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Stupefying Symbolism In The Yellow Wallpaper English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1252 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator, whose name is not given, has been placed in the top of an old house in a room with yellow wallpaper. The woman had just undergone child birth and is going through a “nervous condition” (Gilman 721). As the woman stays in the room, she becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper plastered to the walls of her room. Within the literal factors of the story, are symbols that show the underlying message of the story; symbols such as the room, writing in her notebook, and the yellow wallpaper. The story, when simply read, shows a woman slowly going insane, but when read critically, the reader is able to see a deeper significance captured in the symbols that lie in the story.

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The room that the narrator is staying in is an isolated one at the top of the house, containing nothing but a bed that is nailed to the floor and the yellow wallpaper that she tremendously dislikes (724). The isolated room is her place to write when alone, though she believes that her husband’s sister “thinks it is the writing which made me sick” (724). The writer might infer from the latter statement that the isolated room is a symbol of a safe-haven for the narrator. As the story drew to its closing, the narrator locks herself in the room from both her husband, John, and his sister, Jennie, calling to them that “the key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf” (731). She was attempting to finish peeling the wallpaper back to stand behind it and the room was her only thing keeping her family out (731). Though the narrator was insane by this time, the reader can infer that by locking herself in the room and her family out, she felt safe there.

The narrator writes in her notebook throughout the story, keeping it hidden from her family, and taking it out only when they leave the room (724). The notebook symbolizes a hint of stableness in, what seems to be, a deeply oppressed life of the narrator. An example of said oppression is when the narrator writes, “There comes John, and I must put this away,–he hates to have me write a word.” The narrator believes that the writing is not making her sick and proves so when she writes about Jennie, “I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick! But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows” (724). As the story draws to a close and the narrator has begun to end her writing sessions, she goes insane. The reader might draw the conclusion that her writing was the only thing that was keeping the narrator sane.

The yellow wallpaper, which the narrator refers to as “paper,” symbolizes the repression of the narrator by her husband, and eventually, freedom from said repression (721). Throughout the story, the narrator tells her audience of her dislike for the yellow wallpaper, describing the color as “repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others” (722). The narrator states that, when she asked him to repaper the room, John “[…] meant to repaper the room, but afterward he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient that to give way to such fancies. He said that after the wallpaper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead; and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on” (723). The reader can pull from the latter statement that John was only making up excuses. He knew that his wife was upset by the paper and still would not change it. The narrator’s statements, “I’ve got out at last” and “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back” shows that the narrator has realized that the wallpaper was a way her husband oppressed her from life, and by tearing it off the wall, was able to become free (731).

Some might argue that the narrator’s room is not a symbol of a safe-haven, but the symbol of imprisonment. As for writing in her notebook, some might dispute that symbolizes rebellion, instead of stability. Others may consider that the yellow wallpaper symbolizes the narrator’s sanity, and not repression. Though the points stated are logical to an extent, there are grounds to take a different approach to the symbolism of said symbols. Those who believe that the narrator’s room is a symbol of imprisonment may see the room in this way because of the blandness of it, the fact that the bed is bolted to the floor, and the reality of the narrator not being permitted to leave the room. What said people need to see is that the room is not imprisoning the narrator, her husband is. The room symbolizes security for the narrator because, as stated previously, the room is the only thing giving the woman the occasion to write. Some believe that the narrator writing in her notebook symbolizes rebellion because she states, “I did write for a while in spite of them,” but what those people fail to see is that she “did” not does (721). The narrator felt only love towards her family and knew that it bothered them to see her write, so, she only did so when they were out of the room. The notebook symbolizes stability because it is only while writing in the notebook that the reader sees that the narrator is sane. It is not until the reader begins to tell a story, rather than write down events, that she turns insane. As for the yellow wallpaper representing the narrator’s sanity, some may see that as the wallpaper gets removed from the wall, the narrator’s sanity gets ripped away with it. What said people do not comprehend is that the narrator is slowly removing years of oppression that her husband laid on her. She states, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back” (731). The latter quote shows that the narrator realizes how oppressed she was by her husband and refuses to go back to being repressed by him.

When read simply, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” portrays a woman who is slowly going insane, and by the end has a mental breakdown. After looking at the short story critically, one must notice the use of symbolism in the story. The secluded room that the narrator stays in symbolizes a sanctuary, giving the narrator time to write when her family is away. The narrator writing in her notebook symbolizes the stability in the narrator’s life that slowly deteriorates as the story draws to an end. Last, but not least, the horrid yellow wallpaper symbolized the oppression that the narrator undergoes from her husband, and when finally removed, the freedom. The symbols displayed in “The Yellow Wallpaper” give the story a stronger underlying meaning, and to the narrator, by her audience, a sense that she was not completely insane, but a woman who found independence in something as ugly as yellow wallpaper.

Work Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing About Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Frank Madden. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 496-501. Print.


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