Specialisation: The Yellow Wallpaper

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means of the short story, which, in an appositive way, describes the main character’s experience of being locked in and withdrawn from the world.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

Characterization and Theme of Patriarchy in Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper


Charlotte Gilman Perkins is one of the celebrated prolific writers who showed immense interest in fiction and non-fiction stories about women’s suffrage. In her works, Perkins attempts to show that women are responsible for empowering each other to gain freedom and an equal ground to access various opportunities in society. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Perkins successfully portrays the impact of patriarchy in the community through the conflicts of interest between man and wife. She chose the character of John, a qualified doctor who shows immense interest in attaining positive health outcomes for his patients but ignores the wellbeing of his wife. The family life at John’s home symbolizes the society and the constructs that result in the oppression of women. The essay analyzes Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper through conflicts that display the influence of patriarchy in this society.


The conflicts of interest in The Yellow Wallpaper depict the struggle of women to challenge the status quo. Aman et al. explain the impact of John’s behavior of ignoring the needs of her wife after birth, which symbolizes the suffering of women under the dominance of men (154). Perkins demonstrates that the society in The Yellow Wallpaper had standardized the role of women as remaining at home to perform care roles. At the same time, men went to school and accessed opportunities in high-profile job positions. Perkins shows that men ignore even the health aspects of women because they view them as lesser beings. The narrator says, “My brother is also a physician, and also high standing, and he says the same thing,” to show that even her blood sibling is oblivious to her depressive state (Perkins 648). The author needed to show that a man was the enemy of women’s progress. Gregušová refutes this perspective in a claim that during the period Perkins published the text, the society focused on the empowerment of the boy child and ignored the girl’s wellbeing (16). In this sense, the characters’ conflicts equally symbolize the tension in setting societal goals. Qabaha et al. use the term manufacture of consent to explain that women are already aware of the patriarchy in The Yellow Wallpaper, and they use existing conflicts to free from this bondage (527). The conflicts in the interest of man and wife resulted in the realization of the real patriarchal nature of man.

Patriarchy forced John’s wife to seek empowerment. Perkins, through the character of John, who is a qualified doctor, showcased the conflict in institutions of society in constructing the roles of men and women (Green 1). The fact that men served in paid jobs while women remained at home to perform care roles depicts an aspect of male dominance. Raouf et al. describe the narrator as a depressed woman in need of help from a person who should protect her and add that the society oppresses women, praising Perkins for her attempts to walk in their shoes and expose the aspects of a dystopian society (130). The narrator’s surroundings could no longer sustain her, even the tiny spaces she initially treasured. Perkins writes, Out of the window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes, and gnarly trees” to show the mystery of living in a male-dominated society that ignores the effort of females at home. The narrator realizes the events around her and chooses to free herself because her husband made no effort to comprehend her needs (Jamil 248). The narrator hoped that her flower garden could help her ease the tension and consistent depressive thoughts. Despite her helplessness, Raouf et al. consider the flowers a world of possibilities, but she still feels isolated and imprisoned because of the walls and gates (131). In a male-dominated society, women have rare chances of enjoying freedom because society sets rules that females are there to be seen and not heard.

The conflict of thoughts in the mind of the narrator enables her to develop an exit plan out of bondage successfully. Perkins shows that the husband and wife are conflicted about her state of mind. Truncyte posits that the narrator overcame mental health and chose freedom (3). John and her brother dismissed her possibility of being depressed, and she almost doubted her thoughts as well. However, after journaling her experiences, she established a clear picture of her situation. Ghandeharion et al. argue that the stereotypical diagnosis of her condition made the narrator realize that the narrator needed to liberate herself (115). She realized that the rooted patriarchy in society could not allow women to participate in voicing concerns about their health. The male-dominated community in The Yellow Wallpaper ignored the wellbeing of women, and this construct made women consider fighting for freedom. The wallpaper pattern resonated with the narrator’s viewpoint of breaking free. Perkins writes, “This paper looks to me as it knew vicious influence it had!” to show the female entrapped on the wallpaper (649). The narrator realized that gender oppression highly contributed to the conflict in her mind but remained resilient in bringing the change she wanted for herself and the woman entrapped in the wallpaper. The narrator had enough of conflicting ideas with her husband and found solace in writing a journal and the wallpaper. Yogapriya notes that John’s corrupted attitude is attributed to the mistreatment of his wife, making her lose trust (18). Though the narrator remained submissive, she focused on liberation. Murthy asserts that The Yellow Wallpaper is symbolic of the conflicted subjectivity of conforming to patriarchy and liberating women from gender oppression (47). Özsert agrees that Perkins painted the tension in male dominance that formulated the reason for freedom (97). The intensity of freedom influenced the narrator’s decision to consider liberation. Jumana asserts that Perkins captured mental illness during the Victorian era amidst a male authoritative nature. John represents the imposing figure who denies his wife a chance to explore her potential, resulting in conflicts and tension that shape patriarchy.


The Yellow Wallpaper is a fascinating fictional story that shows elements of fiction. Perkins successfully demonstrates that the conflict between John, the antagonist, and the narrator portrays the impact of patriarchy. John mistreats his wife, who needs her attention and care. The irony is that the community sees him as a great doctor, but his wife battles depression at home. The narrator’s self-liberation shows that she was aware of the oppressive nature of her husband and saw the significance of breaking free even though she was sick. Perkins’s story is that of resilience to change the place and perception of women in society.

Works Cited

Alkan, Halit. “A Liberal Feminist Approach to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” Ulakbilge Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi 9.65 (2021): 1229-1236. https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=1018360. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Aman, Maria, Safia Siddiqui, and Anum Hafeez. “Analyzing the Theme of Loneliness and Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper through Feminist Perspective.” Pakistan Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 11.1 (2023): 153-159. https://journals.internationalrasd.org/index.php/pjhss/article/view/1095/668. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Ghandeharion, Azra, and Milad Mazari. “Women entrapment and flight in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (2016). https://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/68029/1/RAEI_29_06.pdf. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Green, Isabella. “‘Dead Paper’: The Deconstruction of Patriarchy by Nineteenth-Century Women Writers.” https://open.conted.ox.ac.uk/sites/open.conted.ox.ac.uk/files/resources/Create%20Document/05_

Isabella%20Green_Dead%20Paper.pdf. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Gregušová, Bc Jitka. “The Aspects of Patriarchal Society in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Short Stories.” https://is.slu.cz/th/rc646/FPF_DP_21_The_Aspects_of_Patriarchal_Society_in_Charlotte_Perkins_

Gilman_s_Short_Stories_Gregusova_Jitka.pdf. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Jamil, Selina. “Imaginative Power” in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 36.2 2023. 248–254. https://doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2021.1895707. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Jumana, Rumaisa Nasim. “Mental Illness and Psychiatry in the Victorian Era: An Analysis of the Prevailing Power Dynamics Between Women and Male Authority Figures Through Gilman and Freud.” (2019). https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cc_etds_theses/740/. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Murthy, Abhinaya. “The Symbol of the Wallpaper: Subjectivity and Agency in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”” A Journal of The Yif Critical Writing Programme 2021. https://ashoka.edu.in/static/doc_uploads/file_1630834505.pdf#page=45. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Özsert, Seher. “Painting The Feminist Story Through Imagery in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” Journal of Academic Social Science Studies 15.90 2022. 97–108. https://shorturl.at/axHMY. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The yellow wallpaper.” 2022.

Qabaha, Ahmad, and Bilal Hamamra. “I’ve Got Out at Last”: The Subversion of Hegemonic Masculinity in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” An-Najah University Journal for Research-B (Humanities) 37.3 (2021): 527-542. https://journals.najah.edu/journal/anujr-b/issue/anujr-b-v37-i3/article/1990/. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Raouf, Chalak Ghafoor, and Helan Sherko Ali. “The helpless angel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies 6.3 (2018): 130-136. https://shorturl.at/dgAET. Accessed 20 November 2023. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Saadah, Sufi Ikrima, et al. “Antagonistic Kindness In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Elite: English and Literature Journal 9.2 2022: 89–97. https://journal3.uin-alauddin.ac.id/index.php/elite/article/view/28681/16123. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Truncyte, Monika. “The True Cost of Womanhood: A study of women’s mental health in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s” The Yellow Wallpaper” and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.” 2020. https://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=9003385&fileOId=9003386. Accessed 20 November 2023.

Yogapriya, S. “Female predicament in the novel the yellow wallpaper.” Louis Savenien Dupuis Journal of Multidisciplinary Research 2022: 17–20. https://lsdjmr.com/index.php/journal/article/view/29. Accessed 20 November 2023.