Symbollism in "The Yellow Wallpaper" Term Paper

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gillman is a deeply symbolic story of the repression that women faced in the early

twentieth century. During the late nineteenth century when Gillman wrote the story based on her own experiences with depression, she had difficulty finding an editor to print it.

Once in distribution, the story then seemed to fade from print until nearly a century later when it emerged during the women's rights movement. Gillman's clearly feminist views in her writing

seemed to be ahead of the time in which she lived. The narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" cannot openly tell her husband her opinions, so she writes them in a journal where he can never read

them. She is alone all day with the yellow wallpaper and continues to analyze the pattern until she reaches into herself and can see her own sanity and emotions from a removed view.

The narrator's husband, John, has rented a house for the summer with the intention of helping cure his wife of her "nervous condition." The narrator senses a presence in the house that she believes to be ghosts, but John dismisses it

saying that what she "felt was a draught," and refuses to listen to her imagination. John places her in confinement in a room that used to be a nursery, and tells her not to write, or be involved in any activity. The room seems to be serving its original purpose again as she is treated more and more like a child, and

being referred to as, "little girl" by her husband. The room is covered in a wallpaper that is, "one of those sprawling and flamboyant patterns, committing every artistic sin." She hates the wallpaper from the beginning, and badly wants a new room, but she has taught herself to understand that as a woman she has a set place in society in which her husband can "take all care from me, so I feel ungrateful not to value it more." She believes differently however, but is not ready to acknowledge that what she needs is, "less opposition and more society and stimulus" and that "congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good." Her husband, however, takes away all of her personal responsibilities and she does not immediately see that this is

strangling her sense of self worth, and so she remains in the room with its protective barred windows and hideous yellow wallpaper.

After spending several weeks in the room she writes in her journal, " I'm really getting quite fond of the room, all but that horrid paper." The narrator's being alone most of the day allows her to become enraptured in her own thoughts and she notices things she may not have recognized before. The tone in which she writes become more removed from the people she is with,

and there is a sense of bitterness in some of her observations. She writes, "She (John's sister) is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession," after John's

sister complies with his request to not allow the narrator to write. She grows more apathetic towards the responsibilities taken from her that she used to enjoy, and she does not "feel as

if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous." She appears to have the symptoms of depression, which only grow worse as she sits

alone with her despair. She tells John that she desperately wishes to visit her cousin, but once again he will not allow her to do anything that may worsen her "nervous condition." Her

loneliness eats away at her and makes her depression affect her to the point where "I cry at nothing...when I am alone," because she no longer trusts showing her emotion to John, who only

prescribes more time in isolation.

The yellow wallpaper grows more intriguing each day. Sitting alone, she examines its intricacies and follows the different patterns, one of which, "slaps you in the face, knocks

you down, and tramples upon you." She becomes obsessed with finding what is behind the wallpaper, "I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub

pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman." She begins to understand that she wants to find something that was missing before. Being alone has allowed her to step outside of her situation and although she does not clearly define what she is

looking at, it is her own self and her sanity hidden behind a web woven by society that left women trapped behind it. Her

discovery of the woman behind the paper intrigues her, and she no longer wants to leave until "I have found it out." The narrator aligns herself with the woman she has discovered, and notices

that, "she is all the time trying to climb through, but nobody could climb through that pattern--it strangles so." The pattern

symbolizes her husband's own strangulation of her life and society's repression of women. She grows wary of her husband's intentions, and finds that he, "pretended to be very loving and

kind. As if I couldn't see through him." Formerly she had forced herself to believe that her husband's plan was for the


She now notices the woman behind the wallpaper "creeping," but only by daylight, which is the only time the narrator is gratified, and says, "I suppose I shall have to get back behind

the pattern when it comes night, and that is so hard!" She has released the woman, and it is indeed herself, "creeping" in the daytime when she is alone and trapped behind the bars at night

when she is with John.

After scrutinizing the woman behind the wallpaper, and on the verge of her own insanity, she finds the courage inside of

her to confront John. She locks him out of the room saying, "I want to astonish him." John yells for her to open the door immediately, and for the first time in his life, John must listen to her if he hopes to ever find the key. The narrator can

"creep" in the daytime now that, "'I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" John faints, "right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!"

With the ability to step over her husband, she emphasizes her escape from male dominance in her life. "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of you and Jane,'" declares the narrator

proclaiming her triumph over her own placement of herself in society and the placement her husband imposed on her. She now creeps in the daylight, without the suffocation of society's designated pattern.

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