Literature: The Yellow Wallpaper

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a semi-autobiographical short story written in 1891 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It takes the perspective of a young woman who has been ordered to continuous bedrest as a treatment for hysteria. Trapped in a small room in her husband's country house, with nothing to do all day but sleep and write in her journal, she starts to dwell upon the dingy yellow wallpaper that decorates the place. In her boredom, she begins to see women crouching, cowering, trapped in the walls...

A landmark feminist work, its depiction of postpartum psychosis was also an inspiration for early cosmic horror, in particular The King in Yellow. Note that HP Lovecraft may have named the Gilman family after her when writing The Shadow Over Innsmouth (and as a pun on "gill"). In 2011, a film version of the story was released.

This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The film adaptation gives the narrator a name, expands a bit on her (meager, tiny) social life, and expands on the character of her husband, John.
  • Alien Geometries
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • Yes, isolation (aka the "rest cure") was a treatment used in the late 19th century. Yes, it was quackery.
    • Also the so-called 'nerve tonic' she was required to ingest regularly. The active ingredient of such medications was usually alcohol, cocaine or both.
  • Apocalyptic Log
  • Author Avatar
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Subverted. It's implied that the narrator's hysteria is at least partly due to post-partum depression. Her baby hardly enters into the story.
    • However, it is also implied that if the narrator could have just taken care of her child (and see a reason to live in said child) she could have gotten better faster. Being denied even being a mother was another part of going insane.
  • Bertha In The Attic
  • Creator Breakdown: The story becomes even more disturbing when you find out that it was based on Gilman's own experiences with depression and Victorian-era doctors.
  • Freak Out
  • Go Mad from the Isolation
  • Hypocrite: In the film, John. He gives a lecture on the importance of mental stimulation, exercise, and fresh air—while his isolated, cloistered wife is having her psychotic break in the attic.
  • Hysterical Woman: Everyone around the narrator treats her as if she is on the verge of a mental breakdown, and will snap if she so much as thinks too hard. She starts out sane; in the end, it's her imprisonment in the house and room, and everyone treating her like a ticking time bomb, that drives her around the bend.
  • Lovecraft Country: Definitely the seclusion part, if nothing else.
  • Mind Screw
  • Named by the Adaptation: The narrator is named "Charlotte" in the film adaptation.
  • No Name Given: The narrator. Some conclude from a line near the end that the narrator is named Jane, as there was no mention of a character named Jane previously in the story.
    • It could also be argued that she was writing so frantically, and had gone so insane at that point that she had gotten Jennie's name wrong. The names are close and it makes sense for Jennie to have been in the room.
  • The Ophelia: The narrator, by the end.
  • Primal Stance: The women in the walls as well as the narrator.
  • Purple Prose: It's deliberately written this way to show her boredom. All she has time to do is overly describe the room she's in.
  • Sanity Slippage
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The rationale behind the narrator's husband forbidding her from writing. Gilman herself was told by a prominent neurologist to "Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time... And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live," as a cure for her depression.
  • Straw Vulcan: John, somewhat.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Unreliable Narrator
  • Wallpaper Camouflage
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The narrator.