Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes & Symbols Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is an intriguing story of a sick woman, Charlotte Perkins, confined in a room for treatment by her husband, a physician.

Charlotte is suffering from neurasthenia. Cared by his overprotective physician husband, but instead treats the care and concern as unfair for confinement and a twenty-four hours bed rest prescription. Charlotte’s sickness makes her realize that nobody can listen to her ideas; she resorts to writing secretly in her daily journals as a way of expressing her compliments to somebody.

On a few occasions is she allowed visiting other people. Those she visits are her husband’s suggestion, who are generally usual close family relatives, those she suggests her husband turns them down. There is an apparent misunderstanding of care, love, and concern between the patient and the physician.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Themes

The fact that the patient is the physician’s wife ought to portray a picture of mutual agreements and understandings rather than subjecting one’s decision to the other with a reason for care and protection. A small inclination to the husband’s decisions is better, but a usual put off to charlotte’s ideas causes misunderstanding. However, she pursues the wallpaper, finding to get a clear clue of what is affecting them all, especially her husband, the sister in law.

With the nervous breakdown, all the ideas and suggestions that charlotte comes up with, with a view of a positive response, are against his husband’s final decision “…. there is something strange about the house — I can feel it. I even said so to John one… but he said what I felt was a draught, and …” (Gilman, 2001, p.2). The husband is thinking out of prejudice, which is the real cause of misunderstandings in the context.

Although the misunderstandings brought about by the idea that she might be suffering from brain disorders, it does not mean that she is wrong all the time. She comments that even the reader succumbs to when she says, “I disagree with their ideas. I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (Gilman, 2001, p.1). With such a sickness, one can show care by undertaking suitable work with the patient, but the husbands see it as very wrong.

The physician portrayed with a domineering character has shown negligence in her wife’s psychological support. That is from the misinformation of how sick Charlotte is. She believes that she is not very ill. Yet, her husband knows she is in a critical condition that does not allow her to think or give compliments “… but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (Gilman, 2001, p.1).

The misunderstanding is portrayed again when Charlotte is awake all night long. Her husband does not talk to her most of the time. He thinks she will be stressed and worsen her situation. On the other hand, Charlotte has always longed for days when they will have some excellent talks and discussions with her husband. When she tries to bring up a topic to shift houses, she is put off with an excuse that it was not the time for such a discussion. She goes back to bed but does not sleep. Rather she stares at the moonlight (Gilman, 2001, p.8).

The Yellow Wallpaper: Symbolism

Gilman has given well-elaborated insights on the meaning of the Yellow Wall-Paper. “She has done this in a slow yet steady pace to release the metaphors that are a clue to the Yellow Wallpaper as a symbol of her husband’s authority and dominance” (Gwynn & Zani, 2007, p.71). It just begins with the main character’s fascination with the ugliness of the Yellow Wall-Paper. The use of imagery has been well-tuned to bring out the aspect that is feminism.

While one might argue that too much use of this has made the story complex and hard to understand, it has helped bring home the intended agenda. “One of the images found in the paper tends to change with different lighting” (Gwynn & Zani, 2007, p.71). It aims to depict her husband as inconsistent in handling matters, especially those that directly affect her.


The plot and characters in the story confirm that the misunderstanding is caused by the misinformation of the patient’s real status. This is also affected by the fear of his attention to involve her in anything other than the treatment. No wonder Charlotte goes after her pursuit secretly, to get the creeping woman. If she attempted to reveal to anyone, then she could not realize it. She even keeps her daily journal secretly for the same reason.

The use of the first-person narration has worked well in bringing home the main theme. It evokes the reader’s emotions to empathize the following thesis: the husband’s love misunderstood for confinement in the room and care mistaken for deterrence from involvement in other activities and thoughts that may worsen the condition.


Gilman, C. (2001). The Yellow Wall-paper. Ragged Edge Online. Retrieved from

Gwynn, R.S., & Zani, S.J. (2007). Inside literature: Reading, responding, arguing. New York: Pearson Longman.

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