Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Yellow Wallpaper Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 24-page guide for the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Patriarchy and the “Rest Cure” and Freedom and Captivity.

These citations for “The Yellow Wallpaper” reflect the 2009 compilation American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, pages 131-147.

The unnamed narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” presents her story to the reader over a series of ten revealing diary entries. She writes from her bedroom located on the top floor of “ colonial mansion” (131) that she and her husband John are renting for the summer with their infant son and two members of staff. The ten journal entries vary in length and in tone, but they all trace the mental decline of the narrator, who is suffering from a serious postpartum episode of mental instability.

In the first diary entry, the narrator introduces her husband John, a pragmatic man who “scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (131). John is a physician, as is the narrator’s brother, and though the narrator accepts that her brother and her husband believe “there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression,” she feels they are wrong in forbidding her from doing “congenial work” (131). Although the narrator writes in secret, she finds working against John’s wishes exhausting, so she “get unreasonably angry with John sometimes” (132).

The narrator describes their temporary home in detail, marveling over the garden, the paths, and the “grape-covered arbors” (132). Although the surroundings are beautiful, “there is something strange about the house” (132) itself, and the narrator dislikes the room—“the nursery, at the top of the house” (133)—that John has chosen for their own. The windows in this room have bars on the windows, and the “sprawling flamboyant” (133) wallpaper is peeling off the walls. The color of the wallpaper as well as the pattern offend the narrator, and she empathizes with the children who previously must have “hated” (133) the room. The entry closes abruptly with a brief mention of John’s approach.

The second diary entry takes place two weeks later. The narrator writes of the sense of freedom she enjoys when she is able to write while John is away during the day “and even some nights” (134) working. The narrator laments not being able to do more to contribute to the household, expressing gratitude for Mary, who “is so good with the baby” as well as affection for the baby, who is “dear” (134) but a source of anxiety. She also writes of John’s reactions to her complaints about the wallpaper and other details of their living situation, like “that gate at the head of the stairs” (134). John reacts by dismissing her and calling her “a blessed little goose” (134). The narrator continues to describe the qualities of the house and the garden she does like, including a mention of John’s warnings to her to keep her “imaginative power and habit of story-making” (135) in check as indulging these tendencies will only make her feel more tired. John has also decided that they will not receive visitors, as to avoid overstimulating the narrator. The narrator discusses her feelings and impressions of the wallpaper, writing of her anger at the “impertinence” (135) of the pattern and remembering her childhood imaginings about the furnishings in her old room. She writes of the marks on the floor of her current room and the damage done to the plaster, all of which makes the nursery appear “as if it had been through the wars” (136). Another description of the wallpaper includes the narrator’s observation of “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure” (136) lurking around inside of the ugly wallpaper pattern.

The third diary entry takes place just after the Fourth of July, and the narrator, as well as John and John’s sister, Jennie, have…

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