In this literary analysis, I examine Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and explore how the literary devices used by Gilman within the story reflect the narrator’s perpetual entrapment in a feminist paradox: to either remain destabilized by mental disturbance, or be besieged by the inescapable doldrums of domestic life. Gilman wrote the story after enduring a doctor-prescribed rest cure, a common treatment for supposedly hysterical women in the nineteenth century. Gilman’s perturbation toward her rest cure treatment is evident through the voice and actions of the similarly afflicted narrator, but the story’s message goes beyond that of a simple medical protest. Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper as a representation of the narrator’s lack of control over her own life at the hands of both her fragile mental state, and the patriarchal society that will not allow her to fill any role that is not that of an anxious housewife. As a result of these constraints, the narrator obsesses over the wallpaper, claiming ownership of it despite her initial repulsion toward it. By the end of the story, the narrator has consolidated her own being with that of the creeping woman who she believes is trapped behind the yellow wallpaper. This consolidation is representative of her embracing the full force of her “nervous illness” and rejecting her would-be role as a proper woman of society. Despite this final decision, she still finds herself unable to fully escape from the feminist paradox she struggles against throughout the entire story.
Student Author Biography
Ashley Brooks is an English Major with a concentration in Writing & Publication at University of North Georgia. She currently works at a public library and hopes to pursue a joint Master’s degree in Library Science and English upon graduating from UNG.
Brooks, Ashley N.
"Nursery Versus Straightjacket: The Feminist Paradox of “The Yellow Wallpaper”,"
Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research: Vol. 6
, Article 18.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/papersandpubs/vol6/iss1/18