A short story analysis: Use of Symbolism in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Published under category: Custom Writing | 2015-05-19 11:35:41 UTC

Context: Literature

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in her story titled “The Yellow Wallpaper,” has described an isolated woman who was initially proclaimed to be suffering from hysteria. However, we later discover that she is suffering from what is known as postpartum depression. Gilman captures the story in firsthand experience, and her main intention is to coax John to stop using the rest cure the woman has endured. Gilman has extensively used symbolism to narrate the story. The story is narrated in an epistolary manner, since the narrator keeps on recanting her story as she does not want to be caught by her husband when writing. She mentions that her husband does not want her to write anything (Gilman, 175). At that time, a lady was not supposed to write as it was seen as improper. Her husband also felt that it was writing that was dampening her health. The narrator observes that she believed that her husband thought that writing was making her sick (Gilman, 178). However, to the narrator, it is writing that kept her from becoming insane.

Fully aware of the benefits of writing to her health, the narrator observes that writing brought a sense of relief to her mind (Gilman, 173). The narrator is, however, resigned to her fate since she admits to writing being burdensome at times (Gilman, 176). The contradiction in the narrator’s thoughts is symbolic as it shows that the narrator gains strength from writing, though she still remains subordinate to her husband. Just as her husband believes, she also feels that writing weakens her. John, the narrator’s husband, acquires a new house for the sake of narrator’s health. He feels that the house will serve them well as the narrator is rehabilitated. However, the woman does not find the house desirable. She claims that the house is haunted (Gilman, 173). The narrator is shown her room by her husband, but she feels the rooms is like a nursery due to the items that she finds inside. The design of the windows and the rings and other things placed on the wall convinces her that the room should be occupied by children (Gilman, 174). The woman does not recognize that the items are staples in asylums.

The narrator has deliberately misread her surroundings as the room contains multiple windows from which she can view flowers outside (Gilman, 176). This instance is symbolic as the writer is given mysterious liberties but still manages to remain old-fashioned. The narrator is also able to see people walking in numerous paths in the next window (Gilman, 176). This is symbolic since it shows that the narrator can view other people’s freedoms, yet she cannot join them since she is trapped. The narrator’s room is big though she feels trapped inside. The window presents her with the opportunity to imagine the way life would be if she were free. Male dominance at the time is symbolized in the character of John. Men were supposed to assert their dominance over women. On the contrary, women were supposed to behave demurely. Women duties revolved around the domestic sphere. A woman, therefore, only aspired to be a charming wife and a competent mother. The story reveals that John loves his wife much though he unknowingly drives her to insanity. John only meant to relieve her wife from her slight hysterical tendencies (Gilman, 173). The narrator does not agree with her husband actions but she does not express her view publicly. This is symbolic since women were not allowed to share their thoughts publicly at that time.

As the title suggests, the wallpaper is the narrator’s main fixation in the story. She is preoccupied with the wallpaper in the entire course of the story hence becoming her companion and torturer. The narrator’s descriptions of the wallpaper are more profound and vivid as her neurosis worsens. The wallpaper is used symbolically to represent a woman’s rigid position in the society. A woman is treated like a prisoner of the domestic sphere. The opinion that the wallpaper sticks closer than a brother can be compared to the ideology that a woman’s role is only to bear and raise kids (Gilman, 177). At first, the wallpaper is undesirable to the narrator. She claims that the yellow color of the paper is unclean, repellant and almost revolting (Gilman, 175). Later, she becomes more ostracized and confined, and it is the wallpaper that provides her with distraction. She admits to getting fond of the room because of the wallpaper. The flamboyant patterns on the wallpaper that the woman previously disliked help her to be occupied.

The twisted patterns on the wallpaper provide her with a quiz to solve as she seeks to unravel where the patterns lead. The narrator wants a way out of the maze that has been created by the patterns on the wallpaper. The patterns symbolize the narrator’s restricted life. On closer scrutiny, the woman observes a woman stooping low and creeping about the pattern (Gilman, 179). The pattern changes into bars at night (Gilman, 186). This is a symbol that the woman now realizes that she is jailed. She is trapped by her society in the cult of domesticity. The Yellow Wallpaper is well crafted story of a woman in isolation; a prescribed cure as a result of her sickness. The woman, instead of being rehabilitated, becomes more affected. Gilman has used symbolism to bring out the plight of women at that time. References Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The Seagull Reader (2nd ed.) Ed., Joseph Kelly. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2008. Print.



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