Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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A major theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is that
solitary confinement and exclusion from the public results in insanity. The use
of imagery and setting helps illustrate this theme throughout the story. The
unnamed protagonist in this story suffers from a nervous disorder which is
enhanced by her feeling of being trapped within a room. The setting of the vast
colonial mansion and particularly the nursery room with barred windows provides
an image of loneliness and seclusion experienced by the protagonist. Another
significant setting is the mansion connected by a “shaded lane” (66) to the
beautiful bay and private wharf. It is possible that in her mind, she sees a
path which leads to the curing of her illness where happiness and good health
awaits at the end. The reason the lane is “shaded” is because she is
uncertain whether or not this path can be traveled. Upon moving into the
mansion, she immediately becomes obsessed with the nursery room wallpaper with
“sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” (64). Her
days and nights are so uneventful that she finds relief in writing a journal
which becomes more tiresome as her sickness progresses. In every few paragraphs
in her journal, she analyzes the wallpaper. Through the imagery she evokes from
the wallpaper, it can be seen that she is really analyzing herself and her
illness subconsciously. For example, she begins to see “a strange, provoking,
formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and
conspicuous front design” (67). She describes her illness (as seen in the
wallpaper) as “not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or
repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of” (68). In other
words, she cannot make any sense of what is causing her illness. A pivotal
moment in the story is when the woman protagonist is concerned only with the
yellow wallpaper in her journal. In lieu of her obsession with the wallpaper,
she becomes engaged in the actions of the women she sees in the wallpaper which,
of course, is really her own actions. The women “is all the time trying to
climb through [the wallpaper]” (72). At this moment, she is desperate to
escape her illness but she is unable to because her confinement in the room has
already affected her more so than she realizes. The imagery of this situation is
described when “the pattern strangles [the women] off and turns them upside
down, and makes their eyes white!” (72). In the end or in her last day at the
mansion, the isolation intensifies her illness to the point where she is no
longer curable and insanity takes over. The protagonist finally recognizes the
fact that the women she witnesses is really her own frame of mind and proclaims
“I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is
hard!” (75). She believes that she has at last gained her freedom from the
illness when in reality, the exact opposite has occurred. The incessant creeping
is the final summation to her insanity.
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