The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary and Analysis

The Yellow Wallpaper: Painful Reflections of a Captive, Depressed Woman

The Yellow Wallpaper may seem somewhat clumsy at the first reading but hits hard at social conventions. The richness of the narrative lies in the depth at which it touches the issue of oppression of the females. Through the trauma of a woman, who notes it all down in her secret journal, the author has highlighted the captivity of the millions like her. The craft of Gilman lies in her adept portrayal of the woman’s agony which has crossed its limit. The loss of liberty and independent identity makes the narrator try to find solace in her journal. This journal is her secret companion through which readers get to view her inner thoughts and analyze her mental condition.

  As the story opens a woman describes her new abode and how queer she finds it. Her initial description of the house suggests that something is pungent in her life.  Moving on from there, the narrator describes, all that  is in her life including her husband, his friends, her secret journal and a ‘not interesting at all life. The story is deeply revolting, just as agonizing is the pain of the narrator noted in her journal.
Basically, the story is an attempt to lambast the existing social norms. It tries to engage the readers in a discourse on women’s freedom and status, however, not on an ordinary level but at a more serious level. The narrator describes her new house- A colonial mansion, her husband has rented for cheap and which she finds queer. Well, nearly everything is queer to her, her house, her husband, his friends and even the yellow wallpaper in her room whose repulsive color makes her feel sick. She is ill with depression. According to her husband, she has nothing to worry about her problem. However, she herself is not assured and seeks freedom from her suffocating environs. After being confined to a room in the mansion following her illness, she follows all that her husband prescribes without any resistance – A physician of high standing, her husband cares for her but still he cannot completely understand her pain. He has to mind his practice too. The narrator yearns for excitement and change. However, her husband and his friends don’t feel so, who believe she should rest. It is believed that Gilman who herself longed for emotional support in her life had based the story on her own experiences. The narrator’s life lacks stimulus and she is suffering from melancholia. She confesses that the stillness in her life is killing her.
Basically, it can be attributed to her loss of freedom. She does not have the freedom to make her own choices or decisions. She has little control over her life and her husband has limited her to the small room. With no fresh air or space in her life, she dreads the confinement. The story is full of symbols, most potent one being the Wallpaper that serves as a mirror of the woman’s thoughts; acting as a projector for her mind. As the story progresses, the narrator, the woman herself, starts seeing shapes of other women confined behind the yellow wallpaper. This becomes unbearable for her as she struggles to release them. She is not fighting the walls or the wallpaper but the barriers that keep her from being released and from finding relief and fresh air. Gilman’s work is an unnerving portrayal of the women’s agony that shocks by painting the grimmest picture of a woman’s horrors. The central argument of Gilman’s work is that women’s confinement to the domesticity and their subordinate status to men converted them into dumb, expressionless animals. The narrator’s life is worse because the more she tries to break free, the more she finds herself caught in the web. Even a visit from her family does not leave her happier.

The woman in the story is deeply angry and frustrated at herself and the limited life she is leading. Her anger and frustration keep growing within, making her sicker unable to find a way out of her small unchanging world.  Gilman has highlighted the social injustice which the women are subjected to. She even points out through the story that the problem was rampant across all classes. The narrator belongs to the upper middle class. Gilman presents the women as a distinct class trying to fight for their identity. The woman in the story grows more and more disconsolate every-day and starts seeing patterns appear in the wallpaper. Its color teases her making her lose her spirit. Gilman’s story has a revolting subject matter, one picked by several others but few have been able to deal with as honestly and as powerfully. With each changing leaf in the narrator’s journal her condition is more critical. She would not be able to find a way out of the barriers around her as they are inherent to every woman’s role in the human society.

At the end when he realizes the horror of the situation, he faints in the doorway and the narrator has to creep all over him. However, at this point in the story the author also demonstrates her hopelessness regarding the status of women. Men will always remain unable to understand the condition of the women and for women there is no option until they at last are completely broken and lost. The narrator madly tears down the yellow wallpaper to release the women caught behind it. her husband comes to check and faints in the doorway, still unable to feel the disgust in his wife’s heart.

Suggested Reading: George Orwell’s A Hanging – Summary and Analysis.