The Yellow Wallpaper (1891) is a short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story is narrated in a first person perspective and revolves around a woman who narrated her confinement to a room on the top of an old grandiose house her physician husband has rented. The husband believes she suffers from post partum psychosis, a nervousness following childbirth, and thinks that extended rest and less stimulus through contact with the outside world would help overcome the situation. His wife believes otherwise and records her thoughts in a journal, which slowly reveals her decent into madness as she become immersed in the wallpaper that covers the room
Letting ones imagination run wild, the story does seem to be a horror flick out of Hollywood; an intense tale of a woman with all aspects of normalcy to begin with slowly descending into hair raising madness, the reader enthralled by the rapid climax build up towards the end of the story. However, on a closer look, the story is not just a means of entertainment but has many underlying themes that, given the social climate of the time, provoke a deeper understanding. On a personal note, the story appears to me as an invitation by the author to live life to the full, embracing the concept of socialization and stimulus as the very breath of a sane existence. There is no ghost and the narrator does really descend into madness. However, what causes the transition is important to understand the concept behind the story.
To support my interpretation, lets take the very first few lines of the story itself, where the narrator mentions her belief that “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” rather then her husband’s rather imposed confinement of hers. This very sentence has important implications for the whole story as the narrator repeatedly mentions her longing to break the imposed walls that keep her inside the dreaded room by visiting her relatives. Her confinement makes her life mundane and ignores stimulus, which effectively leads to a mind numbing effect, and hence ends up institutionalizing the narrator as she immerses in a world of the yellow wallpaper. She loves her husband dearly and doesn’t press hard to have her confinement ended, as she doesn’t want him to take offence. Hence, her very being becomes a compromise. The fact that she sees herself in the wallpaper, a woman barred in chains and creeping like an animal, speaks of her subjugation to her husband and more so about the lack of freedom and acceptance she enjoys. In fact, the very act of tearing the wall paper and the term that she has torn down the wall paper so that her husband and his sister cannot put her back in can be seen as a person yearning for freedom and acceptance, making desperate attempts in this regard.
Hence, the whole descent into madness speaks a tone of how imprisonment in a physical or mental sense can destroy a human being. According to Shafi (2008), “Gilman chooses subjugation of women by the medical profession as the central theme of the story” (P.15). However, I believe that constituents of both genders can draw an important lesson from the story: that human beings are part of nature and need to be as free as the birds themselves. It is only when they are free that they truly blossom. The narrator wanted to live life. Instead, she was trapped like a bird in the cage, with the wings of imagination and an internal strife of love and hate for her husband (the man) and her husband (the physician), steering her towards danger. This is the central theme of the story, that compromises are self-inflicted pain and a lack of freedom and acceptance can drive a person crazy.