Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

by Emmanuel Paige

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is an epistolary short story with a plot centered on a woman who goes insane and records it in her journal. The lead character, who is an unreliable narrator is believed to suffer from hysteria by her husband who is a physician. While in the room she becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper and inexplicable stains that eventually manifest into the figure of a woman crawling around behind the stains. This constant obsessing and malevolent perception of the stains leads to a madness that causes the narrator to crawl around believing she is the woman behind the stains. Overcome with shock, her husband passes out when he sees his wife’s insane behavior.

The setting is a large room with yellowed wallpaper in an old house. Character is limited to the narrator and her husband. The theme is madness. The plot is woman versus self, expressed in a psychological conflict that ends with insanity. The mood is gloomy and malevolent. The dialog is minimal but, along with the rest of the first person prose narrative, serves to enhance the elegant qualities of the characters since he is a doctor, she is his wife, and they are upper class. The words themselves are written in phrases and sentences that are formal and are composed with proper grammar. The literary elements are abundant: irony, metaphor, and symbolism to name a few. The writing is full of sensory images of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. The irony is that a physician cannot heal his own wife who suffers from hysteria. The room serves as a metaphor for the narrator’s mind and the wallpaper symbolizes her sanity. The stains are the villainous force and represent guilt and shame for her feelings of inadequacy and inferiority complex. She rips down the wallpaper and this is symbolic of her descent into madness. The climax arrives when her husband comes home and finds her crawling around like a lunatic. The denouement is in the final statement when she says “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman). The reader is left to wonder how much longer did the narrator crawl around and then what happened next?

The theoretical lens of formalism might show that this story is constructed well and contains all the literary elements and techniques to be considered a work of literature. The theme is universal and relevant to modern culture. This is a classic story that deals with issues of chauvinism and the equal rights of women that have been a long-standing issue and make it a timeless and universal story. The analysis of literature with the lens of formalism is the finest method available and can be summed up thus: “‘Formalism’ is, as the name implies, an interpretive approach that emphasizes literary form and the study of literary devices within the text. . . . to place the study of literature on a scientific basis through objective analysis of the motifs, devices, techniques, and other ‘functions’ that comprise the literary work” (Literary Theory). In order to better understand “formalism” one might consider it as a critical lens for examining why “. . . literature is unique because of how it is done (form) rather than what it is about (content) ” (Ryan). Adding to this analogy of a lens of “formalism,” the more recent and associated method known as “New Criticism” in which a “stressed close reading of the text . . . [is] aimed at bringing a greater intellectual rigor to literary studies, confining itself to careful scrutiny of the text alone and the formal structures of paradox, ambiguity, irony, and metaphor, among others” (Literary Theory). Studying the theory of literature with these combined lenses allows a revelation of the nuts and bolts and skeleton that compose the entire work of literature as a whole.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Online. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from

Literary Theory | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from

Ryan, Michael. Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction. , 2017. Print.

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