Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins
“The Yellow Wallpaper”
• Though she is best known for
her short story "The Yellow
Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins
Gilman was a novelist, poet,
lecturer, social commentator,
and journalist with a major
influence on countless women
past and present.
• Born Charlotte Anna Perkins on July 3, 1860, in
Hartford, Connecticut, Gilman was the greatniece of 19th-century writer Harriet Beecher
Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin).
• After two of Gilman's siblings died, her mother
was told not to have any other children. Gilman's
father soon left the family, perhaps from fear of
killing his wife in childbirth.
• Gilman attended college, but dropped out and married
artist Charles Walter Stetson.
• In 1885, the couple had a daughter, but Gilman had
developed neurasthenia, an emotional disorder
characterized by fatigue and depression.
• Doctor Silas Weir Mitchell's unsuccessful prescription of
a "rest cure" in 1887 prompted Gilman to write "The
Yellow Wallpaper," a harrowing tale of a neurasthenic
woman's growing insanity and feminist awareness.
• Gilman later divorced her husband and earned a living
by writing.
• Gilman continued writing after her happy
remarriage to her cousin George
Houghton Gilman in 1900.
• In 1932, she learned she had incurable
breast cancer.
• Wanting to be in charge of her own death,
she committed suicide with an overdose of
chloroform on August 17, 1935.
Major Themes in
“The Yellow Wallpaper”
• Female Imprisonment
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," wallpaper, a
usually feminine, floral decoration on the
interior of walls, is a symbol of female
• When John curbs her creativity and
writing, the narrator takes it upon herself to
make some sense of the wallpaper.
Sunlight as oppressive,
moonlight as liberating
• Sunlight is associated with John's ordered,
dominating schedule; he prescribes something
for the narrator for every waking hour while he
goes about his daily rounds.
• More importantly, the mind roams free at night,
as in during dreams. It is always by moonlight, a
traditional symbol of femininity, that the narrator
understands more about the figure trapped
within the wallpaper.
Aesthetic changes through
• The narrator's tone changes from naïve
and depressed to paranoid and excited,
and as she grows insane, her sentences
reflect the state of her mind.
• Much like the chaotic pattern in the
wallpaper, the sentences get choppy and
confusing, grafting together disconnected
one-line comments.
Characters in
“The Yellow Wallpaper”
• Narrator: The narrator (whose name we learn
at the end is Jane) is married to John and
dominated by him.
• As she recuperates with neurasthenia in a room
in a rented mansion, he does not allow her to do
anything but rest, and especially forbids her from
the creative work of writing.
• She eventually goes completely crazy.
• John: John, a doctor, is married to the narrator,
but he treats her more like an infant. He
frequently refers to her with the diminutive tag of
"'little,'" and acts as if she cannot make any
decisions on her own.
• Modeled on Silas Weir Mitchell, the doctor who
prescribed Gilman an ineffective "rest cure" in
1887, John forbids the narrator from working on
anything creative while she recovers.
• He believes in a strict divide between men and
• Woman in the wallpaper: Although the narrator
eventually believes she sees many women in
the yellow wallpaper, she centers on one. The
woman appears trapped within the bar-like
pattern of the wallpaper, and she shakes the
pattern as she tries to break out (and eventually
• The woman's habit of "creeping" about suggests
that she, and other early feminists, must hide in
the shadows for now while they plot their
strategy, but soon will be able to stand tall.
• Jennie: John's sister, Jennie is a perfect
and enthusiastic housekeeper who wants
nothing else out of life.
• Mary: The nanny, Mary takes care of the
narrator and John's baby. With her name a
possible allusion to the Virgin Mary, Mary
is the perfect mother-surrogate for the
• Felicity: great happiness
• Fancy: think ( I fancy it a good idea) or like
(I fancy him)
• Atrocious: revolting
• Impertinence: rudeness
• Querulous: always complaining