A major theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is that
solitary confinement and exclusion from the public results in insanity. The use of
imagery and setting helps illustrate this theme throughout the story.
The unnamed protagonist in this story suffers from a nervous disorder which is
enhanced by her feeling of being trapped within a room. The setting of the vast colonial
mansion and particularly the nursery room with barred windows provides an image of
loneliness and seclusion experienced by the protagonist.
Another significant setting is
the mansion connected by a “shaded lane” (66) to the beautiful bay and private wharf. It
is possible that in her mind, she sees a path which leads to the curing of her illness where
happiness and good health awaits at the end. The reason the lane is “shaded” is because
she is uncertain whether or not this path can be traveled.
Upon moving into the mansion, she immediately becomes obsessed with the
nursery room wallpaper with “sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic
sin” (64). Her days and nights are so uneventful that she finds relief in writing a journal
which becomes more tiresome as her sickness progresses. In every few paragraphs in her
journal, she analyzes the wallpaper. Through the imagery she evokes from the wallpaper,
it can be seen that she is really analyzing herself and her illness subconsciously. For
example, she begins to see “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to
skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (67). She describes her
illness (as seen in the wallpaper) as “not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation,
or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of” (68). In other words, she
cannot make any sense of what is causing her illness.
A pivotal moment in the story is when the woman protagonist is concerned only
with the yellow wallpaper in her journal. In lieu of her obsession with the wallpaper, she
becomes engaged in the actions of the women she sees in the wallpaper which, of course,
is really her own actions. The women “is all the time trying to climb through [the
wallpaper]” (72). At this moment, she is desperate to escape her illness but she is unable
to because her confinement in the room has already affected her more so than she
realizes. The imagery of this situation is described when “the pattern strangles [the
women] off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!” (72).
In the end or in her last day at the mansion, the isolation intensifies her illness to
the point where she is no longer curable and insanity takes over. The protagonist finally
recognizes the fact that the women she witnesses is really her own frame of mind and
proclaims “I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is
hard!” (75). She believes that she has at last gained her freedom from the illness when in
reality, the exact opposite has occurred. The incessant creeping is the final summation to
Cite this yellow wallpaper
yellow wallpaper. (2018, Jun 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/yellow-wallpaper-essay/