While analyzing the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I
had trouble coming up with a theme. There were several ideas that came to mind, but they were
hard to generalize. Finally, I decided that a theme for The Yellow Wallpaper could be: Although
one allows oneself to be controlled by others seemingly for one's own well-being, the time comes
when one feels suppressed, empty, and a need to escape arises. I feel this theme is well-illustrated
in this short story.
The woman's husband, John, who is a physician, really cares for his wife, yet he is too
authoritative. His wife, though she may disagree, is submissive and does what he asks. "John
says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say
nothing of ale and wine and rare meat" (111). She follows his every instruction.
Along with controlling his wife's actions, John manipulates her thoughts. "I sometimes
fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus - but John says
the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel
bad" (17). She believes that he knows what is best for her and has convinced herself that he is
He also has a way of making her feel guilty. "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets
me stir without special direction...he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to
value it more. He said we came here solely on my account..." (29-31). John tries to make it seem
like she should be getting better just because she is under his care. I believe he had good
intentions but did not look deep enough to see that the sickness was within her mind, not her
John's dominion over the woman increases until he controls everything she does, even the
one thing he does not know she is doing: writing. "There comes John, and I must put this away, -
he hates to have me write a word" (39). She is not allowed to work: "So I...am absolutely
forbidden to 'work' until I am well again" (12). She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom and
has no choice in the decor of the room: "I don't like our room a bit. I wanted...but John wouldn't
hear of it" (27). This woman cannot even 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" (64).
Every now and then, a hint of the woman's rebelliousness comes out. She has different
thoughts than her husband and her physician brother. "Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good"
(13-14). However, she suppresses them one more time to be the submissive and loving wife:
"But what is one to do?" (15).
Once her anger was even brought out before John, but he guided her mind in order to
change it. "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so
sensitive...But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control
myself - before him, at least" (25-26).
Finally, in the end, the woman discovers liberty. After tearing all the yellow wallpaper
from the walls in the room, she feels free. Now that she has gained her independence, she does
not desire to return to her controlled, suppressive life. "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of
you and Jane? And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" (266).
Although one allows oneself to be controlled by others seemingly for one's own
well-being, the time comes when one feels suppressed, empty, and a need to escape arises. This
was definitely true in The Yellow Wallpaper. The woman, after leading a restrained, superficial
life, finds a need to escape from her husband's control and break through the barrier. In this case,
it may have been a barrier to insanity, but nevertheless, it was the barrier to freedom.