Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

Charlotte Perkins’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist text that questions women’s submissiveness in marriages. You will find it difficult for women to judge their mental healthiness, their rights, and identify themselves. Below is a summary of the book:

It begins with the narrator and her husband moving into a new estate that had been secluded. The narrator has been diagnosed with a mental depression condition after giving birth. John is a well-respected physician, and he tells her that she needs rest and does not allow her to continue writing.

The narrator tells her husband that they should move to a smaller house on the ground floor, but John refuses, and they have to stick to the one with a large ugly wallpaper facing the wall.

The narrator feels disgusted by the wallpaper that it drives her insane. She sleeps throughout the day and stays awake through the night, and she believes there is a woman in the wallpaper who watches her.

As the story comes to an end, the narrator is obsessed with the yellow people and feels the yellow smell permeating the whole room. On the last day of their lease, the narrator tears down the wallpaper to free herself.

When she looks outside the window, she discovers other women creeping and prefers to stay in her room.

The Yellow Wallpaper Literary Analysis

In the text, women have been depicted as weak and always controlled by their husbands. You can see that through the narrator, who goes through depression, and her sanity levels become questionable.

This is an example of a text that shows what women go through in society, especially the married ones.

The author shows you how women were oppressed through dialogues. Men, for example John degrade their wives to children. The author makes it clear when the narrator says “If a physician of a high standard and one’s husband assures family and friends that there is nothing the matter but temporary nervous depression, what is one likely to do?” John believes that his wife is dramatic and there is nothing wrong with her.

John also oppresses the narrator by belittling his wife. The narrator says, “Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose and said he would go down to the cellar if I wished and have it whitewashed into the bargain (Gilman)”.

The phrase ‘little goose’ shows the husband disrespects his wife by treating her like a child.

The Yellow Wallpaper Symbolism

The title of the book ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ symbolizes imprisonment. It shows you the imprisonment the narrator is under as she is not allowed to do anything against her husband’s will; like writing and throwing the wallpaper away.

The husband’s treatment towards her becomes questionable, and she is being held just like the woman in the wallpaper.

The story also talks about a nursery that represents how women were being treated like children. The narrator’s husband also does not allow her to see her child because she was sick, and he puts her in a nursery because she was depressed.

Just like a child, she could not leave whenever she felt to and was watched by her husband, who would refer to her as ‘little girl’ or ‘little goose’.

Critical Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper

The most common way of looking at the book is through the feminist approach. The story is based on how society including their husbands, psychologically tortures women.

The book is an example of psychological realism, which has created several emotions throughout the book, such as suspense, horror, and sympathy.

The Yellow Wallpaper shows us how women were treated as second-class citizens. For instance, ‘rest cure’ has been used by John to prevent his wife from leaving her house, writing and denied her freedom to do what she wants. You learn that the narrator loves her husband, but she dislikes his way of doing things. It is so unfortunate that she can’t leave as this will worsen the situation.

Themes of The Yellow Wallpaper

The theme of evils of ‘rest cure’ is central as it has caused the depression to the narrator. She lives in an unhappy and isolated environment bringing anxiety to her as she even fears the house’s wallpaper.

The narrator cannot exercise her freedom as her husband does not give her a chance. He even thinks that his wife should entirely depend on his ideas.

John believes that his wife should entirely depend on him that is why he tells her that she should not continue with writing. However, the narrator believes that she should be treated better and do anything she wants, just like her husband.

These ideas cause her depression as the rest itself cannot even cure her but brings more problems in her life.

John’s refusal to acknowledge his wife worsens her mental illness, which leads to hysteria. When he refuses to listen to her requests, such as the choice of the house, her writing denial to receive visitors leads to her mental breakdown.

The feeling of powerlessness and inability to communicate and being listened to shows how men were stubborn during this era.

The Yellow Wallpaper Themes

The subordination of women is another central theme in the story. Women especially from respectable ‘social classes’ were supposed to guard their marriages even if they were unhappy. Women had to go through a lot of pain to satisfy their husbands’ demands like being disrespected by their husbands and being denied freedom.

The narrator has no say in what to do with her life, and the only place she can retain and control herself is in her mind. This gender division prevented women from developing and making them be treated like children, for example when John calls his wife ‘little girl’.

John assumed since he is a doctor, he was superior to his wife, and he ends up dominating over her in the name of helping her find a cure.

Example of Themes in The Yellow Wallpaper

You notice that self-expression is important because the narrator hid how she felt about her abomination to her freedom led to mental depression. She fights with depression as she is forced to hide her feelings by pretending she is in her happy marriage.

Her husband forces her to be completely passive, especially when she is forbidden from writing.

We realize that her insanity is a result of the lack of expressing her imagination. She goes ahead and writes a secret journal, which she says relieves her head. The author tells us that a mind becomes our self-destruction when it is denied an activity that it should carry out.


In summary, Gilman shows us how men had total power over their wives by totally controlling them. She goes ahead and tells us how lack of freedom can lead to insanity, especially to women.

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