The Yellow Wallpaper

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Yellow Wallpaper, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Mental Illness and its Treatment

Reading the series of diary entries that make up the story, the reader is in a privileged position to witness the narrator’s evolving and accelerating descent into madness, foreshadowed by her mounting paranoia and obsession with the mysterious figure behind the pattern of the yellow wallpaper.

As the portrayal of a woman’s gradual mental breakdown, The Yellow Wallpaper offers the reader a window into the perception and treatment of mental illness in the late nineteenth…

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Gender Roles and Domestic Life

Alongside its exploration of mental illness, The Yellow Wallpaper offers a critique of traditional gender roles as they were defined during the late nineteenth century, the time in which the story is set and was written. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent feminist, who rejected the trappings of traditional domestic life and published extensively about the role of women in society, and saw the gender roles of the time as horribly stifling.

The story’s family…

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Outward Appearance vs. Inner Life

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

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Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding

Alongside questions of gender and mental illness in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the simple story of a woman who is unable fully to express herself, or to find someone who will listen.

The narrator’s sense that the act of writing, which she has been forbidden to do, is exactly what she needs to feel better suggests this stifled self-expression. Since she is unable to communicate with her husband, this diary becomes a secret outlet for…

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