The Yellow Wallpaper

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The narrator’s husband. He is a physician of high standing, and becomes doctor to his wife. He is extremely practical, rejects superstition, and is interested only in physical facts. This leads him to dismiss his wife’s concerns about her inner life, and impose his own cure – rest, food, air, phosphates, and a freedom from the distractions of life outside the domestic sphere. John treats his wife like a child in many ways, calling her his “little girl”. His inability to truly recognize the inner life of his wife is made clear in her diary, and leads him to faint in shock when he realizes the true extent of her illness.

John Quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper

The The Yellow Wallpaper quotes below are all either spoken by John or refer to John. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin edition of The Yellow Wallpaper published in 2009.
First Entry Quotes

It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity—but that would be asking too much of fate! Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

These words that the narrator writes in her diary begin the story, and set the tone for the rest of the tale. On the one hand, there is already a sense of suspicion in the narrator’s description of the house as haunted, a suggestion that there may be a malevolent force at work in this outwardly grand summer home. This sense foreshadows the psychological horror of the story to come. At the same time, the narrator’s dismissal of her own suspicion as “the height of romantic felicity” is a moment of self-deprecation that hints at the way that she has been repressed and taught not to trust herself or take her own feelings seriously. And finally, her "proud" declaration that there is something odd about the house and the way that her statement "would be asking too much of fate" seems to imply that she might want the house to be haunted—that the narrator herself might be hiding some inner demons or desires.

So, in just this brief opening statement the story establishes both that the house might not be what it appears, and that the narrator might hide more within her than first is visible. That both might hide a secret—and perhaps sinister—inner life.

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John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote the narrator explains how John, her husband and de facto doctor, mocks her worry about the house they have rented for the summer. In laughing at his wife's concerns, John reveals how lightly he values her judgment, a disregard that will extend to his condescending belief that he understands her anxiety and mental illness better than she does. Because he is unable to take the inner life of his wife seriously, John seriously misunderstands the extent and cause of her illness, belittling the narrator in a way that only further isolates her.

The quote also connects John’s belief about his wife's "silliness" to society’s perception of women in the nineteenth century, as the narrator makes clear with her admission that "of course" any woman should expect such treatment in a marriage. While one might read the narrator's quote here as resigned or accepting—that's just the way life and marriage is for women—it is also possible to read the line as sarcastic, in which case her sarcasm would signal that the narrator is more resistant to the unfair restrictions put on her because she is a woman than it may at first appear from her seemingly polite treatment of John. This potential sarcasm, along with the diary itself, which she is hiding it from the husband who has expressly forbidden her from keeping any sort of journal, can therefore be seen as rebellions against those sexist restrictions and the unfair treatment of women.

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are the first clue that the narrator is sick in some way, and signal that what we are reading is a secret diary. There is a dark humor in the suggestion that the reason the narrator remains sick is that her husband is a doctor. This is a bitter joke criticizing doctors, and particularly male doctors who misunderstand (or condescendingly refuse to trust or believe) their female patients. Here, again, John is shown as being incapable of taking his wife’s mental illness seriously, believing her sickness to be the result of her "fancy" and fragility as a woman and not an actual illness. The narrator’s helplessness in the face of her doctor-husband’s judgment reveals how little agency women had over their own lives at the time, and suggests that this lack of control is in fact what is causing her sickness (in part, at least). This jab at doctors also begins Gilman’s attack on her own, real-life doctor, Dr. Weir Mitchell, who prescribed to Gilman a "rest cure" similar to the forced idleness enforced upon the narrator in this short story. 

The fact that the story in our hands is a secret diary also creates a close relationship between reader and narrator, since we are privileged to see critical parts of her thinking that other characters in the story cannot. In one sense, then, the distinction between “living souls” and “dead paper” is a false one, since we, as readers, are essentially a living audience for the narrator—we are "living souls" who are hearing what she has to say through the "dead paper" upon which she writes. The use of the phrase "dead paper," which in fact might be described as a kind of living connection between the narrator and the reader, also foreshadows the yellow wallpaper of her room—more "dead paper" that seems to become inhabited with a mysterious "living soul."

He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.

I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator describes her husband John's "careful" treatment of her. From her summary of this treatment, it is clear that every moment of her life is strictly controlled by John in his capacity as doctor and head of the household. This control seems stifling, and yet John sees it as a loving exercise, driven by concern for his fragile wife, whose judgment does not figure into his decisions about her treatment. This controlled idleness is what would have been called a "rest cure" in the author's time, and is something that Gilman herself was prescribed by Dr. Weir Mitchell. It seems to be worsening the narrator's condition—and, insidiously, her depression is only increased by the guilt she feels at not appreciating the assigned cure. 

The narrator's tone may again be read as at least partly sarcastic here, since she is clearly suffering as a result of her husband's "special direction." In any case, the narrator's own feelings about her treatment are hidden from her husband, or he is fundamentally unable to understand them—possibly because his society and profession do not value the opinions of women very highly. 

Second Entry Quotes

John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no REASON to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator writes in her diary about her worsening loneliness and boredom. Her husband is neglecting her in favor of his more "serious" patients, and here the potential sarcasm in the narrator’s exclamation that she is glad that her own case is not "serious" comes through more clearly. Whether or not the narrator is aware that her condition is in fact becoming more
"serious," the reader, at least, is warned that her state is deteriorating. John, meanwhile, has entirely failed to understand the severity of his wife’s condition. Driven by sterile reason, a stereotypically male quality, he refuses to give credit to his wife’s feelings of depression, assuming that they are merely a product of her own fancy or "hysteria." Unfortunately this dismissal of the narrator's suffering does nothing to reduce its harmful effects. 

There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Diary
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is the reader's first introduction to John's sister, Jennie, who is helping to run the house while the narrator is sick in bed. The narrator hides the diary at the sound of her approach, underlining the conspiratorial, secretive nature of this writing, and reinforcing the idea that her writing is an act of rebellion against her husband's expectation that she rest in complete idleness, giving up on any idea of more ambitious work. Writing, the narrator's secret ambition, is not fit work for a woman—according to societal expectations of the time. Meanwhile, Jennie's willing and even enthusiastic acceptance of the traditionally female domestic role in the home gives the narrator still more reason to feel guilty at her own rebellious instincts and depression. She is isolated even from another woman in her ambition and her mental illness, and has begun to hide her true self from the rest of the house. 

Fourth Entry Quotes

Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator describes another desperate attempt on her part to communicate to her husband how unendurable this "rest cure" really is—but John promptly refuses her request to leave the house and visit their family elsewhere. As the male head of the household, and the physician in charge of the narrator's treatment, John's word is final, and the narrator is powerless to resist. This powerlessness no doubt contributes to her tearful sense of despair, but the tears that she cries as she attempts to convince her husband to listen to her only further discredit her in his eyes, since they signal her status as a fragile, fanciful, emotional woman. The misunderstanding between the narrator and John deepens further, even as she recognizes that he loves her dearly (or thinks he does, at least). He is still fundamentally unable to see that this stifling rest cure is what is causing, or at least worsening, her mental illness.

Fifth Entry Quotes

Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.

Related Characters: John (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, John speaks to his wife directly to reject her plea that they leave the house early, and he reassures her that she is, in fact, recovering under his care in this summer home. The reader has a privileged view of the narrator’s inner life, since she has been confiding her despair and paranoia in the diary, and hiding this rebellious act from John. Meanwhile, John is totally blind to the harmful effects of this illness, both because of his inability to communicate with his wife, and because he, as a purely rational male doctor who routinely rejects his wife’s complaints as fanciful or emotional, is completely self-assured, certain that his wife is well on her way to recovery. This is an ultimate example of the arrogance of the medical field as Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself experienced it; John presumes to know the narrator’s feeling and condition much better than she herself ever could. In the face of this blind—and condescending—assurance, the reader sympathizes with the narrator’s inability to make herself understood. John’s position is in some ways equally pitiful—it is society’s common perception of women as fragile, infantile beings that has led him to this absolute misunderstanding of his wife’s condition.

Tenth Entry Quotes

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, as her sickness and paranoia accelerate, the narrator reveals that she has been "creeping" in a motion similar to the mysterious figure in the wallpaper. She does this behind locked doors, further isolating herself from John and Jennie, whom she now completely mistrusts. This motion is further evidence that the long streak running along the wall, which she mentions in the eighth diary entry, may have been scratched out by the narrator herself in an unconscious state. She is taking on the characteristics of a caged animal, as that earlier quote suggests, and carefully hiding her activity from her husband John. This secrecy is a clear sign of something unhealthy, but it also makes sense, since John has already proven that he will be unsympathetic to the narrator's plight. Now, instead of reaching out to him, she has retreated entirely into herself and this dangerous delusion of the living wallpaper. John continues to be oblivious to this creeping illness and his wife's growing derangement, and we as the readers of this secret diary have a privileged view of her mental decay, but no power to affect it in any way. 

Eleventh Entry Quotes

John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet!
He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn't see through him!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote the narrator reveals a shift in her attitude toward John, while also cluing the reader in to her insomnia—no doubt a contributing factor in her continuing mental deterioration. Instead of attributing love and kindness to John’s questioning, as she did at the beginning of the story, the narrator is now convinced that John is only pretending to care about her. In her paranoia, she sees their relationship as a sort of subtle battlefield, full of espionage and deception.

The image of the narrator’s sleepless, silent nights is a disturbing one, as she lays still in an attempt to convince John that she is actually sleeping. She is in a constant state of alert, watching out for John’s surveilling eye, as he checks in with her as both his patient and his wife. It is this sense of surveillance, this oppressive male gaze, that truly imprisons the narrator, and not merely the walls of her room upstairs. At the same time, the fact that John is finally asking her more questions suggests that he may at long last be noticing her accelerating illness, and so the reader’s privileged knowledge of this illness is intensely frustrating; we are unable to intervene in this relationship, and John has already ruined any chance of earning enough trust from his wife for her to reveal her increasingly alarming delusions to him.

Twelfth Entry Quotes

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John, Jennie
Related Symbols: The Wallpaper, The Mysterious Figure
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator speaks to John directly, in the voice of the mysterious figure from the wallpaper. This is the first mention in the story of anyone named "Jane'"—some readers have suggested that this is a typo (or the narrator misspeaking), and the narrator is referring to Jennie, while others believe that Jane could be the name of the narrator herself, who is not otherwise named in the story. From her triumphant speech, it is clear that the narrator has slipped into madness primarily as a last resort attempt to escape the clutches of her husband and sister-in-law, who, along with society more generally, restricted her self-expression and identity. 

John faints here, in an interesting reversal of gender roles that has him taking on the more feminine, fragile action while the narrator triumphs over him. This suggests that the trauma of his wife's breakdown might have shaken his strict adherence to these traditional roles, which blinded him to the true severity of her condition. It also suggests that he, too, is a victim, in a sense, of society's gender expectations, and of the medical practice of the time. He is completely shocked by his wife's breakdown, since his principles as a doctor and a man led him to ignore her complaints early in the story, and to reject any attempt at communication that she made. And yet his actions were ultimately motivated by love for his wife, and it was misunderstanding on a structural as much as a personal level that brought about her descent into madness. 

The story ends with the frightening image of the narrator's persistent, creeping, circling motion, as she steps over the prone body of her husband again and again. 

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John Character Timeline in The Yellow Wallpaper

The timeline below shows where the character John appears in The Yellow Wallpaper. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Fifth Entry
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
The narrator describes an attempt she made to discuss her case with John the night before, as the moonlight crept in the windows. She lay awake watching the... (full context)
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Domestic Life Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
In her memory, the narrator tells John that she wishes to leave the house. He objects to this notion, which he views... (full context)
Sixth Entry
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
The narrator has been staying in bed even more, and John encourages her rest by making her lie down for an hour after each meal. She... (full context)
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
The narrator is beginning to distrust both John and Jennie, and suspects that it is the wallpaper’s fault. The narrator once caught Jennie... (full context)
Seventh Entry
Mental Illness and its Treatment  Theme Icon
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Theme Icon
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Theme Icon
...an improvement in her mood. She says the change is due to the wallpaper, although John doesn’t know that and she ‘has no intention of telling him.’ She is fascinated by... (full context)