"The Yellow Wallpaper" - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a mentally ill woman haunted by the boredom that accompanies domestic life and a so-called “resting cure.” Before proper treatments for mental illness were introduced, many believed that the key to curing depression and anxiety was to simply rest and avoid stimulating activity. In actuality, this “resting cure” only causes an individual to become trapped within their own thoughts and can often make things much worse. Keeping this in mind, I don’t believe that the narrator was insane when she moved into her new home, as she seems intelligent, sarcastic, and somewhat devious. However, I do believe that she was very sick and needed more mental stimulation and company.
Once this social isolation took hold of the narrator, the insanity slowly began. The narrator’s fixation on the wallpaper symbolizes a forthright aspect of her own life. In fact, the woman trapped behind the wallpaper draws some direct parallels from the narrator’s own life. The bars that hold the woman in the wallpaper are uncannily similar to the bars on the windows of the narrator’s bedroom. The heads of the women that have tried to escape the bars may symbolize the strangulation that the narrator feels by being trapped within her own mind. These parallels directly tie into the narrator’s eventual descent into insanity when she sees her own self crawling on the wallpaper trapped behind the bars. It is revealed by John’s sister that the laundry even has yellow stains which alludes to the narrator attempting to crawl on the wall, smudging the paper.
These actions make it clear that the narrator has lost her mind. Gilman, who also suffered from depression, brilliantly uses the yellow wallpaper as a representation of the structure of domestic life that women can get trapped in by overpowering family members or friends. The hopelessness that the narrator feels manifests in her delusion of the woman on the wallpaper, who she eventually sees as a version of herself. Her desire for companionship created an exhibition of her confined lifestyle that essentially drove her into a madness so prominent that even her husband’s horror could not pull her out. "The Yellow Wallpaper" can typically be found in short story compilations in our Adult Fiction section. It is included in both "21 Essential American Short Stories" edited by Leslie M. Pockett and "The Oxford Book of American Short Stories" edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
-Maddie, Roswell Public Library, New Mexico