Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story about a woman who fell to the depths of insanity; shredding away any dignity left in her life like the wallpaper she shred surrounding her in the room she passed in. As she wrote her progressions lying in the yellow tainted room for the three months that she stayed, the wallpaper took on its own character, representing the growing level of just how insane the woman had truly become. The optical illusions of the wall that haunted her created a landscape for her inhibitions to roam and set free.
The sick woman was in obvious need of help, but her ignorant, denial stricken husband only drew her deeper into hopelessness, drawing her to her death. When the disturbed woman first settled into the ghastly kept old room, she was not comfortable at all. She often expressed her desire to live downstairs in one of the nicer bedrooms, but her husband, John, insisted upon residing in the room. He assured her she would never be completely satisfied wherever they stayed because of her own nervousness of the new settings they resided in.
If he changed the wallpaper, next “it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then the gate at the head of the stairs, and so on. ” (186) The one thing she detested the most about the room was the yellow corruptly sculpted wallpaper, that she described as looking “as if a boys” school had used it,” (185) showing the wear and tear of such an adolescent’s touch. Eventually she starts to attentively examine the tired design of the wall, and its shapes, turns and tears, finding fascination in such a peculiar thing.
She documents these changes in her journal that she hides from everyone, for they would hate to know she writes such questionable things, when they believe the room is actually helping her. As long as John can convince her and himself to believe she is okay, and the best is being done for her, he can rest easy, showing how selfish he really is. As the fascination with the wall intensifies she begins only sleeping in the day, for night is the best time to examine it.
She believes she is seeing a woman creeping through that is trapped in the wall, only to be set free during the day to creep along through the home’s estate. Evident by her writings, the woman is clearly going insane, but her husband’s denial and foolish pride of being a physician quotes him to tell her she “really is better, whether [she] can see it or not. ” (190). He’s convinced he can sway her into believing him, and somehow she”ll just miraculously become better for his own sake.
An interesting attribute of the wallpaper was that she described it as being one that she would expect a child’s classroom to use, because it seemed as if she was being treated like a child herself while caged in the room. John constantly reminds her of her foolishness, giving her playful hugs and pats, like he would to a young daughter. He persistently calls her names like “blessed little goose” (186) and darling, brushing off any of her concerns as if she had no true reason to be of concern at all.
Jennie, his sister and housekeeper, takes care of her, although she is a grown woman. She is not allowed to see her own newborn daughter, and is only reported of her progress by them at their disclosure. She is very much the woman she sees within the wall, trapped and unconscious of what she is to do. Confused of how to beat this downward spiraling battle, she gives all her attention to the wall, sort of releasing herself into its realm, giving herself up to the insanity that everyone else thinks she is curing herself of.
She believes if she concentrates hard enough and puts all her mentality into the wall’s entrenchment, perhaps she will solve its mystery and answer all the questions she has built up. In her last days at the house, she fails to figure out the wall’s purpose and shreds it of its paper leaving it bare. She contemplates all her anger and desperation, thinking that “jumping out of the window [might] be a be an admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong to even try. ” (195) Though satisfied with the newly bare walls, she is now completely insane.
The further she became obsessed with the wall, the sicker she had become, despite her husband’s doctoral advice. He felt his work at the hospital was so much more to dedicate his expertise to than anything in his own home, that he neglected the person who needed him the most. The story ends after she has stripped the walls and John enters to seeing her crawling around the bare room, and then faints. This was the catalyst that drove John to finally realize that she had become hopeless, and was in fact insane.
The wall was in no case the antagonist of the story, for it did not act upon her sickness and lure her to do anything. It was simply a controlled variable, never physically changing like her mind perceived it to. Though they thought they were helping the woman, John and Jennie only added to her tormenting set of problems by aiding her and setting her in a room, without being able to see her daughter or do anything productive. She was just given a chance to let the lingering tricks of her mind vex her even more without distraction.
Whether intentional or not, John’s arrogance was what drove the poor woman to linger more into desperation, as she loved him and only wanted to please him. She needed to get out of the room and see the reality around her, like the eyes of her new baby, to bring her down to Earth from the psychotic visions she was experiencing. This disturbing story demonstrated the distorted vision of a woman on the verge of a breakdown, giving up to the temptation of a certain peace.
She could not herself conquer these demons, and the selfish, denying aid of her husband only helped to worsen the situation. Desperate to choose a side she would finally be at peace with, she gave herself up to the one she was heading for in the first place, so she could end the agony. Like the wallpaper, her life was unexplainable, and like the patterns on the wall that would, in her words, “suddenly commit suicide,” (185) she gave up as well.