The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper – Journey into Insanity
In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, the dominant/submissive relationship between an
oppressive husband and his submissive wife pushes her from
depression into insanity.

Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her
breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling
to admit that there might really be something wrong with
his wife. This same attitude is seen in her brother, who
is also a physician. While this attitude, and the actions
taken because of it, certainly contributed to her
breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious
spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined
to prove them wrong.

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As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never
learn — tells of her depression and how it is dismissed
by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe
I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high
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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?” (Gilman 165). These two
men — both doctors — seem completely unable to admit
that there might be more to her condition than than just
stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when a summer
in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her
husband refuses to accept that she may have a real

Throughout the story there are examples of the
dominant – submissive relationship. She is virtually
imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest
and recover her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I .
. . am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well
again.” (Gilman 165). She is not even supposed to write:
“There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to
have me write a word.” (Gilman 167).

She has no say in the location or decor of the room
she is virtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a
bit. I wanted . . . But John would not hear of it.”(Gilman

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She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not
to have any advice and companionship about my work. . .
but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my
pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people
about now.” (Gilman 169).

Probably in large part because of her oppression, she
continues to decline. “I don’t feel as if it was
worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. . .”
(Gilman 169). It seems that her husband is oblivious to
her declining condition, since he never admits she has a
real problem until the end of the story — at which time
he fainted.

John could have obtained council from someone less
personally involved in her case, but the only help he
seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to
watch over the children while he was away at work each
day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.”
(Gilman 168). And he had his sister Jennie take care of
the house. “She is a perfect and enthusiastic
housekeeper.” (Gilman 170).

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He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says
if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir
Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat
since he was even more domineering than her husband and
brother. Her friend was under his care at one time and
was telling her terrible stories about the place.

Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping
her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating
wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone
offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her
to dwell on her problem. Prison is supposed to be
depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner.

Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do
as she pleased her depression might have lifted: “I think
sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a
little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.”
(Gilman 169) It seems that just being able to tell someone
how she really felt would have eased her depression, but
John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the
depression to worsen: “. . . I must say what I feel and
think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort
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is getting to be greater than the relief.”
Meanwhile her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong.

“John is a physician, and perhaps . . . 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?” (Gilman 165).
It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of
submission she was frequently rebelling against her
husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around
to see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an
eye open for someone coming. This is obvious throughout
the story.

It also seems to me that, probably because of his
oppressive behavior, she wants to drive her husband away.

“John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases
are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman
167). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks him
out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the
key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and
don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I
want to astonish him.” (Gilman 179). I see no reason for
this other than to force him to see that he was wrong,
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and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to
drive him away.

At the end of the story she goes completely nuts and
wants to be locked in the room so that she can free the
woman from the bared walls. She wants to be kept inside
the room because outside you have to creep around and
everything is green instead of yellow. So she continues
to creep along the walls dragging her shoulder so that she
does not loose her way around the room. When her husband
sees what she is doing and faints, she gets mad
because he is in the way of her path and she has to creep
over him.

The ending quotes just go to show how messed up she
really is, “I’ve got out at last,” “in spite of you and
Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the wallpaper, so you
can’t put me back!” (Gilman 180)Overall I thought the
story was most interesting but slightly odd. It is
truly original and I have never read a story like it.

It just goes to make you think what kind of state of mind
Gilman was in when she wrote it.

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Works Cited
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892.

Handout from English class. Pages 165-180


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