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The Yellow Wallpaper Essay, Research Paper

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.

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

Kelly Flynn pg 2

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


Kelly Flynn Pg 3

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).

Kelly Flynn Pg 4

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

Kelly Flynn Pg 5

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,

Kelly Flynn Pg 6

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.

Kelly Flynn Pg 7

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

Handout from English class. Pages 165-180

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