The Yellow Wallpaper

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1899)
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Genre: Short story

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was an American writer of fiction and non-fiction. She was one of the most important feminist theoreticians and writers of her time. Her personal and professional life attracted a lot of criticism during her lifetime. One of her most notable non-fiction works is the book Women and Economics where she suggested women should be allowed to work.  “The Yellow Wallpaper” is Gilman's best-known fiction work, and it contains biographical elements, as she used to suffer from post-partum depression.

Extract

Below, you can read an extract from our study guide:

Title

The title of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, is a reference to an element of the setting which is the dominant symbol in the story. The narrator and her husband rent an old mansion for the summer and they sleep in a former nursery with yellow wallpaper.

At first, narrator is shocked by the ugliness of the wallpaper and by the negative emotions it stirs in her:

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is 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. (p. 5, ll. 15-24)

However, as time passes and having nothing to do, the narrator starts obsessing over the wallpaper, finding it intriguing and unable to follow the pattern:

There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all, – the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction. (p. 9, ll. 11-15)

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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