The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis: A Unique Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Classic Novella

The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis: A Unique Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Classic Novella

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” has long been a popular and influential story in feminist literature. Despite its classification as a short story, many scholars believe that it can only be fully understood as an essay. In this analysis, we will delve into the psychological factors that influence the behavior of the narrator, as well as explore the parallelism between the narrator’s experiences and Gilman’s own life.

One of the key aspects of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the narrator’s response to her husband John’s chosen treatment for her mental illness. While John, a physician, believes that rest and isolation will help her condition, the narrator’s inability to fully grow and express herself without stimulation only exacerbates her mental state. This conflict between the narrator’s desires and society’s expectations for her as a woman is a central theme in Gilman’s work and is seen throughout many of her essays and stories.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the yellow wallpaper itself serves as a symbol for the oppression of women in society. The narrator’s obsession with the pattern and the images she sees within it reflects her own entrapment and the limited options available to women during this time period. Gilman’s choice to focus on the wallpaper as a central aspect of the story demonstrates her belief that women’s mental and emotional well-being are closely tied to their ability to break free from societal constraints.

Despite the story’s feminist themes, it is important to note that Gilman’s intention was not to write a purely feminist work. She wanted to explore the psychological aspects of the narrator’s experience and shed light on the detrimental effects of the “rest cure” treatment. Gilman’s own experiences with mental illness and her frustration with the medical profession influenced her writing, resulting in a powerful and thought-provoking story.

In essence, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a complex and multi-layered work that touches on a variety of topics, including women’s psychology, the role of women in society, and the ways in which society influences individuals. Through thorough analysis of Gilman’s work, including her essays and other short stories, we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying messages and themes present in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis: A Unique Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Classic Novella

Many believe that the story is a reflection of Gilman’s own experiences and serves as a form of personal therapy. The chosen narrator’s descent into madness and the ways in which her mental state is influenced by the wallpaper in her room highlights the importance of understanding the complexities of the human mind.

While the story is often referred to as a feminist work, it should also be thoroughly analyzed from a psychological perspective. The inability of the narrator and other women in the story to fully express themselves and grow as individuals without the interference of men is a prominent theme. This offers a compelling parallelism to the treatment of women’s mental health during the time the story was written.

One of the most intriguing aspects of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the unreliable narrator. The reader questions the sanity of the narrator and whether her behavior is a result of her mental state or the circumstances in which she finds herself. This adds an extra layer to the story’s complexity and challenges the reader to delve deeper into the psychology of the characters.

Related essays and scholarly works have thoroughly examined the influence of Gilman’s own experiences on the story and the feminist and psychological aspects of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” However, a unique analysis that explores the various factors that contribute to the narrators’ mental state and behavior is still necessary.

Yellow Wallpaper: An In-Depth Examination

The story’s narrator, referred to as “the woman,” is mentally trapped by her physician husband, John. In his ability to completely disregard his wife’s opinions and beliefs, John becomes a symbol of the societal, patriarchal norms that silence women during that time period. The narrator’s inability to express herself and her growing frustration towards her prescribed treatment by the medical establishment are reflected in her obsession with the yellow wallpaper.

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The wallpaper itself acts as a parallelism to the narrator’s inner world and mental state. Throughout the story, the woman becomes fixated on the wallpaper, describing it in great detail and attributing characteristics and motives to the patterns she sees. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes the oppressive forces that confine women to prescribed roles and suppress their individuality. It represents the unseen and often misunderstood psychological aspects of women’s experiences.

Despite the story being set in the 19th century, Gilman’s exploration of women’s mental health and the influences of societal expectations are still relevant today. Many of the themes, such as the suppression of women’s agency by their male counterparts, can be seen in contemporary society. Gilman’s work serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding and addressing women’s mental health struggles in today’s world.

UTC Scholar Perspective on “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The Psychological Factors

Many scholars believe that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a reflection of Gilman’s own experiences and her struggle with mental health issues. Despite being a work of fiction, the story delves deeply into the workings of the human mind and the consequences of mental illness. The narrator’s descent into madness, as depicted in her obsession with the yellow wallpaper, highlights the psychological aspects of the story.

The Influence of Gilman’s Life

Gilman’s own experiences as a wife and a mother are clearly related to the themes explored in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The story’s focus on women’s role in society and the struggles they face within the confines of marriage and motherhood reflect Gilman’s own dissatisfaction with these societal constructs. The wallpaper, in essence, becomes a symbol of the oppressive expectations placed on women during the time in which the story is set.

In addition, Gilman’s own battle with mental illness and her subsequent treatment by renowned physician Silas Weir Mitchell serve as influences for the story. The narrator’s inability to work and her husband’s dismissive behavior towards her symptoms parallel Gilman’s own experiences, creating a personal connection between the author and the story.

The Feminist Perspective

UTC scholars have thoroughly analyzed “The Yellow Wallpaper” in a variety of ways. From psychological essays exploring the causes and effects of the narrator’s mental decline, to feminist interpretations of the story’s themes and their parallelism to contemporary women’s struggles, these scholarly discussions have shed light on the unique aspects of Gilman’s novella.

At UTC, the story continues to captivate students and scholars alike, as they uncover the hidden nuances and messages within “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Through a thorough examination of the story, scholars have come to appreciate its timeless relevance and its ability to spark discussion on a wide range of topics, from psychology to women’s rights.

Psychological Aspects Explored in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The Influence of Feminist Factors

One of the main psychological aspects explored in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the influence of feminist factors on the narrator’s mental deterioration. Gilman’s work serves as a response to the prevailing notion that women should conform to perceived norms of society without question. The narrator’s inability to fully express herself and pursue her own interests plays a fundamental role in her mental decline. This theme highlights the oppressive nature of gender roles and the damaging effects of suppressing one’s own identity and desires.

The Psychology of the Yellow Wallpaper

The yellow wallpaper in the story represents the protagonist’s deteriorating mental state. As the narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with the pattern and imagery of the wallpaper, it is evident that her psychological condition worsens. The yellow wallpaper acts as a catalyst for her descent into madness, symbolizing the restrictions and limitations imposed upon women in society. This captivating symbol effectively conveys the harmful consequences of denying one’s own agency.

Furthermore, the yellow wallpaper can be seen as a metaphor for the societal expectations placed upon women, limiting their growth and potential. The wallpaper’s physical characteristics mirror the narrator’s mental state, with its disorganized pattern representing the chaos within her mind. The entrapment she experiences behind the wallpaper becomes a powerful symbol of her inability to escape the constraints imposed upon her by society.

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The Workings of the Mind

Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the workings of the human mind, especially in relation to mental health and confinement. The narrator’s descent into madness is a result of the societal pressures she faces, as well as her own internal struggles. The story provides a profound examination of how the mind can be influenced and damaged by external factors, highlighting the importance of individual autonomy and self-expression.

Overall, “The Yellow Wallpaper” offers a complex understanding of the psychological aspects explored by Gilman. By drawing parallelism between the deteriorating mental state of the protagonist and the symbolism within the wallpaper, the story effectively conveys the damaging effects of societal constraints and the importance of individual agency. This novella remains a popular choice for scholars and readers alike, as it addresses timeless issues related to women’s mental health and the patriarchal society in which the story is set.

Parallelism and Symbolism in Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper


One of the key topics explored in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the parallelism between the narrator and the woman trapped within the yellow wallpaper. Both individuals in the story are confined, unable to grow or develop freely. The narrator’s husband, John, controls every aspect of her life, limiting her freedom and access to society. Similarly, the woman in the wallpaper is trapped and unable to escape her confines. This parallelism demonstrates the consequences of women’s limited agency in the society of the time and their inability to fully express themselves.

Another significant parallel in the story is the parallelism between the narrators’ behavior and the woman in the wallpaper. As the narrators’ mental state deteriorates, her obsession with the wallpaper grows. She becomes fixated on the pattern and is convinced there is a woman behind it. This parallelism highlights the narrators’ descent into madness and the blurred line between reality and fiction.


The yellow wallpaper itself serves as a powerful symbol in Gilman’s story. The color yellow typically represents happiness and joy, but in this context, it takes on a more sinister meaning. The narrators’ growing obsession with the wallpaper symbolizes her unraveling mental health. The trapped woman in the wallpaper represents the narrators’ repressed desires and the societal constraints placed upon her as a woman.

Furthermore, the bars on the windows symbolize the narrators’ confinement and the lack of freedom she experiences. The barred windows act as a physical representation of the barriers preventing her from escaping her oppressive situation. This symbolism reinforces the theme of women’s imprisonment in a patriarchal society.

Reader’s Response and Personal Interpretation of the Yellow Wallpaper

The essence of the story revolves around the narrator’s descent into mental instability and her growing obsession with the yellow wallpaper. While some readers may interpret the wallpaper as a symbol of the protagonist’s deteriorating mental state, I find a parallelism between the wallpaper and the narrator’s societal confinement as a wife and woman during that time period.

Throughout the story, the narrator’s husband, John, a prominent physician, exhibits controlling behavior towards his wife. He dismisses her opinions and desires, attributing her mental struggles to mere hysteria. This reflection of gender roles and power dynamics in the story resonates with the experiences of many women today, who may find themselves questioning their own agency and identity within the confines of society’s expectations.

Gilman’s portrayal of the wallpaper as both a reflection of the narrator’s deteriorating mental state and a manifestation of her own imprisonment highlights the complexity of the story’s psychological undertones. The narrator’s fascination with the wallpaper grows as she becomes more isolated and confined, paralleling her increasing frustration and the limitations she faces as a woman.

From a psychological standpoint, “The Yellow Wallpaper” delves into the mental workings of its characters, especially the narrator. The story can be viewed as a case study of the effects of solitary confinement and the impact of oppressive social norms on an individual’s mental health. By delving into the psychology of the characters, the story explores the narrator’s struggle for autonomy and the consequences of denying one’s true identity.


What is the main thesis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

The main thesis of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the examination of the psychological effects of the gender roles and societal expectations placed upon women during the 19th century.

How does psychology play a role in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

Psychology plays a central role in “The Yellow Wallpaper” as the story delves into the protagonist’s descent into madness and explores the themes of mental illness, confinement, and the power dynamics between men and women.

What are some popular topics related to “The Yellow Wallpaper”?

Some popular topics related to “The Yellow Wallpaper” include feminism, gender roles, mental illness, the portrayal of women in literature, symbolism, and the effects of isolation on the human psyche.

How does the yellow wallpaper influence the narrative of the story?

The yellow wallpaper in the story serves as a powerful symbol that represents the protagonist’s deteriorating mental state. As she becomes more obsessed with the wallpaper, its patterns and the figure behind it, the wallpaper takes on a life of its own, mirroring her own descent into madness.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.