The Symbolism of the Wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In a man‘s world. it is difficult for women to thrive; this can be seen throughout history. from not having the right to vote, to society’s need to see women as the simple housewife, women have been cast aside for many generations. There have been many instances where women have not accepted their place in society and have rebelled against it, such as women suffrage Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, is an example of a young woman, the narrator, who begins to realize that she can not simply accept what is happening to her, Throughout this short story, she describes the paper on the walls that encase her during her rest cure, in many different ways.

The descriptions are not merely descriptions of the paper itself but are also of her experience of the society that she has been born into. The paper “looks as if a boy‘s school had used it”(528), When one thinks of a boy‘s school the first images that come to mind are that of classrooms that are predominantly filled with young men.

The world is one that raises young men up. through education and leaves young women in the background. She continues to describe the paper as being “repellant”(528), much like insect repellent to mosquitos. the society that she lives in forces women to stay away from the center of attention This is further supported by the narrator being “forbidden to ‘work‘”(526) while she is undergoing treatment The narrator “disagreeIsl with Ithisl ideal ]”(526) but is unable to tell her husband this, as he often disregards what she has said in a patronizing manner.

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With mentioning the narrator’s husband we can see that he is representative of the higher power in society He is “a physician of high standing”(526), and therefore seems to believe that what he says is best. This often means that he will not listen to his wife when she has a suggestion about what may be best for her, much like societies does to women, especially during the late nineteenth century.

We see this parallel develop further as he ignores the narrators suffering because he sees “no reason to suffer”(528). Even the simple way that he addresses the narrator as “little girl”(532), suggests that they are not equal. much like men and women in society. The intricate patterns and shifting tendencies of the wallpaper parallel the rules that have been set out for women. It is hard to believe that anyone would want to be trapped within the confines of something so “revolting”(SZB), yet the narrator is the only one who seems to notice the absurd nature of a man’s world. As she begins breaking free from the clutches of society the images behind the paper become more lifelike and graphic, with an image of “a broken neck and two bulbous eyes”(529), representing those who have rebelled and have failed to change society, being one of the first things that she notices.

These images come from two parts of the paper, the “sub-pattern”(530) in the background. and the initial “smoldering unclean yellow”(528) that dominates the foreground of the papert The “sub-pattern”(530). allows the narrator to talk about how she feels in this world, The background pattern takes the shape of “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure”[530), the figure is the feeling that she has yet to put a name to. This pattern beyond the paper “get[s] clearer every day”(530), showing a clearer understanding of the feeling of oppression, this is supported by it “always [being] the same shape, only very numerous” (531). As the pattern becomes more “like a woman”(532), it is evident that this figure is the narrator “[Tlhe pattern is torturing“(533), further supporting that she realizes that she is dissatisfied by the way that she has been treated throughout her life. “[T]he women behind it”(533) becomes much clearer when the narrator is not being watched by anyone. These are the times when she has time to think on her own and is able to see clearly that she feels better when she does so.

Continuing. the outer pattern “becomes bars”(533) trapping the woman in the sub- pattern, as the narrator is in society, “The woman behind shakes it”(534); she is trying to break free from the clutches of society It is also said that “there are a great many women behind“(534), the narrator knows that she can not be the only person to be pushed aside be the greater power. The figure behind the pattem only shows the need to breakfree “in the very shady spots”(535), as she must put on a face while others are watching, The women are always “trying to climb through”(535), like many women of the time the narrator struggles to escape the parameters of social conduct. The narrator also feels as if it is impossible to over come society, as “it strangles”(535) those who work against it When she notices that the “woman gets out in the daytime”(535), the narrator is realizing that she wants to break free from the confines of society.

In order to break free from the clutches of society, she must strip away the thing that is keeping her locked in Since the paper is “stripped of [,..] in great patches”(527), this is easier for the narrator than other womenI who had to strip away their barriers without something to grasp. The woman behind the pattern helps our narrator by shaking when she pulled and pulling when “she shook”(536), stripping away “yards of that paper”(536), within the nightt By doing this she is finally taking control of her own life and not letting anyone stand in her way. When her sister in law tries to stop her she “locked the door”(536), as this is something that every woman must do on her own. As she continues to peel the paper she notices that “the pattern enjoys”(536) her struggle to get rid of it, much like society has enjoyed watching women struggle to gain the most basic rights.

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The Symbolism of the Wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (2022, Nov 10). Retrieved from

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