Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper

Subject: Literature
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 814
Topics: Book, Symbolism, The Yellow Wallpaper
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In the past, literature has often depicted women as characters that are subservient and weak, only playing the roles of supporting the main characters, who are often men. Many authors have been keen to demean the mindsets of women, often characterizing them as unthinking characters who have no will of their own and are only there to play supportive roles. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman attempts to break these stereotypes, bringing the troubles and restrictions women face to the surface. Through her character, Perkins depicts the life of a woman who is trapped by her husband’s expectations and has a desire to be her own person who can be constructive and creative by herself. In her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper, the journal, and the house as symbols to convey the various restrictions placed on women and the struggle to attain equality.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

In itself, the yellow wallpaper is a form of symbolism that has been used throughout the story. Essentially, yellow is a color often associated with weakness and sickness, with the narrator indicating that she has not seen a worse color all her life. The yellow color is depicted as a symbol or form of mental screen, which men seek to force on women by creating many restrictions for them (Puthiyedath, 2020). These mental screens are meant to obscure women from seeing past their supportive roles to realizing themselves as independent individuals with a will and who can do what they want. The narrator’s hatred for the yellow wallpaper depicts her hatred for the oppression and denial of equal rights for women in a patriarchal society.

The narrator obsesses with the wallpaper and even believes that she can see a woman therein. In essence, this can be translated to mean that she saw herself held back and imprisoned in the wallpaper. However, in her innermost being, she knows that she deserves more and can make a better life for herself away from her current reality, which is demeaning to her (Puthiyedath, 2020). Even though the wallpaper was initially something she loved, this slowly changes as she begins to see it as a symbol of her oppression. Ultimately, she chooses to destroy the wallpaper as a sign of freeing herself from the repression she faced in the patriarchal society.

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The Journal

The author uses her main character’s journal to symbolize a form of escape for the woman. In her journal, she can escape the various norms that society has set in place, which are demeaning to women. Ideally, the character can express her real, unfiltered thoughts through her journal without worrying about what another person will say. In the real world, she cannot express her true thoughts and feelings, as the patriarchal society is a form of prison that prevents her from materializing her ideas (Alkan, 2021). However, in the journal, she is free to self-express whatever is on her mind without any form of judgment from another person. The journal symbolically represents a form of escape for the character who can pen her honest thoughts without worrying about what any other person will say.

The Room

The narrator spends all her time in the room with the yellow wallpaper, which symbolizes a prison. The room symbolizes imprisonment as the narrator is not given any chance to leave the room but is kept locked in due to her mental condition (Ali, 2018). Upon closer inspection, this symbol represents how women are often locked up in their households, where they are expected to fulfill household chores without doing anything else with their life. In many households, women are often left at home with the responsibility of taking care of the children and fulfilling household chores (Roethle, 2020). Ideally, this can be seen as a form of imprisonment as these women are not allowed to express themselves, their creative selves, or ideas that can bring about change in the world. The women are often treated as lesser beings and thus ‘imprisoned’ in their homes, where they are given duties that are not representative of their natural ability or what they can offer.

In sum, the author has utilized various symbols to portray the story’s various themes and ideas. The yellow wallpaper represents a form of unconscious imprisonment for the woman who can see herself in the wallpaper. She destroys the wallpaper as a symbol of breaking out of this prison. The room she is staying in represents prison as she is not allowed to leave since her husband thinks she cannot make her own decisions. The narrator’s journal is also a symbol that the author has utilized, portraying it as a form of expression where she can express her innermost thoughts without being judged. Through the various symbols, the author can bring out the theme of inequality and how women tend to be treated as lesser beings in society.

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  1. Ali, S. Y. M. A. (2018). Patterns of Entrapment and Emancipation in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper. CDELT Occasional Papers in the Development of English Education, 65(1), 573-589.
  2. Alkan, H. (2021). A Liberal Feminist Approach to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Ulakbilge Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 9(65), 1229-1236.
  3. Puthiyedath, S. (2020). Unmuting Women’s Bodies: A comparative study of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and LalitambikaAntharjanam’s ‘Revenge Goddess’. Trivium, 4, 42-55.
  4. Roethle, C. (2020). A Healthy Play of Mind: Art and the Brain in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. American Literary Realism, 52(2), 147-166.
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