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Setting of Imprisonment and Disempowerment in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”


Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the roots of insanity of the protagonist. The story shows that her insanity is a product of her disempowerment as a married woman. This essay describes the connection between the description of her room and her emotional state and feelings for her husband. The setting is connected to her emotional state and her feelings about her husband because the bars in the windows represent her marginalized status in their marriage and in society; while how she describes the stripped patches, chaotic design, and dreadful smell and color of the wallpaper demonstrate that the absence of freedom in her life has ruined her sanity.

The setting of the room suggests how the narrator feels about her husband and her emotional status. The bars in the windows signify her feelings of being trapped in her marriage. As a woman, she has no power to choose or do anything about her mental condition, and she says that her husband “is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman 320). The irony is present in how he loves her, and yet he wants to control every aspect of her identity, which the bars in the window stand for. In addition, the narrator’s illustration of the stripped patches shows that she is stripped herself. She says: “It is stripped off–the paper in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life” (Gilman 320). The patches on the head mean that her husband strips her of her ability to think, while patches in the down side of the room suggests that she has no freedom to go anywhere. Moreover, the chaotic design of the wallpaper demonstrates her emotional state. She describes the design: “…when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” (Gilman 320). She wants to commit suicide because she cannot live with the contradiction of being a person and not being treated as an independent and free human being. Finally, the appalling smell and color suggest the totality of her “personlessness,” or the absence of her personhood, her identity. She dislikes the color and smell of the room: “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others” (Gilman 320). Yellow is not a sign of hope and happiness like it usually means, but helplessness, while the scent is disgusting because she cannot smell her freedom. The room looks insane because she is insane, and she is insane because her husband and society’s control over her identity make her insane.

These passages argue that the room reflects the protagonist’s troubled emotional state. She has emotional problems because she is breaking down from the hopelessness of her life. Without freedom and independence, she feels as senseless as the wallpaper of her room. Thus, the narrator is trapped in a room she has not chosen or made and in a life she can never love and take as her own.

Work Cited
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1899. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.

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