.  Held captive, women were not to venture out into the public sphere where “they did not belong.” The Cult of True Womanhood “purposely did not acknowledge the growing work force of women, did not sanction professionalism and careerism for women . . .” (Papke 12).

Women were cast as emotional servants whose lives were dedicated to the welfare of home and family in the perservence of social stability (Papke 10).  It is against the incredible pressure exerted by men to retain control that women had to agitate.  Women attempted to overthrow the traditional definition of women’s roles.  They subverted the ideology thrust upon them, thereby enabling a redefinition that resulted in a New Womanhood.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in the “Yellow Wallpaper,” depicted Gilman’s struggle to throw off the constraints of patriarchal society in order to be able to write.

The yellow wallpaper is symbolic of the Cult of True Womanhood, which binds women to the home and family.  As in the case of Charlotte Gilman, women were constricted to the set parameters that men determined.  Women are conditioned to accept these boundaries and remain in place, in the private sphere. “If anyone, male or female, dared to tamper with the complex virtues which made up True Womanhood, he was dammed immediately as the enemy of God, of civilization, and of the Republic” (Welter 372).   Getting beyond the yellow wallpaper, women defied the corrupted power that men wielded over women, escaped their confinement, and created for themselves a new ideological role, one that included entry into the public sphere, or the market place.

In the face of the prevalence of discrimination and “masculine self-interest” (Roland and Harris 78), Emma Hart Willard “contended that women were entitled to the same dignities and freedoms as men . . .” (Lipman-Blumen 136). As early as 1819, she published a “Plan for Improving Female Education” which would not only enable women to teach their children, but would be a means of enlarging their world beyond the domestic sphere and into the workplace (Lipman-Blumen 136). However, it was the Seneca Falls convention in 1848, with the adoption of the Declaration of Sentiments--fashioned after the Declaration of Independence--that facilitated the eventual redefinition and movement towards New Womanhood.  The work History of Woman Suffrage notes that at such meetings “it is striking how many women doctors are mentioned as either attending the meetings or corresponding with women's rights leaders. . . .  Their stories dramatize . . .  the prejudice that they faced . . .” in their struggles to remove the shackles of their jailers (Giele 48).

Women such as those Charlotte Gilman portrayed in her work forged ahead and challenged patriarchal ideologies. Women could move beyond the constrictions of the ideology, the Cult of True Womanhood. The existence of the institution of marriage, in which men played the dominant role and wielded control, placed women at the mercy of their male counterparts. The Cult of True Womanhood allowed the perpetrators to be the beneficiaries while calling for women’s complicity in the denigration of self. Such women made the emergence from the private sphere a reality, despite the seeming impediment of feminine biology. As a result, the romanticizing of woman’s role in the family and home segregated women, barring them from the public domain became a thing of the past.  Freed from the enslavement of the ideology associated with the institution of marriage, women seized the right to self-assertion.  Reacting to oppression women revolted against the implementation of feminine gender roles.  Womanhood could no longer be interpreted by the Cult of True Womanhood.  Instead, it now expounded the self-establishment of the expansion of women into the public realm and the birth of a New Womanhood.

Works Cited
Giele, Janet Zollinger. Two Paths to Women’s Equality: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Origins of Modern Feminism. New York: Twayne, 1995.

Lipman-Blumen, Jean. Gender Roles and Power. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Mitchell, Weir S. “Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper.Ed. Dale M. Bauer. Boston: Belford Books, 1998. 134-141.

Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. New York: Greenwood P, 1995.

Roland, Alan, and Barbara Harris. Career and Motherhood: Struggles for a New Identity. New York: Human Sciences P, 1979.

Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” The American Family in Social Historical Perspective. Ed. Michael Gordon. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1978. 373-392.

Return to Top.

“The Yellow Wallpaper”:
An Autobiography of Emotions by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
by Kelly Gilbert
Much of the life that is reported of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is concerned with her troubled and loveless relationships: with her mother, her father, and her daughter.  These relationships are central to the life of Charlotte Gilman yet only peripherally relate to the incident in her life that sparked one of the greatest pieces of feminist literature ever written.  Ann L. Jane suggests that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is "the best crafted of her fiction: a genuine literary piece . . . the most directly, obviously, self-consciously autobiographical of all her stories" (Introduction xvi).  Today in the twentieth century this statement does not contain the impact that it should for the women of the world who never experienced the suffocating life that Gilman led from 1860 to 1935.  To be able to relate to Gilman's situation and appreciate  “The Yellow Wallpaper” for how it exemplifies women's lives is difficult in this age where women have more freedom than ever before.  Gilman's original intent in writing the story was to gain personal satisfaction from the knowledge that Dr. S. Weir Mitchell might, after reading the story, change his treatment.  But more importantly Gilman says in her article in The Forerunner "It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked" (20).

When the story first came out in 1892 the critics saw "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a description of female insanity and mayhem instead of a story that reveals society's values.  A Boston Physician wrote in The Transcript after reading the story that, "Such a story ought not to be written . . . it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it" (Gilman 19).  This statement implies the thought that any woman who would go against the grain of society might as well have been insane for writing it in the first place.  In the time period in which Gilman lived "The ideal woman was not only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but she was also expected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and good humored" (Lane, To Herland 109).  The women who refused this role and chose a life of self-expression and freedom from the social constraints suffered ridicule and punishment from their peers.  This is not unlike the repercussions that Gilman experienced throughout her lifetime from expressing her need for independence from the private sphere that she had been relegated to.  Through her creation of "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote an autobiography of her emotional and psychological feelings of rejection from society as a free-thinking woman. This work is a reaction to the lack of free agency that women had in the late 1800’s and their inability to have a career and a family; the pressures of these restrictions resulted in her involvement in Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s "rest cure."

Gilman comes from a long list of freedom fighters for women’s rights; without having this type of influence throughout her life she would have never become the free thinker and advocate that she is famous for today.  Charlotte Gilman was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut to a long lineage of revolutionary thinkers, writers, and intermarriages that were, as Carol Berkin put it, "in discrete confirmation of their pride in association" (18).  Whether from the inbreeding or from the high intellectual capacity of the family, there was a long string of mental disorders fluctuating from “manic-depressive illness” to nervous breakdowns ranging from suicide to short term hospitalizations (Lane, To Herland 110).  Gilman's aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, also complained of this same illness;  Beecher wrote to a friend saying, “My mind is exhausted and seems to be sinking into deadness” (Lane, To Herland 111).  She felt this way for years and suffered many breakdowns until finding “real release in her writing" of Uncle Tom's Cabin (Lane, To Herland 111).  Along with Gilman and Stowe, another well known writer and lecturer of her time, Catherine Beecher, was also sent to the same sanitarium for nervous disorders.  Coming from a family of such well known feminists and revolutionaries it's no wonder that Gilman grew up with the knowledge that she had the right to be treated the same as anyone, man or woman, and was just as capable in her work and in her personal life.

Having this strong background affected more than her mind set about things; it also affected her interpersonal relations that she had with her husband and what role she was expected to play in that relationship.  This was a major factor to her breakdown upon entering into the bonds of marriage with Charles Walter Stetson, "an extraordinarily handsome and charming local artist" (Lane, Introduction x).  From the beginning she struggled with the idea of having to conform to the domestic model for women. Upon repeated proposals from Stetson, Gilman tried to "lay bare her torments and reservations" about getting married (Lane, To Herland 85).  She states that "her thoughts, her acts, her whole life would be centered on husband and children. To do the work she needed to do, she must be free" (Lane, To Herland 85).  This idea was scariest of all to Gilman who sincerely loved Charles yet also loved her work and her freedom from constraints.  “After a long period of uncertainty and vacillation” she married Charles at the age of 24 (Lane, Introduction x).  Not even a year later on March 23, 1885, Charlotte bore Katharine Stetson, "But feelings of 'nervous exhaustion' immediately descended upon her, and she became a 'mental wreck' " (Ceplair 17). What is commonly known as Post-Pardum Depression was the affliction that fell upon Gilman; because doctors of the time were not versed about the female hormonal system all nervous disorders were associated with "hysteria" a reference used for women with emotional problems.  In this time of illness she wrote many articles on "women caught between families and careers and the need for women to have work as well as love" (Ceplair 19).

Gilman’s love for free will and her work caused a major tension that was not anticipated; the stress of denying the “normal” social roles of women caused her to have a breakdown that led to the meeting with Dr. S.Weir Mitchell.  Her writing was an effort at expressing the tensions she felt between her work, her husband and her child.  She tried her best at beating the depression she felt but in the end "she collapsed utterly in April 1886" (Ceplair 19).  This final collapse forced her to search out the Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell the nationally recognized neurologist who specialized in the nervous diseases of women.   When Mitchell initially interviewed Gilman he told her that “she was suffering from neurasthenia, or exhaustion of the nerves" the diagnosis required his renowned rest cure (Lane, To Herland 115).  The treatment required for the cure involved four steps: “1) extended and total bed rest; 2) isolation from family and familiar surroundings; 3) overfeeding, especially with cream, on the assumption that increased body volume created new energy; 4) massage and often the use of electricity for 'muscular excitation'" (Lane, To Herland 116).  The women he treated were basically taught an extreme version of how to be domestic and submissive according to the society outside of the sanitarium.  This treatment would be considered cruel and unusual punishment to anyone today but then it was supposed to be the best care you could get.  After a month of treatment Gilman was sent home with the instructions to "live as domestic a life as possible . . . and never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live" (Lane, To Herland 121).  For a woman of Gilman’s intellect and stamina this was an impossible feat to accomplish.  She says in her diary that "I went home, followed those directions rigidly for a months and came perilously near to losing my mind" (Lane, To Herland 121).

In the late 1800’s women like Gilman were not given the opportunity to choose their career over their families, to do so meant they had to give up one or the other.  Gilman did exactly that, despite the enormous amount of controversy she created she chose her work over her family.  Due to the enormous pressure of the treatment on her psyche and "calling upon an inner sense of survival, she rejected both husband and physician" (Lane, Introduction x).  Gilman divorced her husband in 1887 and moved to California.   A few years later in order to lecture across the country she gave her child to her ex-husband and his new wife, who happened to be Gilman’s best friend, and left to fulfill her work.  Years later in 1890 she wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" in reaction to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure.”  In her "Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’?" Gilman describes the "years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown" and goes on to talk about the doctor who treated her and how in response to treatment had "sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad" (Gilman 19, 20).  She says, "the best result . . . years later I was told the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’" (Gilman 20).

Gilman is insistent throughout all of her interviews that this acknowledgement of her writing by Dr. Mitchell is the quintessential accomplishment that she could gain.  Regardless of what she said there’s an underlying tone of this work being too close to her emotional and psychological reality to be the true and only reason. There have been many studies as to what Gilman’s intent was in writing "The Yellow Wallpaper" as Joanne Karpinski suggests, "one theme that seems to run through all her works . . . is a desire for order and coherence in lived experience" (3).  Holding this theory true, then it is assumed that this work is a sorting through of her emotions and fears in her personal life and as Lane states, “(it) is an intensely personal examination of Gilman’s private nightmare” (To Herland 127).  If Gilman says that it was for her revenge for Dr. Mitchell she was neglecting to admit that it was also a true to life account of her emotional and psychological state.

Today, after nearly three decades of studies and analysis of both her life and her works, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of the few pieces of work that Gilman ever wrote that delved as deep into her emotions and feelings as she was capable of doing.  Lane states that “Never again in her writing did she take such an emotional chance or engage in such introspection as she did in this story” (To Herland 127).  Even though it's fiction the story has some dramatic similarities in Gilman’s own life.  Lane describes a diary entry from Gilman in which she states, "I made a rag baby . . . hung it on the doorknob and played with it. I would crawl into remote closets and under beds-to hide from the grinding pressure of that profound distress" (Lane, To Herland 121).  This is an ironically similar description of the nameless narrator in the story who crawls and "creeps" in the corners of the room.  Gilman showed her emotional reality in the work and tries to discover for herself as Lane describes, "what happens to our lives if we let others run them for us" (Introduction xviii). This realization was hard for her "(it) must have haunted Gilman all her life because it answered the question: what if she had not fled her husband and renounced the most advanced psychiatric advice of her time?" (Introduction xviii).  "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a testament to Gilman's own life experience and in reading it there is a feeling of the tough decisions she made in her life and the impact those decisions had on her emotionally and mentally.  Never again did Gilman write anything with such a personal attachment as this story had, "perhaps the emotional truth and intensity of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ drained her; perhaps it frightened her" (Lane, To Herland 127).

Gilman's life was plagued with pain, emotionally and psychologically, yet she lived every second to fullest extent. Her only fear was that she would not accomplish her life's work, and unfortunately because of the lifestyle she lived she never gained recognition for her accomplishments.  Gilman died on August 17, 1935, by huffing chloroform; she had terminal cancer and decided it would be best to take her own life than die a long painful death. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Gilman’s works began to enter into to the colleges and the feminist forum.  She was undoubtedly ahead of her time in her every thought and action.  Not until recently have critics began to study “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the more they delve into the world of Charlotte Perkins Gilman the more we learn about what it was like to live an emotional and psychologically restraining society.

Works Cited

Berkin, Ruth Carol. “Self-Images: Childhood and Adolescence.” Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ed. Joanne Karpinski. New York: G.K. Hall, 1992.

Ceplair, Larry. “The Early Years.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Non-fiction Reader. Ed. Larry Ceplair. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 5-19.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper'?” The Forerunner (Oct. 1913): 19-20.

Karpinski, Joanne B. Introduction. Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ed. Joanne Karpinski. New York: G.K. Hall, 1992.

Lane, Ann J. Introduction. “The Fictional World of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Ed. Ann J. Lane. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. X-xviii.

---. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. New York: Penguin, 1990.

Return to Top

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

with links for the primary symbols and images
by Viola Garcia

It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.

A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate!

Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.

Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?

My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.

So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

But what is one to do?

I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.

I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.

So I will let it alone and talk about the house.

The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.

There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.

There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.

There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and co-heirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years.

That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don't care—there is something strange about the house—I can feel it.

I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window.

I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.

But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself—before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.

I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it.

He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.

He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.

He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. "Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he, "and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time." So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was 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.

The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off—the paper—in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.

One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke 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.

The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

There comes John, and I must put this away,—he hates to have me write a word.

*     *     *     *     *    *

We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day.

I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.

John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.

I am glad my case is not serious!

But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.

John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way!

I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!

Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,—to dress and entertain, and order things.

It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!

And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.

I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper!

At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.

He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental."

"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."

Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.

But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.

It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.

I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.

Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.

Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.

I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.

But I find I get pretty tired when I try.

It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.

I wish I could get well faster.

But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!

There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.

I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn't match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.

I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store.

I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.

I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe.

The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.

The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother—they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.

Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.

But I don't mind it a bit—only the paper.

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.

She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.

There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.

This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.

But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so—I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.

There's sister on the stairs!

*     *     *     *     *    *

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are all gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.

Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.

But it tired me all the same.

John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!

Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.

I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.

I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.

Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.

And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.

So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.

I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.

It dwells in my mind so!

I lie here on this great immovable bed—it is nailed down, I believe—and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.

I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.

It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.

Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes—a kind of "debased Romanesque” with delirium tremens—go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.

But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.

The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.

They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion.

There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all,—the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.

It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.

*     *     *     *     *    *

I don't know why I should write this.

I don't want to.

I don't feel able.

And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!

But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.

Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.

John says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.

But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose.

And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.

He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.

He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.

There's one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wallpaper.

If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.

Of course I never mention it to them any more—I am too wise,—but I keep watch of it all the same.

There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.

Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.

It is always the same shape, only very numerous.

And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!

*     *     *     *     *    *
It is so hard to talk to John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.

But I tried it last night.

It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does.

I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another.

John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wallpaper till I felt creepy.

The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.

I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.

"What is it, little girl?" he said. "Don't go walking about like that— you'll get cold."

I thought it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.

"Why, darling!" said he, "our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can't see how to leave before.

"The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you."

"I don't weigh a bit more," said I, "nor as much; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!"

"Bless her little heart!" said he with a big hug, "she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let's improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!"

"And you won't go away?" I asked gloomily.

"Why, how can I, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!"

"Better in body perhaps—" I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"

So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn't, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.

*     *     *     *     *    *

On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.

You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.

The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions—why, that is something like it.

That is, sometimes!

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.

When the sun shoots in through the east window—I always watch for that first long, straight ray—it changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it.

That is why I watch it always.

By moonlight—the moon shines in all night when there is a moon—I wouldn't know it was the same paper.

At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.

I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.

By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.

I lie down ever so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can.

Indeed he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal.

It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don't sleep.

And that cultivates deceit, for I don't tell them I'm awake—O no!

The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.

It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis,—that perhaps it is the paper!

I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.

She didn't know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the paper—she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry—asked me why I should frighten her so!

Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more careful!

Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!

*     *     *     *     *    *
Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.

John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper.

I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wall-paper—he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.

I don't want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.

*     *     *     *     *    *

I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime.

In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing.

There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously.

It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw—not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.

But there is something else about that paper—the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here.

It creeps all over the house.

I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs.

It gets into my hair.

Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it—there is that smell!

Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like.

It is not bad—at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met.

In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me.

It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell.

But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.

There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even smooch, as if it had been rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!

*     *     *     *     *    *

I really have discovered something at last.

Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.

The front pattern does move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!

If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.

*     *     *     *     *    *

I think that woman gets out in the daytime!

And I'll tell you why—privately—I've seen her!

I can see her out of every one of my windows!

It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.

I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden.

I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.

I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight!

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.

I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.

But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time.

And though I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn!

I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.

*     *     *     *     *    *

If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little.

I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.

There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don't like the look in his eyes.

And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give.

She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.

John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!

He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind.

As if I couldn't see through him!

Still, I don't wonder he acts so, sleeping under this paper for three months.

It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.

*     *     *     *     *    *
Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough. John to stay in town over night, and won't be out until this evening.

Jennie wanted to sleep with me—the sly thing! But I told her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.

That was clever, for really I wasn't alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.

I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.

A strip about as high as my head and half around the room.

And then when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it to-day!

We go away to-morrow, and they are moving all my furniture down again to leave things as they were before.

Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I told her merrily that I did it out of pure spite at the vicious thing.

She laughed and said she wouldn't mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired.

How she betrayed herself that time!

But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me,—not alive!

She tried to get me out of the room—it was too patent! But I said it was so quiet and empty and clean now that I believed I would lie down again and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner—I would call when I woke.

So now she is gone, and the servants are gone, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that great bedstead nailed down, with the canvas mattress we found on it.

We shall sleep downstairs to-night, and take the boat home tomorrow.

I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again.

How those children did tear about here!

This bedstead is fairly gnawed!

But I must get to work.

I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.

I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes.

I want to astonish him.

I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!

But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!

This bed will not move!

I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner—but it hurt my teeth.

Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.

Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.

I don't like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.

I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?

But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope—you don't get me out in the road there!

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!

I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.

For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.

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.

Why there's John at the door!

It is no use, young man, you can't open it!

How he does call and pound!

Now he's crying for an axe.

It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!

"John dear!" said I in the gentlest voice, "the key is down by the front steps, under a plaintain leaf! "

That silenced him for a few moments.

Then he said—very quietly indeed, "Open the door, my darling!"

"I can't," said I. "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!"

And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.

"What is the matter?" he cried. "For God's sake, what are you doing! "

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

 Links for the Primary Symbols and Images
by Viola Garcia

Myself:  (1.) “In introducing ‘myself’ and ‘John,’ the narrator intensifies her  awkward positioning in her sentence and society; she is not even on par with ‘ordinary people like John'”  (Golden 195). Return to Text.
Colonial mansion, a hereditary estate:  (1.) The statement expresses “’ordinary’ people {that} harbor ideas above their station, aspiring to an ‘ancestral’ or ‘colonial’ nobility to which they have no title”; the locale offers “forbidden identities and sexualities, whatever unspeakable yet haunting forms of ‘romantic felicity’ . . . ” (Crewe 283). (2.) It is also representative of “what Lacan has called the symbolic order, the order of Language”  (Haney-Peritz 117).  (3.) John S. Bak explains that the mansion incorporates “external instruments of restraint suggestive of a prison or a mental ward” (41). Return to Text.

Queer:  (1.) Jonathan Crewe explains that Gilman uses the word during a time of great cultural change from  the meaning of “strange” and “peculiar” to the euphemisms associated with homosexuality, thus calling her readers to “recognize same-sex desire as repressed, not absent, in normative heterosexuality” (279).  On the other hand he also states, it connotes a “certain consciousness of repression” which might lead “to ‘queer’ self-recognition on the part of the reader” (Crewe 287). Return to Text.

One:  (1.) Gilman uses this noun to describe how the narrator “disguises her autonomy” and “conveys the narrator’s helplessness and perceived inability to change her uncomfortable situation; the repetition of ‘one’ creates a haunting echo of anonymity throughout this entry and the entire story” (Golden 195).  (2.) It “designates class-marked and code-governed social personhood . . . . [and represents] the social speech codes of decorous rationality . . .” (Crewe 275).  (3.) It demonstrates “a sense of conventional acquiescence . . . ” (King 28). Return to Text.

Sickness:  (1.) The state represents “the breaking free, even if  only in the hallucination of madness . . . ”  If it is the “result of her alienation from the role society expects her to play, then her insistence that she is ill is an evasion of that reality”; “In the abject helplessness of her insanity lies the means of power by which her repressed shadow can gain a form of victory” (King 25, 27, 31)  (2.) This insanity “’madness,’  [is] a potent metaphor for feminine anger” (Knight 290). Return to Text.

Physicians:  (1.) The narrator’s husband and brother represent, “The power that men possess over women…to prescribe what they may or may not do [and] . . . to diagnose -- to name what is sickness and health, abnormal and normal” (King 27). Return to Text.

Yellow:  (1.) According to Lanser, the color in Gilman’s cultural era “applied not only to the Chinese, Japanese, and the light-skinned African-Americans but also to Jews, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, and even the Irish” and symbolized “inferiority, strangeness, cowardice, ugliness, and backwardness”  (426, 427). Return to Text.

Writing: (1.) The undated journal entries “can be seen as a spatial indication of the narrator’s own fragmented sense of self” (Golden 193).  (2.) Golden suggests that the writing is not “a place for self-expression or a safe domain” for the narrator’s newly emerging sense of self (Golden 194).  (3.) The narrator is allowed “an artistic sensibility, one that evidently begins to resurface the moment that John locks her away . . . ”; but “Instead of being freed by this aesthetic and potentially liberating confrontation, however, she is defeated, destroyed, and driven to madness . . . ” (Hume 479, 480). (4.) It is also “her only opportunity to use her own discourse” (King 27).  (5.) Susan S. Lanser states it “constitutes a kind of sanity in the face of the insanity of male dominance” (418).  (6.)   The narrator “not only reveals her unconscious awareness of her fictive design, but also leads her readers toward an understanding both of the terror and dark  amusement she feels as she confronts herself-a prisoner inside the yellow wall-paper an unsavory social text created and sustained not only by men like John, but by women like Jennie, and, most horribly, herself” (Hume 480). Return to Text.
Mary:  (1.) The nanny represents “the spiritual and maternal perfection which the narrator so conspicuously lacks.  The narrator . . . fits nowhere . . . and is appropriately nameless”  (Johnson 526). Return to Text.

Wall-paper:  (1.) To the narrator it represents “her ‘repressed other’  or ‘suppressed self’” (Hume 481).  (2.) It also “comes to stand (in) for whatever it is that produces the queer affect: ‘It is stripped - off the paper - in great patches . . .’ ” (Crewe 283).  (3.) It is “the desire which haunts her socially conforming self: the desire for an uncanny, forbidden self, unreadable, lawless and mocking”;  the paper she writes on is “’dead paper’ . . . forbidden paper . . . She creates it and it creates her” (King 29, 31). Return to Text.

Jennie:  (1.) She represents the “husband’s sibling-surrogate,  other woman, sister-in-law,  nursing-sister, keeper . . . [and is] viewed  by  the narrator as a conjugal collaborator,  enforcer, and rival claimant upon the wallpaper . . . ”  (Crewe 280). Return to Text.

John: (1.) Hume views the narrator’s husband as “mechanistic, rigid, predictable, and sexist” (478).   (2.) And yet there is the view of him as a “censor and heterosexual rescuer” (Crewe 280).   (3.) He is “to be chained to a madwoman . . . the logical product of his own ideology” (King 31).  (4.) John also “resembles the penal officers of the eighteenth-century psychiatric wards or penitentiaries . . . ” (Bak 41). Return to Text.

I: (1.) Gilman’s use  and placement of this pronoun “demonstrate a positive change in self-presentation precisely at the point when her actions dramatically compromise her sanity and condemn her to madness” and the word “becomes not an act of assertion but rather of acquiescence determined by John’s authority” (Golden 193, 195).  The noun “convey[s] an emerging sense of self and conviction . . . [and] a stronger albeit fictionalized self”; it “connotes power . . . a reversal of the dynamics of power between the narrator and John”  (Golden 196).  (2.) It expresses the “flighty or rebellious thoughts . . .” (Crewe 275).  (3.) The pronoun expresses the narrator’s inability to conform to social approval and male protection-- “patriarchal ideology.”  Gilman utilizes the word to  state the narrator’s unacceptable opinions in “active defiance” (King 28). Return to Text.

Moonlight:  (1.) The narrator “comes to life at night . . . [it’s the] nocturnal world of the unconscious . . . empowering imagination” (Johnson 525).  (2.) In the night, “not only did the shadow woman first appear while John was sleeping, but the narrator also suspects . . . that she is what John really desires, the secret he would reveal if he were given the opportunity to do so” (Haney-Peritz 120). Return to Text.

Pattern:  (1.) When compared to gymnastics, it “presents her interests as a game . . .” and expresses a “contrast between the rigidly mannered and socially acceptable behavior of her husband (and less empathically, of Jennie) and her increasing dissatisfaction with such behavior” (Hume 480).  (2.) “Its energy and fertility are anarchic and lawless, at times aggressive.  It displays, that is, an assertive creativity and originality that have no place in the wifely ideal constructed by patriarchal ideology.  It suggests that expression of her imaginative energies, which, if not checked, might ‘lead to all manner of excited fancies’ over which her husband would have no control” (King 29). Return to Text.

Daylight:  (1.) It depicts “masculine order and domestic routine”  and “rigidly hierarchical and imaginatively sterile daylight world . . . ”;  and a “conscious struggle . . . from idle fancy . . . ”  (Johnson 523, 525). Return to Text.

Yellow Smell:  (1.) The narrator withstands the strong “synaesthetic disorientation” because it adds to her fear and “the more confused she becomes . . . the clearer her vision of an emerging ‘subtext,’ in which her imprisoned double is frantically shaking the bars of her prison” (Johnson 529). Return to Text.

Tearing the paper:  (1.) In this act, the narrator “assists the double to break free from the forms that  confine her”; yet this act can also be viewed as “not intended . . . to free her from male repression, as has been suggested, but to eliminate the rebellious self which is preventing her from achieving her ego-ideal”; a “destruction of the other self” (King 25, 30, 31). Return to Text.

“I kept on creeping”:  (1.) Beverly A. Hume describes the ironic transformation in the narrator’s husband as “by ‘fainting,’ altering his conventional role as a soothing, masculine figure to that of a stereotypically weak nineteenth-century female”  (478).  (2.) The “male mastery is tipped over into nightmare parody, as total abdication of power transforms itself into another form of power” (King 31).  (3.) This ending image shows “a conjunction of erotic and aggressive impulses, a conjunction which once again suggests that by identifying herself with the wallpaper’s shadow-woman, the narrator has firmly installed herself in the realm of the imagery, the realm of haunted house” (Haney-Peritz 120).  (4.) On the other hand Denise D. Knight states, “crawling on one’s hands and knees is emblematic of the crudest form of servility” (290). Return to Text.

Jane:  (1.) When the narrator uses her name in the third person, she depicts “the conflict between the heroine’s two selves . . .” (King 29).   (2.) Gilman’s use of this word “shows subconscious signs of resentment towards her roles of wife and mother” (Knight 290). Return to Text.

Works Cited

Bak, John S.  “Escaping the Jaundiced Eye: Foucauldian Panopticism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’”  Studies in Short Fiction 31.1 (Winter 1994):  39-46.

Crewe, Jonathan.  “Queering ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’?  Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Politics of Form.”  Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14 (Fall 1995):  273-293.

Golden, Catherine.  “The Writing of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ A Double Palimpsest.”  Studies in American Fiction 17 (Autumn 1989):  193-201.

Haney-Peritz, Janice.  “Monumental Feminism and Literature’s Ancestral House: Another Look at ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’”  Women’s Studies 12 (1986): 113-128.

Hume, Beverly A.  “Gilman’s ‘Interminable Grotesque’: The Narrator of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’”  Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Fall 1991):  477-484.

Johnson, Greg.  “Gilman’s Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’”  Studies in Short Fiction 26 (Fall 1989):  521-530.

King, Jeannette, and Pam Morris.  “On Not Reading Between the Lines: Models of Reading in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’”  Studies in Short Fiction 26.1 (Winter 1989):  23-32.

Knight, Denise D.  “The Reincarnation of Jane: ‘Through This’ - Gilman’s Companion to ‘The Yellow Wall-paper.’”  Women’s Studies 20 (1992):  287-302.

Lanser, Susan S.  “Feminist Criticism, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ and the Politics of Color in America.”  Feminist Studies 15 (Fall 1989):  415-437.

Return to Top

Annotated Bibliography

by Jennifer Johnson

Boa, Elizabeth. “Creepy-crawlies:  Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis." Paragraph:  A Journal of Modern Critical Theory 13 (March 1990):  19-29.

This article focuses on the contrast between “The Yellow Wallpaper” and The Metamorphosis in a socio-cultural perspective. In talking about “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Boa believes that the protagonist and women in general suffer if they are excluded from the workplace. Boa points out that there is a hidden meaning in the text. In the story, the wife is portrayed as a virginal child. The atmosphere reaffirms this:  “The shapes in the wallpaper are the adult female body as it might appear to a shameful young virgin . . . ” (23). Boa suggests that the story starts to overthrow the patriarchal family. “She does not, however, escape the patriarchal categories since as a social being she is mad” (27). Boa’s argument is a statement of transformation: “The social meanings of gender must be renegotiated and the masculine transformed as well as the feminine” (27). Boa points out that all humans should stand up for what they want and believe in: “Women must intervene, as Gilman did, to fight the political battle and to contest the definitions of rationality and perhaps the crawling woman and the insect might someday make common cause and stand upright” (28).
Crewe, Jonathan. “Queering ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’? Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Politics of Form.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14 (Fall 1995):  273-293.
This article explores the form and ‘queerness’ of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Crewe asserts that “beyond her own revolt against the therapy to which she is subjected, the protagonist becomes the exemplary subject of power/knowledge as her ‘madness’ progresses” (274). Crewe uses  queer theory to analyze Gilman's text and display “the extravagant, hidden, vital, or numinous even in the domain of good form” (278). Crewe says that queering is defined as identifying an absolute “homoerotic subtext or mode of repressed desire . . .” (279). Crewe explains his title in two ways. One is that Gilman uses a homosexual effect with her characters:  “however unknown the narrator may in fact be- it would be historically false to suppose that, in 1890, there could be no lesbian implication … ” (280). The second meaning to his title is that of a strange and peculiar one:  “this irrepressibly queer affect of subjectivity, of which the narrator is the story's agent/bearer, gets attached to the yellow wallpaper" (283).
Golden, Catherine. “ ‘Overwriting’ the Rest Cure:  Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Literary Escape from S. Weir Mitchell’s Fictionalization of Women.” Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ed. Joanne P. Karpinski. New York:  G.K. Hall, 1992. 144-158.
Golden’s essay is a comparison between Mitchell’s and Gilman’s fiction. Golden believes the purpose of putting the doctor in Gilman’s story was to “reach Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, and convince him of the error of his ways” (145). Golden points out that Gilman “defied her doctor in 1890 not only by writing 'The Yellow Wallpaper' but also, more specifically, by creating a protagonist who also writes. Her creative life and her fiction reveal that she ultimately ‘overwrote’ Mitchell’s efforts to make her more like the ideal female patients predominant in his affluent medical practice and his fiction” (145). Golden proves this by comparing the female characters in Mitchell’s Characteristics and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
---. “The Writing of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’:  A double Palimpsest.” Studies in American Fiction 17 (Fall 1989):  193-201.
This article provides a feminist reading of the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Golden quotes Judith Fetterley as saying that the pattern of the wallpaper represents the main text of the story while the woman peering through is the subtext to exemplify the story. Fetterley argues that the subtext, or muted text, compromises the main text and the writer. Golden explains that for the narrator to get through to the subtext she must write with the use of pronouns. “The increased use of ‘I’ and her syntactical placement of the nomitive case pronoun within her own sentences demonstrate a positive change in self-presentation precisely at the point when her actions dramatically compromise her sanity and condemn her to madness” (193). At the start of the story, Golden says, “the self consciousness displayed through punctuational subordination keeps the narrator in a subordinate place within her sentences” (194). As the story unfolds “the narrator comes to write for a different self hinted as on the opening page through her three-fold presentation of self as ‘I’ . . .” (195). At the end of the story, Golden concludes “the placement of pronouns . . . reveals the narrator’s growing sense of awareness of her former submissive state and a reversal of the power dynamics of gender” (198).
Hume, Beverly A. “Gilman’s ‘Interminable Grotesque’:  The Narrator of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Fall 1991):  477-484.
This article suggests that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story that “offers the detailed and chilling accounts of a woman’s entrapment, defeat, and movement toward madness . . .” (477). Hume goes on to say that the narrator does not even know the implications of the story at all. Hume believes that the narrator “assumes the grotesque, proportions of the yellow wallpaper, becomes a grotesque figure, and, in doing so, transforms her narrative into a disturbing, startling, and darkly ironic tale about nineteenth-century American womanhood” (477). Hume says that the narrator’s failure to recognize her complex problem reflect her inability to realize “her regressive psychological state” (480). In the end the narrator “attempts to clarify definitively the meaning of the grotesque, merges into it, and, in effect, becomes it--as the woman in the wallpaper” (480).
Owens, E. Suzanne. “The Ghostly Double behind the Wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Haunting the House of Fiction:  Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by American Women. Ed. Lynette Carpenter and Wendy K. Kolmar. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991. 64-79.
This essay focuses on the use of gothic conventions in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Owens shows that the story is “a supernatural tale drawn from the best nineteenth-century Gothic conventions, particularly from Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Bronte” (65). Owens says that the colonial house that the story takes place in is haunted, which explains the protagonist’s situation:  “she had sensed ‘strangeness’ from the beginning and had tried to reason away the ‘ghostliness’ of this place” (74). Owens also says that the odor of the room is evidence of a ghost story. “Readers familiar with ghostly conventions will recognize in this odor a conventional indicator of a ghostly visitation” (75). Owens says that the woman in the wallpaper is the narrator’s ghostly double waiting to emerge and to take over. When John faints at the end of the story, Owens believes it is because he has seen a ghost, who is representing his wife, and that creeping is the way the ghost celebrates its powers.
Return to Top

Annotated Bibliography

by Stephen Landherr

Delashmit, Margaret, and Charles Long. "Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper."' Explicator 50 (Fall 1991): 32-33.

In this article, Delashmit and Long come to the conclusion that Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" bears significant resemblances to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. First of all, "Gilman's yellow room parallels Bronte's red room: both are large rooms located in the upper regions of the house; a massive bed is the focal point of both; and the intimidating color of each alters as various lights play on it" (32). Another parallel is between Gilman's John and Bronte's John Reed. Gilman's John assigns the narrator to a large former nursery whose walls are covered in "hideous yellow wallpaper" (32). Similarly, Bronte's John Reed orders Jane Eyre to be imprisoned in a red room against her will. The similarities continue when Bronte's Jane wonders "whether her red room is haunted, and Gilman's narrator observes that the house feels haunted" (32). Finally, the names "Jane and John," which suggest common relationships between ordinary people, the haunted colored rooms, the isolation, the escape through madness and the Gothic elements "all suggest the possibility of a closer correspondence between these two works than has been previously noted"(33).
Johnson, Greg. "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper."' Studies in Short Fiction 26 (1989): 521-530.
Johnson suggests "The Yellow Wallpaper" contains Gothic themes such as "confinement and rebellion, forbidden desire and 'irrational' fear . . . the distraught heroine, the forbidding mansion, and the powerfully repressive male antagonist" (522). Gilman uses these Gothic elements to unleash the nineteenth-century woman writer from the domestic, social and psychological confinements of patriarchal society. The focus of the story moves continuously inward, describing the narrator's absorption into the Gothic world of chaos and "imaginative freedom," however Gilman controls the heroine by the use of repetition, humor, irony and "allegorical patterns of imagery" (523). Despite all the "demonic forces" that are set against her she decides to rebel by choosing to suffer. Rather than surrendering, Johnson explains the narrator has a rebirth into a new stage of being, as she crawls on the floor of the nursery on all fours, exploring her new world as does a child. "[S]imply put, this fate is her psychological confinement and torture as a woman desiring creative autonomy in nineteenth century America" (527).
Kennard, Jean E. "Convention Coverage or How to Read Your Own Life." New Literary History 13 (Autumn 1981): 69-88.
In this article, Kennard looks at the changed conventions of reading and uses "The Yellow Wallpaper" as an example to describe that change. Kennard suggests "that these changes can all be seen as responses to, changes in, conventions which had become oppressive to the feminist 'interpretive community'" (83). The conventions Kennard refers to are associated with "four basic concepts: patriarchy, madness, space and quest" (78). In "The Yellow Wallpaper," John is an example of husband as patriarch, as his efforts to help his wife is a result of seeing women as less than adult. Moreover, female madness is related to patriarchy in that it is a result of patriarchal oppression. In this case, however, the final triumph of the narrator "is symbolized by the overcoming of John, who is last seen fainting on the floor as his wife creeps over him" (77).
King, Jeannette, and Pam Morris. "On Not Reading Between the Lines: Models of Reading in 'The Yellow Wallpaper."' Studies in Short Fiction 26 (Winter 1989): 23-32.
King and Morris combine to provide a Lacanian reading of "The Yellow Wallpaper" based on the concept of the split self. Lacan describes the "mirror phase," which involves the "joyful recognition/misrecognition by the child of its image in a mirror as a corporate unity differentiated from its surrounding world" (26). It is this recognition/misrecognition of the ego-ideal-- "An imaginary self, irrevocably split from the perceiving self" (26)-- which becomes the drive under all future idealizing self identifications. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator's conforming self lives through the persecution of its repressed other. This relationship climaxes in the story's ending. As the narrator strips off most of the wallpaper, the conforming self is left, the creation of social convention. As the woman behind the paper "gets out," the image is not of liberation, rather it's the victory of the social ideal. The woman from behind the paper assists the narrator in tearing it down, destroying the other self. "The narrator is both the woman behind the pattern who is securly tied with a rope, and she who does the tying" (31). The narrator creates the wallpaper and it creates her. "While the heroine misreads and misrecognizes the yellow wallpaper which represents her suppressed self, she is also writing 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' which is also herself" (31-32).
Lanser, Susan S. "Feminist Criticism, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' and the Politics of Color in America." Feminist Studies 15 (Fall 1989): 415-442.
In her article, Lanser believes throughout all the different readings of "The Yellow Wallpaper," most of the feminist criticism has been done through the lens of white, feminist American criticism, which in turn fails to "question the story's status as a universal woman's text" (423). In order to break this pattern of thought and practice, Lanser believes "our own patterns must also be deconstructed if we are to recover meanings still 'hidden or overlooked'" (422). Lanser explains that in the 19th century, the term "yellow" refers to, in racial terms, Chinese, Japanese, Poles, Jews, Italians as well as Irish people. The society associated the term "yellow" with disease, ugliness, inferiority and decay. In this context, Lanser believes that the narrator's horror of a yellow color and smell might pertain to the "British-American fear of a takeover by aliens" (429). If race, class and ethnicity are part of a "political unconscious" in "The Yellow Wallpaper," then it is a result of Gilman's own belief in white Protestant supremacy, a belief which can be found in her other works Concerning Children and The Forerunner. Ultimatly, Lanser believes "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been accepted as universal only because white, Western perspectives dominate academia.
Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism and Literature's Ancestral house: Another look at 'The Yellow Wallpaper."' Women's Studies 12 (1986): 113-128.
Peritz suggests the specific oppressive structure at issue in "The Yellow Wallpaper" "is a man's prescriptive discourse about a woman" (116). Peritz finds the narrator's reflections create a text which one line after another "suddenly commits suicide- plunging off at outrageous angles, and destroying itself in unheard of contradictions" (116). These contradictions betray the narrator's dependence on the patriarchial discursive structure associated with John, while at the same time explaining why she jumps from one thing to another, to keep herself being reasonable. Furthermore, Peritz discusses the switch in register from the symbolic to the imaginary. As a result, "a complicated interplay between the eroticism and aggression characteristic of unmediated dual relations surfaces" (119).
Return to Top

This page was last updated 7.27.1998.
Please send questions and comments to Dr. Jim Wohlpart at Florida Gulf Coast University. 
Return to Top