The Yellow Wall-Paper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Welcome to the captivating world of The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman! 📖✨ Written in 1892, this short story is a seminal piece in American literature, offering deep insights into themes of mental health, gender roles, and personal freedom. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an influential writer and social reformer, used her own experiences to craft a narrative that still resonates with readers today. Set against the backdrop of the late 19th century, a period rife with social norms that often suppressed women’s voices, Gilman’s work stands out as a bold critique of these societal constraints. The story belongs to the genre of psychological horror and feminist literature, masterfully blending suspense with a profound commentary on the human condition. Let’s dive into the mesmerizing and sometimes unsettling world Gilman has created for us. 🌼🖋

Plot Summary

The Yellow Wall-Paper narrates the tale of a woman undergoing a rest cure for her presumed nervous depression, a treatment prescribed by her physician husband, John. The story is told through her journal entries, offering a glimpse into her deteriorating mental state.

Exposition — The story begins with the narrator and her husband, John, moving into a large, secluded country mansion for the summer. The narrator is suffering from what John, a physician, diagnoses as a “temporary nervous depression.” She disagrees with the treatment – rest, which prohibits her from writing or engaging in any stimulating activity.

Rising Action — As part of her treatment, the narrator is confined to a former nursery with ugly, yellow wallpaper. She becomes fascinated and then obsessed with the wallpaper’s complex and confusing pattern.

Climax — The narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper grows as she starts to see a woman trapped behind the pattern, struggling to break free. This mirrors her feelings of entrapment within her own life and marriage.

Falling Action — In an attempt to free both herself and the woman she perceives within the wallpaper, the narrator begins to strip the paper off the walls.

Resolution — The story culminates in the narrator’s complete identification with the woman in the wallpaper. She locks herself in the room, throws the key outside, and starts creeping around the room, stepping over her unconscious husband when he finally breaks in. She declares that she has finally freed herself, achieving a distorted sense of liberation.

The narrative structure of The Yellow Wall-Paper is a compelling journey into the protagonist’s psyche, highlighting the detrimental effects of the rest cure and the oppressive forces exerted by societal and marital expectations.

Character Analysis

The Yellow Wall-Paper features a small, yet impactful cast of characters, each contributing significantly to the protagonist’s journey and the story’s overarching themes.

Narrator — The protagonist, whose name is never revealed, is a woman suffering from what is described as nervous depression. Her personality is introspective and imaginative, which clashes with the restrictive treatment prescribed by her husband. As the story progresses, her mental state deteriorates, leading to a fixation on the yellow wallpaper in her room and ultimately, a breakdown. Her motivations stem from a desire for freedom and self-expression, which are stifled by her circumstances.

John — The narrator’s husband, a physician, embodies the rational and authoritative figure typical of the period. He dismisses his wife’s concerns and insists on the rest cure treatment. His motivations are rooted in a blend of care and control, reflecting the patriarchal values of the time. John’s character does not evolve significantly, serving more as a catalyst for the narrator’s descent into madness.

Jennie — John’s sister, who serves as the housekeeper. She represents the idealized domestic woman of the era, content with her role and unquestioning of John’s authority. While not a central figure, her presence emphasizes the societal expectations placed on women.

NarratorIntrospective, imaginative, sensitiveSeeks freedom and self-expressionDeteriorates mentally, ultimately seeks liberation through delusion
JohnRational, authoritative, dismissiveTo cure his wife, controlRemains static, embodying the oppressive societal norms
JennieObedient, domestic, unquestioningTo maintain household, support John’s decisionsRemains static, highlighting societal expectations for women

Through these characters, Gilman paints a vivid picture of the societal norms and individual struggles of the time. The protagonist’s evolution from a compliant patient to a woman who perceives herself as liberated, albeit through madness, is a powerful commentary on the desperate lengths to which one might go to escape oppressive circumstances.

Themes and Symbols

The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and complexity, providing insight into the human psyche and societal norms.


Mental Health and Treatment — The story critiques the 19th-century medical treatment of women, highlighting the detrimental effects of the rest cure on the narrator’s mental health. Gilman illustrates how lack of mental stimulation and enforced idleness only exacerbate the narrator’s condition, suggesting a need for understanding and respect for mental health.

Freedom and Confinement — The physical and mental confinement of the narrator reflects broader themes of societal and marital imprisonment of women. Her obsession with the wallpaper and the figure trapped within becomes a metaphor for her own desire to escape the confines of her life.

Gender Roles and Patriarchy — Through John’s treatment of the narrator and Jennie’s acceptance of her domestic role, Gilman critiques the rigid gender roles and the dominance of patriarchal values that limit women’s autonomy and expression.


The Yellow Wallpaper — The wallpaper symbolizes the oppression of women and the narrator’s struggle to break free from societal expectations. Its confusing, intricate pattern reflects the complexity of her situation and her growing madness.

The Figure Behind the Wallpaper — The woman the narrator sees trapped behind the wallpaper represents the narrator’s own feeling of entrapment and her desire for freedom. As she identifies more with this figure, it symbolizes her growing awareness and rejection of her oppressive circumstances.

The Nursery — The room in which the narrator is confined, originally a nursery, symbolizes the infantilization of women and their treatment as fragile, child-like beings incapable of making decisions for themselves.

The Window — The windows in the nursery represent the world outside, a world of freedom and possibilities that is just out of reach for the narrator, symbolizing her isolation and the limitations placed on her by society and her marriage.

Through these themes and symbols, The Yellow Wall-Paper provides a powerful critique of the societal norms of its time, many of which continue to resonate today. Gilman’s story invites readers to reflect on the importance of autonomy, the need for compassionate mental health care, and the ongoing struggle against oppressive structures.

Style and Tone

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper is celebrated for its distinctive writing style and tone, which play crucial roles in building the mood and atmosphere of the story, as well as in deepening its themes and impact.

Writing Style

  • First-Person Narrative: Gilman employs a first-person perspective, allowing readers intimate access to the narrator’s thoughts and perceptions. This choice deepens the psychological impact of the story, making the reader feel as if they are experiencing the narrator’s descent into madness alongside her.
  • Journal Entry Format: The story unfolds through journal entries, which adds a layer of authenticity and immediacy. This format allows Gilman to portray the gradual progression of the narrator’s condition in a believable and impactful manner.
  • Symbolic Language: Gilman’s use of symbolic language, particularly in the descriptions of the yellow wallpaper, enriches the narrative with deeper meaning. The wallpaper’s pattern, for example, becomes a complex symbol of the protagonist’s mental state and her perception of her societal entrapment.
  • Imagery and Metaphor: The vivid imagery and frequent use of metaphor throughout the text enhance its emotional and thematic depth. The description of the wallpaper, the house, and the surrounding landscape all contribute to the story’s oppressive atmosphere.


  • Ambiguity and Mystery: The tone of the story is marked by a sense of ambiguity and mystery. Gilman carefully balances the narrator’s reliability with her growing obsession, creating tension and keeping the reader engaged in the puzzle of the wallpaper.
  • Psychological Intensity: As the story progresses, the tone shifts to reflect the narrator’s increasing psychological distress. Gilman masterfully conveys the intensity of the narrator’s experiences, drawing the reader into her inner turmoil.
  • Critique and Irony: Underlying the narrative is a tone of critique and irony directed at the treatment of women and the medical practices of the time. Gilman uses the narrator’s experiences and perceptions to subtly criticize societal norms and the rest cure.

Through her masterful control of style and tone, Charlotte Perkins Gilman crafts a narrative that is as haunting as it is insightful. The story’s psychological depth, combined with its critique of societal norms, makes The Yellow Wall-Paper a powerful and enduring piece of literature.

Literary Devices Used in The Yellow Wall-Paper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper masterfully employs a range of literary devices that enrich its narrative depth and thematic complexity. Here are the top 10 devices used:

  1. Symbolism — The wallpaper itself is a potent symbol representing the narrator’s mental state and the broader condition of women in society. Its intricate, confining pattern symbolizes the complex and restrictive roles imposed on women.
  2. Foreshadowing — Gilman uses subtle hints and clues to foreshadow the narrator’s eventual breakdown and identification with the woman she perceives in the wallpaper, creating a sense of inevitability and tension.
  3. Irony — There is a pervasive irony in the way the rest cure prescribed to the narrator, meant to heal, actually contributes to her mental decline. This irony extends to the broader critique of societal norms that ostensibly protect but actually imprison women.
  4. Imagery — Vivid imagery is used to describe the grotesque patterns of the wallpaper, the barred windows, and the stifling room, evoking a sense of entrapment and despair that mirrors the narrator’s psychological state.
  5. Metaphor — The wallpaper serves as an extended metaphor for the structures that confine women’s roles and freedoms, with the trapped figure representing the narrator and, by extension, all women constrained by societal expectations.
  6. Personification — Gilman personifies the wallpaper and other elements within the story, imbuing them with life-like qualities that reflect the narrator’s deteriorating mind and her perception of her environment as animate and oppressive.
  7. Stream of Consciousness — The narrative technique mirrors the narrator’s thought processes, capturing the flow of her consciousness and her descent into obsession and madness, making the reader privy to her innermost thoughts and fears.
  8. Repetition — The repeated references to the wallpaper and specific phrases related to it emphasize the narrator’s growing obsession and the thematic significance of the wallpaper as a symbol of confinement.
  9. Juxtaposition — Gilman juxtaposes the beauty of the outside world, visible through the windows, with the oppressive interior of the narrator’s room, highlighting the contrast between freedom and confinement.
  10. Allusion — The story alludes to contemporary medical practices and societal norms, providing a critique of the rest cure and the patriarchal society that prescribes such treatments for women.

These literary devices are not just stylistic choices but serve to deepen the reader’s engagement with the story’s themes, enhance the psychological realism of the narrative, and critique the societal norms of Gilman’s time. Through her skilled use of these techniques, Gilman crafts a story that is both a haunting psychological tale and a pointed social commentary.

Literary Devices Examples

For each literary device identified in The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, here are examples and explanations to illustrate how they’re employed within the text.


The Yellow WallpaperRepresents the oppression of women and the narrator’s mental state. The complex pattern symbolizes the societal constraints placed on women.
The WindowsSymbolize freedom and the outside world that is inaccessible to the narrator, highlighting her confinement.
The Torn WallpaperSymbolizes the narrator’s attempt to escape her mental and physical confinement by freeing the woman she sees trapped within the patterns.


Early references to the wallpaper’s unsettling effectSuggest the narrator’s eventual obsession and breakdown, hinting at the deeper impact the wallpaper will have on her psyche.
Mention of the bed being nailed downSubtly hints at the narrator’s future confinement and her increasing lack of control over her environment.


The rest cureIntended to cure the narrator, the treatment ironically exacerbates her mental illness, highlighting the ineffectiveness and harmfulness of such prescribed norms.


Descriptions of the wallpaper’s “sickly” color and “sinister” shapesEvoke a vivid picture of the oppressive environment surrounding the narrator, mirroring her feeling of being trapped.


The woman trapped in the wallpaperServes as a metaphor for the narrator’s own feeling of entrapment within societal and domestic roles.


The wallpaper “knowing”Gives the wallpaper a life-like quality, reflecting the narrator’s mental state where inanimate objects take on animate qualities.

Stream of Consciousness

The narrator’s journal entriesReflect her immediate thoughts and feelings in a flow that captures her descent into madness, providing an intimate look at her mental state.


Repeated descriptions of the wallpaperEmphasize the narrator’s growing obsession with it, highlighting its symbolic significance.


The beauty of the garden vs. the room’s oppressive featuresHighlights the contrast between the freedom the narrator craves and her actual confinement.


References to contemporary treatments for mental healthCritique the rest cure and reflect on the broader societal attitudes towards women’s health and autonomy.

These examples showcase Gilman’s adept use of literary devices to enrich the narrative of The Yellow Wall-Paper, imbuing it with thematic depth, psychological complexity, and social commentary.

The Yellow Wall-Paper – FAQs

What is the significance of the yellow wallpaper in the story?

The yellow wallpaper is a powerful symbol of the narrator’s mental state and her perception of being trapped within societal and domestic constraints. Its intricate pattern that seems to imprison and move reflects her growing obsession and descent into madness, as well as her struggle against the oppressive forces in her life.

Why does the narrator become obsessed with the wallpaper?

The narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper stems from her lack of mental stimulation and creative outlet due to the rest cure prescribed by her husband. The wallpaper becomes the focus of her repressed imagination and a projection of her feelings of entrapment and desperation to find meaning and freedom within her confined world.

What does the story say about gender roles and mental health treatment in the 19th century?

The Yellow Wall-Paper critiques the rigid gender roles and the patriarchal society of the 19th century that limited women’s autonomy and dismissed their mental health issues. The story specifically targets the rest cure, a common treatment for women suffering from what was often termed “hysteria,” highlighting its ineffectiveness and the detrimental impact of not taking women’s health concerns seriously.

How does the narrator’s relationship with her husband affect her mental health?

The narrator’s relationship with her husband, John, who is also her physician, significantly affects her mental health. His dismissive attitude towards her opinions and feelings, along with his insistence on the rest cure, exacerbates her sense of isolation and helplessness. This paternalistic dynamic represents a broader critique of the power imbalance between genders and its impact on women’s health and autonomy.

What is the climax of the story?

The climax of the story occurs when the narrator, in a final act of defiance, tears off the wallpaper to free the woman she believes is trapped behind it. This act symbolizes her breaking point and her ultimate surrender to madness, as she fully identifies with the imprisoned woman and seeks liberation from her own constraints.

What is the theme of The Yellow Wall-Paper?

The main themes of the story include the critique of the treatment of women’s mental health, the oppressive nature of gender roles, the search for identity and freedom, and the impact of isolation on the psyche. Through its exploration of these themes, the story calls into question societal norms and the treatment of women both in a domestic and a medical context.

How does The Yellow Wall-Paper relate to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own life?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman drew from her own experience with postpartum depression and the rest cure treatment she underwent to craft The Yellow Wall-Paper. Her dissatisfaction with the treatment and its effects on her mental health inspired her to write the story, making it a semi-autobiographical critique of the medical practices of her time and the societal attitudes towards women’s health and independence.

These FAQs provide a deeper understanding of The Yellow Wall-Paper and its critical stance on the issues of its time, which continue to resonate with readers today.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the primary setting of The Yellow Wall-Paper?A mansion in the countrysideA hospitalA small apartment in the cityA seaside cottageA
Why is the narrator in the countryside?For a vacationTo visit relativesFor her health, as prescribed by her husbandTo conduct researchC
What does the yellow wallpaper symbolize?The narrator’s imaginationThe beauty of natureThe oppression of women and the narrator’s mental stateThe narrator’s fondness for decorationC
How does the narrator’s husband, John, react to her concerns about the wallpaper?He agrees to change it immediatelyHe dismisses her concernsHe laughs and buys more wallpaperHe becomes angry and leavesB
What is the climax of the story?When the narrator sleeps through the nightWhen John agrees to leave the houseWhen the narrator tears down the wallpaperWhen Jennie sees the wallpaper’s patternC
What literary device is predominantly used to describe the wallpaper?OnomatopoeiaSimileSymbolismMetaphorC
What does the narrator believe she sees in the wallpaper?FlowersStrange creaturesA trapped womanGeometric shapesC
What treatment is the narrator undergoing?Physical therapyThe rest cureSurgical interventionPsychological evaluationB
What does the room the narrator is confined in used to be?A dining roomA nurseryA libraryA ballroomB
How does the story end?The narrator leaves the mansionThe narrator recovers completelyThe narrator and John renew their loveThe narrator identifies herself as the woman in the wallpaper and creeps around the roomD

This quiz is designed to test your understanding of the key elements and themes of The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Reflecting on these questions can deepen your appreciation of the story’s complexity and its critique of societal norms.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:

“At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”



  1. Imagery — The description of the wallpaper’s appearance in different kinds of light vividly evokes the visual transformation that occurs, making it easy for the reader to picture the scene.
  2. Symbolism — The transformation of the wallpaper’s pattern into bars symbolizes the narrator’s feelings of entrapment and confinement, both physically in the room and metaphorically within societal constraints.
  3. Personification — By suggesting that the woman behind the wallpaper becomes “as plain as can be,” the wallpaper is given life-like qualities, reinforcing the narrator’s deepening psychosis and her identification with the trapped figure.

This exercise is designed to help students recognize and understand the use of literary devices in creating the thematic depth and psychological complexity of The Yellow Wall-Paper. Engaging with the text in this way encourages a deeper analysis and appreciation of Gilman’s work.