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Contents6. Where are there signs that the narrator may have or may be contemplating suicide? (Find 3 examples)
The Yellow Wallpaper: Topics for Discussion
|“Yellow Wallpaper” – Full text online here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm|
“Yellow Wallpaper” Discussion Questions
1. Why has the narrator been prescribed the rest-cure? (Imagine how you would respond to the rest-cure. What would be the most difficult aspect of it? Why?)
2. In what ways does the husband control his wife?
3. What expressions of endearment does he use towards her? (Find at least 3 examples). These expressions are condescending in actuality. How so? What do they reveal about the nineteenth century view of women?
4. How is the room like a prison?
5. What evidence is there that the narrator is not the only one who finds the room disturbing? What clues are there that this room may have been used as an asylum in the past?
6A. What’s the discussion about having a rope about? What other parts of the story relate to this concept?
7. Who is the woman who creeps in the wallpaper? How might it be the narrator herself?
8. Why does the woman in the wallpaper “creep ” and “skulk”? What is the significance of the word “creep”? Where else is it repeated in the story? Why is it significant in the last lines of the story?
8a.How might the concept of creeping and skulking relate to the role of women in the 1800’s? What’s the difference between creeping and walking?
9. As the narrator mentally deteriorates, she moves from passivity and humility to assertiveness and defiance. Which words/sentences indicate this transition?
10. Find some sentences that contain italicized words and some that contain dashes. What is the effect of this syntax in the sentences? What effect does it have on the reader?
11. (Optional) This story has a gothic or haunted feel about it. How does the setting of the story contribute to the haunted mood? Which elements of the setting and which repeated words contribute to the gothic mood?
The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a paradox: as she loses touch with the outer world, she comes to a greater understanding of the inner reality of her life.
This inner/outer split is crucial to understanding the nature of the narrator’s suffering.
At every point, she is faced with relationships, objects, and situations that seem innocent and natural but that are actually quite bizarre and even oppressive.
In a sense, the plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the narrator’s attempt to avoid acknowledging the extent to which her external situation stifles her inner impulses.
From the beginning, we see that the narrator is an imaginative, highly expressive woman. She remembers terrifying herself with imaginary nighttime monsters as a child, and she enjoys the notion that the house they have taken is haunted. Yet as part of her “cure,” her husband forbids her to exercise her imagination in any way.
Both her reason and her emotions rebel at this treatment, and she turns her imagination onto seemingly neutral objects—the house and the wallpaper—in an attempt to ignore her growing frustration.
Her negative feelings color her description of her surroundings, making them seem uncanny and sinister, and she becomes fixated on the wallpaper.
As the narrator sinks further into her inner fascination with the wallpaper, she becomes progressively more dissociated from her day-to-day life.
This process of dissociation begins when the story does, at the very moment she decides to keep a secret diary as “a relief to her mind.”
From that point, her true thoughts are hidden from the outer world, and the narrator begins to slip into a fantasy world in which the nature of “her situation” is made clear in symbolic terms.
Gilman shows us this division in the narrator’s consciousness by having the narrator puzzle over effects in the world that she herself has caused.
For example, the narrator doesn’t immediately understand that the yellow stains on her clothing and the long “smootch” on the wallpaper are connected.
Similarly, the narrator fights the realization that the predicament of the woman in the wallpaper is a symbolic version of her own situation. At first she even disapproves of the woman’s efforts to escape and intends to “tie her up.”
When the narrator finally identifies herself with the woman trapped in the wallpaper, she is able to see that other women are forced to creep and hide behind the domestic “patterns” of their lives, and that she herself is the one in need of rescue.
The horror of this story is that the narrator must lose herself to understand herself.
She has untangled the pattern of her life, but she has torn herself apart in getting free of it.
An odd detail at the end of the story reveals how much the narrator has sacrificed. During her final split from reality, the narrator says, “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane.” Who is this Jane? Some critics claim “Jane” is a misprint for “Jennie,” the sister-in-law. It is more likely, however, that “Jane” is the name of the unnamed narrator, who has been a stranger to herself and her jailers.
Now she is horribly “free” of the constraints of her marriage, her society, and her own efforts to repress her mind.
Consider the impact of Gilman's use of first-person narration and the journal form. What effect would be gained or lost by utilizing another point of view in the story?
The Yellow Wallpaper: Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Research literature on hysteria and other "women's problems" published at the end of the 1800s and relate them to "The Yellow Wallpaper."
2. Read Gilman's autobiography The Living of Charlotte Perkins (1935) and compare her real-life experience with depression to that of the protagonist in "The Yellow Wallpaper."
3. Investigate current understanding of postpartum depression. How do healthcare professionals treat women today for this condition? In what ways is it the same or different from the rest-cure prescribed for the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?
4. Examine the gothic and horror components in the story. How do these enhance the impact of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?
5. Write an extended consideration of the symbolic elements in "The Yellow Wallpaper," including the bolted bed, barred windows, nursery setting, and the wallpaper itself.
6. Compare Gilman's depiction of the narrator's mental deterioration with another portrayal of madness, such as in "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe or "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" (1932) by Conrad Aiken.