A Literary Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper
February 20, 2008
In 1892 Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. It is the story about an unidentified woman, who I presume is named Jane, and her husband John. This fictional story, in classic form, has a plot, a setting, a cast of characters, and a point of view in which the story is told. However, it is the way in which the story is told and the unexpected conclusion of the story that have made it an important piece of 19th century fiction.
The Yellow Wallpaper portrays a very common view of 19th century medicine and culture. The conflict of this story is the struggle of Jane against her husband and then later her struggle against the wallpaper itself. As the protagonist of the story, Jane faces the opposition of the first antagonist, her husband. This story is an insight into a time in which mental disease was poorly understood and it was common for those who were sick to just be locked away. This is specifically what has happened to our main character. She has been taken to a house in the woods and virtually locked in a second floor room, which even had bars on the windows. She is looked after by her husband John’s sister, Jennie. The story has a gradual progression toward a climax, as we first hear only a mere mention of the wallpaper in the narrator’s first writing but toward the end of the story we hear only about the wallpaper. The climax of the story is when we discover that the narrator has now completely gone crazy and tears off all the wallpaper so that she can never be put back in her prison. This story begins in medias res, with the story picking up when the narrator has just arrived for a summer stay at a rented home. The plot, however, is dependent upon the setting of the story, without which the story would not be believable.
The setting of this story takes place during the summer in a rented home that John has acquired so that the narrator may rest and get well again. The story takes place about the time in which it was written, in the late 19th century. The house is a colonial mansion, which our narrator quickly tells us she thinks is haunted. It is in a rural setting surrounded by gardens and woods with “a lovely shaded winding road” leading up to the mansion. The main setting, which the narrator describes, is the room in which she stays. She goes into explicit detail as she carefully describes the yellow wallpaper which consumes more and more of her attention. The wallpaper becomes a moving prison to our main character, while other characters, like John, barely seem to notice its presence.
There are not many characters in this story, but each one plays a vital role in giving the reader insight into the mind of the writer and allowing the reader to come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the story. Jennie, a flat character and foil of the main character, is the main character’s sister-in-law and is the caretaker of the home. She is the “perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper and hopes for no better profession” who serves as a substitute wife for John’s traditional family view. She is the imprisoned woman who is perfectly fine with her prison, even blaming the narrator’s sickness on her untraditional thinking and writing. John, who is also a flat character, is the main character’s husband and is the archetype of the 19th century white male. He is a successful “practical physician” who treats his wife more like a patient than he does an equal partner. John is a representative image of the dominant sunlight, which in the story keeps the woman behind strict bars and prevents her from being free or creative. Though the narrator never explicitly tells us her name, the very end of the story says, “’I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’” This is a clear indication to me that the narrator’s name is Jane, as revealed by the crazy woman (Jane) who now thinks she was the one in the wallpaper. The narrator of the story, Jane, is the main character and is a round character that is fully developed. She is representative of the woman imprisoned, unsatisfied with being merely the submissive housekeeper. Jane is like the less dominant moon, which in the story allows the bars of the wallpaper to move and free the woman in the wallpaper from her daytime prison. We are given an insight into Jane’s mind and opinions through her writings in her journal.
This story is told in first-person narration. However, it is not in traditional story form, but it is constructed as if we are reading the hidden journal of the Jane who is telling, us alone, all her intimate thoughts. This also allows for the time-lapse in which the story skips over weeks at a time allowing the reader to gain an understanding of what is going on without having to read mundane and unimportant details. The chronological order of the journal also lends to it appearing as if it could be an actual journal the audience is reading.
Although The Yellow Wallpaper has all the components of the average fictional story such as plot, a setting, characters, and is even told in a fairly common point of view, the brilliant writing of the story combined with the unique way in which it is presented, make for an exciting story that keeps the reader’s attention. The story is also a deep insight into the author’s world and time revealing her own personal point of view. It is this creative writing, coupled with deep meaning and veiled in captivating writing, which assures this literary work will continue to remain a hallmark of fiction.
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