Misunderstood Struggles


The_Yellow_Wallpaper“The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.

It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis, that perhaps it is the paper!

I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and came into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once… Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John’s and she wished we would be more careful!” (92)

            Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper focuses on a young woman’s battle with depression, isolation, and emotional abuse. Gilman based the story on her own experiences with severe depression, which eventually led to her committing suicide. The above passage explores how the wallpaper, which is a metaphor for the narrator’s depression, affects the lives of those in the story. In the story John and Jennie are staring at the torn and ugly yellow wallpaper continuously. The narrator catches them several different times and realizes that the paper is not only bothering her but also them. My interpretation of this is that the wallpaper represents her depression. “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes start at you upside down. I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl” (86). This demonstrates how the wallpaper relates to depression. The narrator is feeling the ups and downs of her depression and the frustration of its “everlastingness.” Even when she cannot relate to the others in the story she can relate to the yellow wallpaper. Because the wallpaper represents the depression, she hates it, just as she hates her own illness.

The narrator describes how the children who lived in the house previously “had perseverance as well as hatred” (87) when tearing apart the wallpaper. This could be a metaphor for how the people in the narrator’s lives are tearing her apart and making her depression worse. “He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self control” (90) John, her husband, is emotionally abusing her because he blames her for her depression and is not supportive. He tells all of their family that there is nothing wrong with her. John considers it a “slight hysterical tendency” (83), which is completely downplaying the seriousness of the narrator’s depression. He constantly tells her what she should be doing and discourages creativity, claiming his profession as a physician lends him the knowledge to assess her situation correctly. At one point he says, “I am a doctor, dear, and I know” (91). Although, how could he truly know how she is feeling inside of her mind?

The passage I chose uses many exclamation points. I believe this is to show that the narrator is getting more and more nervous or paranoid. The exclamation points are generally after talking about the wallpaper, showing how serious and intertwined the depression is within the narrator’s life. Gilman also italicized the phrase “looking at the paper!” to emphasize the shock that has overcome the narrator when noticing John and Jennie constantly studying the wallpaper. It has become her obsession as stated on page 88, “It dwells in my mind so!” and she does not want the others to notice. As they have constantly told her to push away her depression and to get better, she does not want them to notice that she getting worse. Just as she does not want them to notice the wallpaper, representing her struggles. In reality, however, both Jennie and John have noticed and are affected by her depression. When Jennie says that she keeps finding yellow stains on John and the narrator’s clothing, she is hinting that the depression is affecting both her and John. The narrator begins to realize this by page 95 when she says “I feel sure John and Jennie are affected by it.”

A main theme that this passage brings out in relation to the whole piece is that the narrator is not listened to or understood. She listens to and follows her husband and his diagnosis, even though she says “Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (83). This relates to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birth-mark and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval Portrait. In The Birth-mark, Georgiana disagreed with her husband’s idea of the imperfection of her birthmark at first, but then ends up following along with her husband. She loved him so much that she would do anything he asked, even risk her life. In The Oval Portrait, the woman did not want to sit in a room week after week as her husband painted a picture of her. However, she ended up doing as he wished because she loved him. The common theme in all of these stories is the obedience and dependency of the female characters rather than their freedom and independence. Although they may have defied their husband’s thoughts and ideas in their heads, they never did so in their actions. 

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4 comments

  1. I really love how you examined at the punctuation of the piece and explored how it reflected the character’s increasing emotion as the story progresses. This observation is really great and I think little things such as punctuation can tell readers so much but often be missed! Also, we didn’t really get to expand upon the yellow stains on the clothes during our presentation, however I am really glad that you talked about it in your post. Your interpretation that the stain is a physical representation of how the character’s depression is affecting the characters, including John and Jennie, is really interesting. I like the way that you interpreted the stain in terms of the outreach and spread of her depression. I think that it is possible to look beyond the idea that there really are yellow stains on their clothes, but a more symbolic stain. A stain of depression, oppression, and influence. I personally agree that the stain is a symbol rather than a legitimate marking on their clothing.

  2. Wow! I agree – I really loved reading your interpretation of the story! It had never occurred to me that the yellow wallpaper was actually a metaphor for the main character’s depression, therefore symbolizing the depression itself; I had originally interpreted the wallpaper acting as an arbitrary object, of which the narrator was projecting her depression onto. I love how you say, “In the story John and Jennie are staring at the torn and ugly yellow wallpaper continuously. The narrator catches them several different times and realizes that the paper is not only bothering her but also them.” Again, when I had first read the part in which she describes John and Jennie staring at the wallpaper, I more thought that her depression was driving her to the point of insanity, and as a result was effecting everybody in the house. I like your interpretation much better! However, I feel as if this bring a whole new dimension of sadness to the narrator – bringing in the dynamic that John and Jennie see the narrator as broken and ugly, instead of in need of some quality help. Altogether, a great interpretation!

  3. Oh! I forgot to add in that last post – I love how you mentioned that the main character can relate to the wallpaper, even going as far as to say, “she hates it, just as she hates her own illness.” So interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love your interpretation of the passage you chose and how you used a small part of the story to bring about a theme of the entire piece: that the narrator is not listened to or understood. I agree completely, and I think this was how Gilman herself felt when she wasn’t allowed any creative outlets when dealing with her own depression. You said the narrator in the story “listens to and follows her husband and his diagnosis, even though she says ‘Personally, I disagree with their ideas.’” I didn’t really focus on this particular line the first time I read it, but I think this is definitely a parallel made between the narrator and her “treatments”, and Gilman and Dr. Weil Mitchell’s treatments for her. I also really liked how you related this story with some of the other stories we read in class; when I read it I also saw many similarities to other texts, especially regarding narrator reliability (similar to “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”).

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