Critique of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Last Updated: May 15, 2024

Critique of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A critique of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” would delve into the psychological depth and feminist themes of this seminal short story. Here’s how such a critique might be structured and articulated:

Critique of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Title and Author:
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a first-person narrative that details the descent into madness of a woman suffering from what is now recognized as postpartum depression. The narrator is prescribed the “rest cure,” a common treatment in the late 19th century, which required complete rest and isolation from intellectual activities. The story unfolds through her journal entries, which describe her confinement in a room with yellow wallpaper that she grows increasingly obsessed with.

The primary theme of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the oppressive impact of patriarchal control over women’s bodies and minds, particularly in the realm of health care and mental health. The story critiques the medical and societal dismissal of women’s experiences and the severe consequences of such disregard. It also explores themes of identity, freedom, and the thin line between sanity and madness.

The protagonist, whose name is revealed as Jane only at the story’s end, is both the narrator and central focus. Her gradual loss of sanity is intricately portrayed, making the reader privy to her innermost thoughts and fears. John, her husband and physician, embodies the paternalistic attitudes prevalent at the time. His dismissive and controlling behavior represents the broader societal norms that restrict women’s autonomy.

The setting in a secluded country home symbolizes the isolation and confinement imposed on the narrator. The room with the yellow wallpaper becomes a character in its own right, representing both a prison and a canvas for the narrator’s projections of her inner turmoil.

The yellow wallpaper itself is the most potent symbol in the story. It represents the domestic life that traps many women, its intricate and confusing patterns mirroring the complex and often contradictory expectations imposed on women’s behavior. The woman that the narrator believes she sees trapped behind the wallpaper symbolizes her own trapped state, both mentally and physically.

Writing Style:
Gilman’s use of vivid, symbolic imagery and a haunting, introspective narrative style effectively conveys the deterioration of the narrator’s mental health. The journal entry format serves as a powerful literary device, allowing readers intimate access to the narrator’s psyche and emphasizing the personal nature of her experiences.

Impact and Reception:
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was a landmark in the early feminist movement, highlighting the detrimental effects of the lack of agency women had over their lives and bodies. It has since been analyzed as a powerful critique of the medical community and a poignant psychological horror story.

Some contemporary critics argue that the focus on the psychological aspects overshadows the feminist themes. Others believe that the story’s ambiguous conclusion can be frustratingly open-ended, leaving readers uncertain about the narrative’s reality.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” remains a crucial work in feminist literature, praised for its insightful depiction of the intersection of gender and mental health. Gilman’s story continues to be relevant today, as it encourages scrutiny of gender roles and the treatment of mental health issues.

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