Symbolism and The Yellow Wallpaper

For starters, I would like to begin by saying that this piece of literature, to me, was a disturbing piece of fiction that reminded me of the book (and film) “The Shining” by Stephen King. Both story’s draw from the instability of the main characters mental state. This story in particular draws from the personal experiences of the author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is the story of a woman’s downward spiral ending in insanity. Everything is viewed through the eyes of the mental patient. She describes her day to day life, paying much attention to the yellow wallpaper.

The wallpaper in it’s decrepid state was a symbol representing the characters instable psychological being. The story opens with a description of the manor at which the narrator and her husband, John, along with their baby, and the baby’s caretaker, John’s sister Mary, are staying. The narrator describes the large piece of architecture as a “colonial mansion”(p. 157) and being “quite alone”(p. 157) some “three miles from the village(p. 157). ” Requiring further proof, the manor containing these characteristics is portrayed as an evil place that is cold, empty, and secluded.

Continuing on with Gilman’s work, there is mention of bars on the window, and the narrator even comments, “there is something strange about this house–I can feel it. ” Though the house is meant to be a place of rehabilitation for our guide, from the beginning there are overwhelming descriptions of an erieness to the house. The narrator describes to us, the reason she is under care in this large abode. It appears as if her husband, a doctor, has diagnosed his wife, with a mental order resembling depression. His treatment for her; rest and relaxation in quiet peace.

For this, she is placed in a room upstairs with a bed bolted to the floor, and wallpaper which soon becomes the main topic of the story. What is further presented in great detail, is the wallpaper itself. It is constantly reffered to throughout the piece of literature. Obviously, this is what the story is about. The story basically follows the pattern of the narrator telling about the wallpaper, of which will be discussed momentarily, and the psychological state which she is in in relation to her environment.

Another object which recieves great attention in the story is of course, the yellow wallpaper. This object, throughout the literary piece, is a symbol which demonstrates the downfall of the human mind once exposed to a mental illness. The adjectives used to describe the wallpaper could equally as well be used to describe the mind of an unstable person. One sentence in particular which was used to describe the wall covering struck me as a dead on analogy.

It read, “It (wallpaper pattern) is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide(p. 158). ” In other instances, the wallpaper is given the feel of an object with disturbed human characteristics. The author notes that, “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down (p. 158). ”

She then goes on to say “…those unblinking eyes are everywhere (p. 8). ” The author continuously uses traits common to mentally disturbed people to describe this decrepid covering on the wall. Further proof that the wallpaper is a representation of the disturbed human mind spiraling downward with hints of sanity can be found on page 159. Gilman comments that the wall paper has a sub-pattern of a different shade. She also uses words such as irritating, and mentions that these patterns can only be seen under certain light. This can be explained as her mental health at the present time in the story.

She still has the capacity to function civilized, but as the days go on, under certain circumstances, her mind is deteriorating and only can be used in it’s normal capacity under certain conditions. As with a mentally ill person, the author notes on page 161 she is becoming confused and is losing touch with reality when she claims that the wallpaper is no longer her enemy, but rather she is beginning to actually enjoy the wallpaper. In later thought, the author begins to describe the relevance of the wallpaper in relation to her own mental being.

She notes that there is a “strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design (p. 161). ” Throughout the rest of the story, we are told of a woman who at night, hides behind the wallpaper trying ever so hardly to break herself free from its restraints. This woman escapes during the day and walks among the garden outside where the author is able to view her actions. This woman behind the wallpaper is very important in understanding our main character’s mental state. What the author is trying to tell us, is that she is the woman behind the wallpaper.

The wallpaper represents her mind. The patterns which at the beginning are fairly easy to describe, soon become patterns which slowly deteriorate and begin to loose meaning. Just like the main character’s mental state. The further she loses touch with reality, the more distorted and pandemonious the patterns of the wallpaper become. Until finally, she finds herself trapped by the wallpaper and all of it’s chaos. The woman represents the main character trying to escape the utter confusion which surrounds her, the wallpaper, in other words, her own mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *