The Yellow Wallpaper

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The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman had a difficult childhood after her father abandoned her family while she was still an infant. Her aunts, including prominent suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker and author Harriet Beecher Stowe, helped to support her mother through this period. In 1884 she married Charles Walter Stetson and gave birth to their only child, a daughter. After the birth of her daughter, she suffered from post-partum depression and was prescribed an unsuccessful ‘rest-cure’ by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who suggested that she focus on domestic duties and avoid intellectual activity. She separated from her husband in 1888 and moved to Pasadena, California and became an active voice in the feminist movement, publishing extensively on the role of women in the household. She was married again in 1900, to her first cousin Houghton Gilman. In 1932 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and, in 1935, she committed suicide by taking an overdose of chloroform, which she viewed as preferable to death by cancer.
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Historical Context of The Yellow Wallpaper
Gilman was writing at the very beginnings of the Progressive era in America, a time when many writers were using their art to contribute to a national conversation about social issues. In addition to her creative work, she wrote explicitly political books on the unhealthy dynamic of the traditional American family, arguing that everyone (men and women) was made unhappy and unproductive by the system as it existed.
Other Books Related to The Yellow Wallpaper
Often compared to the Gothic psychological horror tales of Edgar Allan Poe, particularly The Tell-Tale Heart, which also features first person narration from an unreliable, insane narrator. Many feminist critics have also thought of the narrator as she relates to the madwoman in Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
Key Facts about The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Full Title: The Yellow Wallpaper
  • When Written: June, 1890
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: May, 1892
  • Literary Period: Gothic
  • Genre: Short story; Gothic horror; Feminist literature
  • Setting: Late nineteenth century, in a colonial mansion that has been rented for the summer. Most of the story’s action takes place in a room at the top of the house that is referred to as the “nursery.”
  • Climax: The narrator suffers a complete mental breakdown, identifying herself with the woman she has hallucinated as being trapped in the yellow wallpaper and clawing at the walls as she creeps in endless circles about the room and over her fainted husband.
  • Antagonist: John, the narrator’s husband and doctor, could be considered an antagonist, although he is not a purely evil character.
  • Point of View: First person narrator, in a series of diary entries.
Extra Credit for The Yellow Wallpaper

Self-funded. To finance her education at the Rhode Island School of Design, Charlotte Perkins Gilman painted advertisements (trade cards) for soap companies.

Utopian lit. In addition to critiques like The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman wrote utopian fiction through which she imagined a world in which social conditions reflected equality for women.