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The Yellow Wallpaper -Introduction, Characters and Summary

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman


The Yellow Wallpaper -Introduction, Characters and Summary


"The Yellow Wallpaper" is an exaggerated account of Charlotte Parkinson Gilman's personal experience. At age 18, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Gilman began to suffer from severe depression and exhaustion. She was referred to Silas Weir Mitchell, a leading specialist in women's neurology in the nineteenth century, who diagnosed Gilman with neurasthenia and suggested a "rest cure" of forced inactivity. Weir Mitchell believed that nervous frustration was the result of an overactive nerve and instructed Gilman to stop creative activities such as writing for the rest of her life. The goal of the treatment was to increase the domesticity and calm her agitated nerves. 

Gilman tried to endure the “rest cure” treatment and didn’t write or work for three months. Eventually, she finds herself slowly going crazy from inactivity and at one point, grabs a giant doll and crawls under her bed. Unlike the protagonist of her story, Gilman did not reach the stage of full insanity, but she knew that it was because of her growing mental state suppression treatment that she was "cured". She abandoned Michelle's advice to overcome her own frustration and moved to California. Although Gilman's attempt was successful, she claimed that she could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of her life. In 1890, Gilman wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper" to protect other women from the same repressive behavior. Weir plays a key role in Michelle and her treatment narrative; in the third section of the text, the protagonist’s husband even threatens to send her to Ware Michelle in the fall if she doesn’t recover soon.

In 1890, Gilman sent the story to author William Dean Howells, who submitted it to Horace Scudder, editor of The Atlantic Monthly. Scudder dismissed the story as a depressing element and returned it to Gilman with a handwritten note: "Dear Madam: W. Howells gave me this story. I could not forgive myself if I made others as stingy as myself! E. Scudder”. Lastly, in May 1892, the story was published in The New England Magazine. Although Gil never received a response, she claimed that Weir Mitchell later changed her official treatment for nervous depression as a direct result of her story. Gilman further asserted that she knew a certain woman in her family whose family had missed "rest cure" as a treatment for depression after reading "The Yellow Wallpaper".

The public reaction to the story was strong, if it would be mixed. In most circles, "The Yellow Wallpaper" was considered nothing more than a violent story, derived from the Gothic example of Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley. Until the 1960s, the story was also recognized as a feminist narrative worthy of scholarly historical and literary scholarship.

List of characters:

The narrator 

Created after Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a young wife and mother, who has recently begun to suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety. Although she doesn't believe there's anything wrong with her. 


The narrator's husband, John, is a medical practitioner who believes his wife is suffering from nothing but a "slightly hysterical tendency." He wrote "rest cure", confining the narrator to the nursery and forbidding her to practice her creative imagination in any way. He believes in a strict, patriarchal divide between men and women; Men work outside the home, as he does, while women like Jenny, his sister, and Mary sit at home. 


Jenny takes care of the narrator's sister-in-law and the narrator during her illness. Although she does not play an active role in the narrative, she is a constant reminder of the narrator's inability to take on her proper role as the John's wife and housekeeper. 


Mary takes care of the narrator and John’s child. With the potential inspiration of the Virgin Mary's name, Mary is the perfect mother-surrogate for the narrator, an ideological mother, whose only concern is for her child.


The narrator and her physician husband John have rented a mansion for the summer so she can recover from a “slightly hysterical tendency”. Although the narrator does not believe that she is actually ill, John is sure that she is suffering from "neurasthenia" and has suggested treatment for "rest cure". She is confined to bed in the former nursery room and is prohibited from working or writing. The spacious, sunlit room has The Yellow Wallpaper - stripped in two places - with a disgusting, chaotic pattern. The narrator hates the wallpaper, but John refuses to change the rooms, arguing that the nursery is best suited for her recovery. 

Two weeks later the narrator's condition worsened. She feels constant anxiety and exhaustion and can only muster enough energy to write in her secret journal. Luckily, their nanny, Mary, takes care of their baby and John's sister Jenny is a perfect housekeeper. The irritation of the narrator increases with the wallpaper; she discovered a repetitive pattern of bulbous eyes and broken necks, as well as a faded image of a loitering figure stuck behind that pattern. 

As more days pass, the narrator gradually grows anxious and frustrated. The wallpaper provided her only stimulus and she spent most of her time studying its confusing patterns which she asserted to be "as good as gymnastics." The image around the back of the wallpaper goes down and the “creeping” image becomes clearer. In the moonlight, she can see very clearly that the image is of a woman stuck behind a bar. The narrator tried to persuade John to come out of the house for the house with relatives, but he refused and the narrator about her discoveries on the wallpaper did not feel comfortable to trust him. Moreover, she is becoming ghostly that John and Jennie are interested in the wallpapers. 

As the interest in wallpaper grows, so does the health of the narrator. She suspects that Jenny and John are watching her behavior but her only concern is that they get in the way of her and the wallpaper. She further began to notice that the distinctive “yellow smell” of the wallpaper pervaded the house, at night the woman in the wallpaper vibrates the bars violently in patterns when they try to break, but she can’t be free. The narrator begins to get frustrated as many women trying to break the wallpaper turn their heads, believing that she is secretly watching the woman in the sunlight from outside. The narrator intends to trim the wallpaper within two days before leaving home. 

That night the narrator helps the woman in the wallpaper by opening half of the wallpaper around the woman's house. The next day, Jenny was shocked, but the narrator confirmed her that she had just removed the wallpaper. Jenny has been able to understand the ugly wallpaper craving and doesn’t let John know that something is out of the ordinary. The next night, the narrator locked herself in her room and the wallpaper began to fall off. She heard shrieks as soon as the wallpaper was teary. She thinks of jumping out the window, but the bars stop her; Moreover, she is afraid of all the women he is hanging out with outside the house. When morning comes, the narrator scatters all the wallpaper and starts creeping around the perimeter of the house. John finally entered the room, but the narrator did not recognize him. She informs him that she has peeled off most of the wallpaper so that no one can put her inside the back wall now. John is frustrated, and the narrator crawls round the room around him.


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