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 those thoughts that would cause him to worry or become upset. The conversations recorded in the diary reveal the extent to which her husband John misunderstands her inner life, and the reader’s ability to see this miscommunication creates dramatic irony, which arises when the reader knows more about what’s going on than the characters. The reader can see both how the narrator’s relationship to her husband changes dramatically over the course of her stay in the room with the yellow wallpaper, and how John is blind to this growing distance. Able to see this but, being a reader, able to do nothing about it, the reader comes to inhabit a similar position as the narrator in her isolation – of being able to perceive things but completely unable to then share them in a meaningful or impactful way.
There are also moments of misunderstanding within the diary itself, small clues that signal the house’s darker past. These markers create another kind of dramatic irony, since here it is the narrator herself whose knowledge is incomplete. The reader is kept in suspense as these small details, such as the gnawed bedposts or the barred windows, reveal new information about the rented house, which we know has stood empty for a long period, and was acquired inexpensively for the summer. There is an implication that the upper room has served before as a sanatorium (rather than as a nursery), and perhaps that the house is indeed haunted, as the narrator jokingly suggests in the opening diary entry. These details create an awareness of the author behind the character of the narrator, who has crafted this story to maximize its horror, and in so doing has linked the horror of a traditional gothic tale with what the author sees as the horror of the way her society treats women faced with mental illness.
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding ThemeTracker
Self-Expression, Miscommunication, and Misunderstanding Quotes in The Yellow Wallpaper
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy!
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!
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.