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The Yellow Wallpaper Suggested Essays

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Suggested Essay Questions

  1. How would "The Yellow Wallpaper" be different if it were told from John's point of view?

    If the story were told from John's perspective, it would be a much more detached view of the narrator's descent into madness. Although the readers do not know what John thinks, it is clear that he believes that the medical treatment is correct. Not only would his perspective add another dimension to the woman's madness, but it would make him a more sympathetic character and perhaps even make their love story more tragic.

  2. Who does Gilman ultimately blame for the narrator's descent into madness? Why?

    In some ways, Gilman can seem to blame both John and S. Weir Mitchell for the narrator's ultimate insanity. Although they both mean well, their decision to promote the "rest cure" treatment is certainly the catalyst for the narrator's mental break. However, at the same time, Gilman could blame the society of the time, a society that expected women to be perfect wives and mothers and nothing else.

  3. What is the significance of the first-person perspective of the narrative?

    The first-person perspective of the narrative is very important because it allows the reader to understand and experience the narrator's descent into madness on a personal level. Instead of discovering the narrator's insanity from the detached perspective of a third-person narrator, the reader is present in the narrator's head at every stage of her insanity. As a result, the story is much more powerful and ultimately more disconcerting.

  4. Is John the villain in the story? Why or why not?

    Many literary scholars have argued that John is the clear villain of "The Yellow Wallpaper." Not only does he confine the narrator to the nursery for the "rest cure" treatment, he will not allow her to express her creativity or have any say in her life. However, at the same time, it is apparent that John loves his wife very much and truly wants her to be happy and healthy again. An argument can be made for either side, but the fact remains that John is simply a product of his chauvinistic society.

  5. What is the significance of the other female characters in the story?

    The only other female characters who play any sort of role in the story are Mary and Jennie. As the nanny, Mary is immediately presented as an ideal mother figure. This is emphasized by her name, which evokes the image of the Virgin Mary, a stereotype of ideal motherhood. As the house keeper and John's sister, Jennie fulfills all of the other wifely duties neglected by the narrator. Because of her illness (and perhaps because of her propensity to write), the narrator is unable and unwilling to fulfill her socially-accepted duties as a wife and mother.

  6. What are some additional meanings behind the color of the wallpaper? How do these explanations change an understanding of the narrative?

    One additional reading of the color of the wallpaper is that it promotes a counter-intuitive reading. The color yellow is normally associated with happiness and light; in this case, it is linked to a malignant source that drives the narrator insane. Because the reader expects the color yellow to be benevolent and is disappointed, the reader is also forced to question everything else in the novel, especially those things that seem to be obvious. Other possible readings are that the color of the wallpaper relates to illness (specifically, jaundice) or even that it relates to discriminated minorities of the time period (such as the Chinese).

  7. How does "The Yellow Wallpaper" present the conflict between creativity and rationality?

    The yellow wallpaper itself is presented as a symbol of creativity. With its endless swirls and ornaments, the wallpaper does not follow any set pattern; in fact, it is this lack of organization and structure that preoccupies the narrator to such an extent. In contrast to the unwieldy creativity of the wallpaper, the majority of the narrator's life is centered in the world of rationality. John, in particular, is devoted to all things rational and criticizes his wife's vivid imagination and penchant for fiction. The narrator is caught in the conflict between these two worlds; her attempt to suppress her creative spirit in favor of John's rationality leads to her mental breakdown.

  8. Does "The Yellow Wallpaper" have a happy or sad ending? Explain your answer.

    The story ends with the narrator entrenched in complete insanity, certainly not a typical happy ending. Moreover, it is clear to the reader that the marriage is over, and John has finally lost the woman that he loves. However, the ending can also be read as a triumph for the narrator. She has finally freed herself from the constraints of her oppressive society and can revel in the liberty of her creativity. Unfortunately, this liberation goes hand in hand with the loss of her sanity.

  9. Would the narrator still have gone insane if she had been confined to a room other than the nursery? Why or why not?

    At the beginning of the story, it is unclear if the narrator is actually insane. If she is truly ill, then it is likely that she would have gone mad even if she had not been confined to the nursery. If the narrator is not ill at the start of the story, then the mere confinement and inactivity could have been sufficient to cause a mental breakdown. Either way, the yellow wallpaper serves as an obvious catalyst for her mental deterioration, but we do not know if it is merely a symptom of her insanity or the cause.

  10. What happens to the narrator after the story ends?

    After the story ends and John returns to consciousness, the narrator would certainly be taken to an insane asylum or sanatorium of some kind. It is possible that John would take her to receive treatment from S. Weir Mitchell, unless the narrator's case was thought to be incurable. The warped liberty that the narrator achieves for herself at the end of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is only transient. If the woman in the wall is not returned to the bars behind the wallpaper, then it is likely that the narrator would be confined behind bars of her own.

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