Another major theme in the story lies in the contradiction between outward appearance and inner life.
The story’s form, in a series of diary entries, gives the reader a glimpse into its writer’s inner life. This, in turn, allows us to watch as the narrator’s husband misinterprets her condition, and as she begins to consciously deceive both him and Jennie. Our privileged view into the narrator’s mind leads to an appreciation of the sarcasm and irony that lace her descriptions of her husband John and her life in the home. Even as her husband is convinced that she is improving, the reader witnesses her obsession with the wallpaper take a dangerous turn as her despair intensifies. The practically minded John is unable to grasp the realities of his wife’s inner life, which exists outside of his direct observation. He assumes she is improving since she eats more at dinner, ignoring her more emotional complaints. His blindness to her inner life means that, when she ultimately breaks down completely at the story’s climax, John is shocked to the point of fainting.
The narrator’s descriptions of her home, and in particular of the wallpaper, further highlight this contradiction between outward appearance and inner life. Many of the rooms and objects in the home and in the narrator’s memory of her childhood, although outwardly inanimate, take on a sort of life. Even before the narrator becomes convinced that the wallpaper contains a mysterious figure, she describes it as having an all-pervasive, changeable, menacing life of its own, invading the whole house and hiding some evil intention. It is partly the narrator’s intense need to interpret this inner life of the wallpaper that drives her to madness, a process that mirrors her attempt to interpret her own psychological condition as well as the reader’s attempts to interpret her story.
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life ThemeTracker
Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life Quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper
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.
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?
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.
The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. 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.
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.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.
Of course I never mention it to them any more—I am too wise,—but I keep watch of it all the same.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will ...
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.
At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.
It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.
And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.
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.
I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.
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!
Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!
I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please! I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.
"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!