Specialisation: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins

The narrative tool that presents the work of a writer has always been a strong instrument for exploring social complexity and creating a story that shows what it means to be human at its essence. In the gloomy corridors of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the reader is implied to shed reality and enter the world where the main character is hypnotized by the patterns of the wallpaper on the yellow wall. Examining the details of characters, suggesting environment, and intimate narration techniques, Gilman crafts a timeless story that appeals to readers to get into the depths of gender concerns, psychological issues, and cultural influences. Moving on in research into analysis, our focus will be on the changing attitude that the narrator has toward the yellow wallpapered room. We will see how she sympathizes more sensitively and feels more the tie that unites. So, through deciphering the intricate structure of her mental health upon which the words are built, this paper will establish gendered issues and emotional problems hidden behind her writing.

The yellow wallpaper is an instrumental strategy by which the narrator of the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” can magnify the initial fear and see the extent to which society has constrained people’s lives within the boundaries of conformity. The narrator uses this fear as a showcase of the awful fights between the individuals and the psychological implications of these demands of society on their individuality. The author Agir (2023) discusses the characterization of women in the novel that shows them being confined in male chauvinism and male dominance, which becomes more apparent inside their homes. This is exercised by Gilman’s (2013) depiction of the heroine as confined in the house and the portrayal of the yellow wallpaper as a metaphor for the psychological prison in which she is forced to live. The wallpaper personifies the protagonist’s criticism of social laws and her inner suppression.

Furthermore, the author makes this concept clearer by means of the short story, which, in an appositive way, describes the main character’s experience of being locked in and withdrawn from the world. Through a close reading of the shifting perspectives of the narrator vis-à-vis the wallpaper, we arrive at various levels of meaning, which, ultimately, shed light on the narratives’ preoccupation with gender suppression and mental illness. The scope of this exploration is to invite the readers to think about social norms and gender roles in light of how they shape personal experiences and perceptions in the context of Gilman’s writings.

The narrator’s focus is on the elaborate structure of the yellow wallpaper, in the course of which she engages in an imaginative rebellion against the restrictive culture that holds her and thus reaches an in-depth understanding of her power and selfhood. As Ağir (2023) notes, the narrator’s obsession with wallpaper is a hint at her subtle reaction to the gender stereotypes imposed by society, while Gilman (2013) also hints at this in her narrative. Gilman skillfully portrays the narrator’s increasing compulsion about wallpaper. In the same manner, we are able to conclude that the wallpaper’s colors and patterns are the narrator’s means of self-expression and freedom. With the more time that passed while she was designing wallpapers, she started to show up and defy the conventions that had long confined her. It is the gradual process of self-discovery represented in the text that makes the big shift in the narrative and proves the opposition of the narrator to social patterns. The symbol of her inner struggle and resistance to patriarchal oppression is the yellow wallpaper. In the midst of the overwhelming circuit, the speaker feels reassured and empowered, recovering the mastery over his fate. In this journey, she breaks the barriers that society built around her and emerges as a symbol of inspiration and strength. They were destined to be released from the clutches of their prison of yellow walls, a source of inspiration from their struggle with anti-human forces.

The symbolism used in the story, showing the narrator’s inner anguish and the socio-cultural norms against women in the period in which the story is set, becomes clear when the narrator’s interaction with the yellow wallpaper is thoroughly explored. Ağir (2023) sees the yellow wallpaper as a potent symbol of the protagonist’s confinement within the domestic sphere, which reflects the widespread social conventions about women during his time. The depiction matches Gilman’s (2013) description of the deterioration of the protagonist’s mental state, and her forced incarceration also worsens it in the old mansion. Her growing sense of confinement Loneliness accompanies the twisted obsession of the protagonist’s attitude towards the wallpaper, making the constraints of patriarchy visible. Yellow nuances Wallpaper symbolism helps decipher the protagonist’s psychological torment; she can learn about the social pressures that impact women’s lives and how women are oppressed in society.

Ultimately, this is the subject of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel The Yellow Wallpaper, the theme of the connection between social norms, gender oppression, and human freedom. The loss of immersion in wallpaper is a symbolic sign of these Biases that break gender-defining social rules. The story shows what the protagonist does in incarceration and how their mental health is affected by patriarchal pressures. The Yellow Wallpaper is an articulate critique of the social boundaries that limited the independence of women in that era. Thus, readers are triggered to question the link between gender, social norms, and mental health. Furthermore, there is also the encapsulation in this situation of the account of the self-actualizing protagonist in terms of self-discovery and resistance. We further observe that the ability to talk is important, and we need personal freedom in order to have the option to make decisions in the face of resistance.


Gilman, C. P. (2013). The yellow wallpaper. In Literature and Gender (pp. 348-359). Routledge.

Ağir, B. (2023). Gender, genre and the female Gothic: Resisting patriarchal norms in Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” DergiPark (Istanbul University). https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/pub/isrjournal/issue/78902/1292294

Analyzing Gender, Identity, and Agency in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” offers a critical analysis of gender norms and how they affect identity and personal agency. The story, which is set in an era when inflexible social conventions severely restricted women’s liberty and self-expression, revolves around an anonymous female heroine who is kept in her bedroom for her nervous depression by her physician husband (Gilman 14). Gilman skillfully uses the yellow wallpaper’s symbolism to show how patriarchal society’s repressive forces are encroaching on the narrator’s mind and soul. The way the narrator interacts with the masculine characters in her life illustrates the cultural expectations, gender prejudices, and power dynamics regulating her sense of selfhood and ability to control her destiny as she gradually slips farther into obsessive lunacy.

Societal Expectations and Gender Norms

The oppressive gender conventions of the late 19th century that force the heroine to conform to the role of a devoted wife and mother are a significant cause of her mental anguish. She bemoans the fact that her spouse, John, a doctor as well, “hardly lets [her] stir without special direction,” which includes forbidding her from working, which served as her former emotional release (Gilman 1). Additionally, John often disregards her emotions and ideas because he believes that with [his] special knowledge of the subject, he can make the best decisions for her care (Gilman 3). This is consistent with more prominent cultural beliefs that give males control over women’s healthcare and discount women’s opinions as being too sentimental or illogical. The space that the narrator refers to as a “nursery first and then children’s playroom,” which represents the home realm to which women were restricted, seems imprisoning to her (Gilman 3). Even if she would like to go and do something interesting, she accepts that she must comply completely since “a physician of high standing” like John undoubtedly ought to know better (Gilman 1). Thus, the protagonist is forced into a juvenile position by the combined forces of societal norms and masculine authority, which takes away her autonomy.

Intersection with Mental Health

The narrator’s mental health condition makes the gendered societal constraints on her identity and agency even more challenging to understand. Her writings on her frequent episodes of sadness and suicide ideas indicate long-standing inner anguish. She bemoans the fact that, despite being a catch-all diagnosis for women at the time, suggesting emotional instability and irrationality, people kept brushing off her troubles as the result of a “slight hysterical tendency.” John, her spouse, personifies this gender prejudice by condescendingly treating her mental health issues. To put her disease in such terms as “temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency” is to minimize the significance of her encounters with psychology as a woman (Gilman 1). The lack of empathy from male characters such as John and the societal stigma associated with mental health for women worsen the narrator’s sense of loneliness.

Seeking Agency through Madness

The protagonist’s connection with the yellow wallpaper becomes a way for her to exercise autonomy and take responsibility for the ideas she has been holding within. This is how her sanity keeps falling apart. She explains how the wallpaper’s initially disorganized design begins to resemble imprisoned women attempting to escape, mirroring her feelings of entrapment and longing for freedom (Gilman 13). When she is alone at night, she carefully removes the wallpaper, almost as if she is scrubbing her way out of a cell. The narrator’s gradual decline into a deluded obsession with the wallpaper illustrates how her mentality is breaking under the intense pressure from society to adhere to traditional feminine norms. Her only escape from the everyday routines and conventions dictating her words, behaviors, and identity is crazy as she lacks healthy channels for self-expression. Even while it comes at the terrible expense of her sanity, the story’s unexpected conclusion, in which she climbs over her husband’s body, suggests a dramatic ultimate rejection of his dominion over her.


“The Yellow Wallpaper” presents a menacing depiction of the ways in which men’s control over women’s autonomy, strict gender norms from the Victorian period, and the stigma associated with mental illness combine to limit women’s identity and agency. Gilman skillfully uses the wallpaper as a representation of the narrator’s struggles to restore her broken identity as well as society’s suffocating control over her. Even though the protagonist’s conclusion is sad, it highlights the harmful effects of depriving women the freedom to express themselves and their psychological well-being, restraints that many still experience today. The narrative vividly conveys the tangible pain resulting from structural gender inequality, leaving a profound effect on readers.

Works Cited

Gilman, C. P. The yellow wallpaper. The Floating Press, 2009. Retrieved from: https://d1lexza0zk46za.cloudfront.net/history/american-documents/documents/cpgilman-yellow-wallpaper-1892.pdf