The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Why did we choose this story?The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a short story first published in 1892 and is one of the first pieces of early feminist literature. It is rich in symbolism and settings, which is why we’ve chosen it to analyze.
The Yellow Wallpaper follows a woman, presumably named Jane, in the late Victorian Era as she undergoes a “rest cure” after having her first baby. Her husband, a doctor, takes her to an old isolated country house to overcome her depression through a period of forced inactivity. But, Jane is unnerved by the room with yellow wallpaper. Jane becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and believes that it conceals a woman. Her mental state worsens gradually as the story goes on and it culminates in her tearing the wallpaper off in order to free the woman behind it, which she now thinks is herself. This shocks her husband so much when he finds her that he faints. She then steps over him and the story ends with an open ending.
Physical setting: LocationThe story takes place in a “colonial mansion” in the middle of nowhere. The house is about 3 miles away from the nearest village, which evokes an isolated atmosphere and it is described as “haunted” and “queer” (Gilman, 1892). Primarily, the story takes place in the eponymous room with yellow wallpaper where Jane spends most of her time during her “rest cure”. The room used to be a “nursery” (but is described as more of an asylum ward) with bars on the windows, “rings and things in the wall”, a bed (that looks like it’s been through war) nailed to the floor that has bite and claw marks all over it and ripped pieces of wallpaper as far as the hand can reach by the head of the bed (Gilman, 1892).
The wallpaper is an ugly, Sulphur-like yellow color with flamboyant patterns that look misshapen and change depending on the lighting, and becomes the main source of fascination for Jane. Jane pays close attention the wallpaper, as she has nothing else to do, and convinces herself that she sees a figure (a woman) trapped behind the bars (the pattern in moonlight) in paper. Physical setting: TimeThe story is set in the late Victorian Era, perhaps in America and takes place over the course of a few weeks (5 or 6). Jane keeps mentioning how much she asks John long they still have to be there before they can leave, and it is on the last night that she finally has a psychotic breakdown. Emotional settingAs for emotional setting, the story mostly focuses on Jane’s deteriorating mental health, and John’s concerns for her as her husband and physician. Jane is at first very naïve and trusting of John; she believes that he isn’t taking her illness seriously and thinks that a forced period of inactivity won’t help her, but trusts him nonetheless. She is constantly depressed and nervous.
However, the more time she spends alone, the worse her mental state becomes. By this point, she has become afraid of John and what he would do if he found out that she sees a trapped woman behind the paper, especially after he threatens to send her to Weir Mitchell, another physician whom Jane fears. Then, she undergoes a radical character change as she becomes openly hostile and angry at anyone who looks at the wallpaper for too long. She is determined to set the woman behind it free and finally succumbs to insanity as she rips the paper completely from the wall. John, on the other hand, is comparatively calmer and stricter about Jane’s “rest cure”.
He treats her like she is a child incapable of anything and becomes annoyed and angry when she starts to question his methods. He is a firm believer in science and is horrified when he sees her crawling around in the final scene and faints. Impact on other elementsThe setting of this story ties into conflict. The main conflict is shown in the form of Jane vs herself: she knows that she must be an obedient and submissive wife, but constantly rebels against it because she abhors the fact that women of that era were trapped in an endless cycle of repression and domesticity. Her tearing of the wallpaper represents her breaking free from the traditional role placed upon her; at the cost of her sanity.