Goodreads: “The Yellow Wallpaper”
A fist person narrative from the perspective of a woman who goes with her husband to convalesce in a house with a room with hideous yellow wallpaper.
Working as a writing tutor with college students, I have read dozens of essays about “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and after reading various takes and interpretations of the work (and getting a decent, if secondhand idea of the plot!), I decided to just sit down and the whole thing for myself. Having done so, I can see why the story is a popular assignment for lower level literature classes. The feminist themes give students something “obvious” to write about, but there is just enough nuance and ambiguity about what exactly is going on with the narrator’s mental state that it leaves room for students to make an argument.
Basically, it’s a tight story that explores the narrator’s apparent descent into madness as she spends her days looking at a hideous patterned yellow wallpaper in a bedroom in a house she and her husband have briefly rented to help her improve her health. The main question of the story is whether the narrator is truly suffering from some nervous condition, as her doctor husband has diagnosed, or whether she is mostly fine but then becomes ill after her husband dismisses her own opinions about her health—her requests to be more active, see more of her friends, and move to a room where she doesn’t have to look at the horrid wallpaper. (Read: A story of men not listening to women and thinking they know more about the bodies and mental health than the women do.)
The theme could be more subtle, but the story is short, and it’s interesting enough to warrant a read and some discussion.
You can read “The Yellow Wallpaper” free online at Project Gutenberg.
10 thoughts on ““The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Short Story Review)”
An awesome review of a book I have been longing to read!
I hope you get to it sometime!
I read this at University, and really enjoyed it. I also thought it was interesting that the confinement followed the birth of her baby, and the story emphasises her continual separation from the baby because the doctor and her husband deem her unfit as a mother, which surely feeds into her mental state. Is this a story about postnatal depression that is exacerbated by a lazy diagnosis of ‘hysteria’, or is it indicative of something more sinister?
I read her novel, ‘Herland’, last year and I find it really interesting to see what she deems to be an idyllic society for women too, and contrast that with ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.
Good point. I didn’t think too much about the baby because it seemed to be mentioned like once and then wasn’t part of the story. I kind of wrote it off because that’s not that uncommon in older literature (like, female characters apparently have children that are just not in the book), but I can see how there might be something about postpartum depression here, too.
Great review! This is my favourite short story. I had to read it for two different courses in university and each prof had a different interpretation of it. I always notice something new when I read it
Interesting! I didn’t read it at all in university, but it seems to be a popular choice!
Great review! I definitely agree that, though short, there’s enough here to allow for some discussion. And I’ve always liked its use of ambiguity more than anything else about it.
Yes, it packs so much into so little space!
It is a real look into the wrong way to treat post-partum depression! I thought it was marvelous. You might want to read her novella “Herland” for a more positive feminist story.
Ah, yes, take the depressed woman, separate her from her baby and then from everyone else and tell her to sit in a room doing nothing because everything else is too “taxing” for her. That’ll fix it!
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