The yellow wallpaper
The Yellow Wall-Paper,” by Charlotte Gilman Perkins, can be read as a
simple story of a young woman suffering from postpartum depression.
Her husband is unsympathetic to her needs, her doctor refuses to
acknowledge her serious illness, and her emotional state declines as a
result of being forced to stay inside her room in the middle of her
vacation with no company except the yellow wallpaper. But, on a deeper
level, it is this room and the wallpaper that is pasted all over it
that is symbolic and allows the narrator to materialize her depression
and slowly decline into insanity.
In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes herself as
having “temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency.”
(169) The narrator is well aware of her condition, and it is apparent
that she is also aware of what her condition may lead to. But, if it
weren’t for certain imprisoning aspects of her environment, her
condition might have never progressed to complete insanity. For
example, the windows of the narrator’s room become a materialization
of the world that squeezes her into the tiny jail of her own mind, and
the wallpaper represents this state of that mind. The room was once
used as a nursery, and thus its environment makes the narrator feel
like a child, like a being who is taken less seriously than she should
be. She is in a room where “the windows are barred for little
children, and there are rings and things in the walls.” (170) The
protective bars on the windows are symbolic of the protectiveness of
her husband, John, and his well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful
suggestions. The narrator is a prisoner in her place of rest, and her
husband is but the jailer, watching over her when he sees fit and
leaving her in the house with his sister, who serves as a sort of
nanny for his restless wife in the stuffy nursery.
Other aspects of the room are symbolic and allow the narrator to feel
even more trapped inside of her depression. The bedstead that is
nailed down to the floor serves as a symbol for the lack of sexuality
and sensuality that the narrator experiences in her temporary home.
She is given the “rest cure” by her husband and doctor, which forbids
her to work until she is “well” again. In this way, she is bedridden
from her “disease” and kept out of the way. Never does her husband
attempt to be physically affectionate with her, and this lack of
physicality for a woman as sensitive as herself may cause a certain
degeneration of self-understanding. The fact that the narrator has no
access to her offspring is also liable to effect her in negative ways.
“The immovable bedstead symbolizes the static nature of both the
expression and the product of her sexuality,” (Golden 138) and this
feeling of stagnation that comes from the nailed and confined bedstead
is symbolic for the emotional and physical malnutrition of the
The view provided by the placement of her...