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Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Significance of First-Person Narration in “The Yellow Wallpaper"The central character in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper" narrates her own life; however, the reader never learns her name. Gilman has cleverly taken the reader into the inner-most realms of a woman’s mind and experiences, yet the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper" remains anonymous, a reflection of her status in society. Narration, of course, is an important element of any story or novel, and as readers, we are always evaluating whether the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper" is credible and reliable. The narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper" appears credible as the story opens, but as her mental state deteriorates, does her narrative follow suit? As you read this story, consider the role that narration plays in the development of the plot and the theme. How might the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper" have been different, for instance, if it had been told by the woman’s husband? Other important questions include: Why is it important that the woman narrator have the agency and the voice to tell her own story? What effects does this particular choice of narration have on establishing a connection with the reader and eliciting certain emotional responses.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: “The Yellow Wall-Paper" as a Feminist Story
“The Yellow Wall-Paper" was written in 1892, and is often referred to as a feminist short story. Given that the woman in the story goes mad because her role in society is limited and her ability to express herself creatively is constricted, can the reader assume that the author is making a feminist statement? This topic could take at least two different approaches. You could either situate the story within a larger sociohistorical context (i.e.: What was happening in 1892 that made this particular story so relevant and resonant, and why does it remain so important today?), or you could take the story only on its own terms: What does Gilman seem to say about “the female condition" in general by writing about the life of this one woman and her descent into madness in “The Yellow Wall Paper"?Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Relationship Between Creativity and Madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper"
It is often said that artists and writers are touched by a bit of madness, but might this story make the argument that madness springs from the inability to be expressive and creative? For this essay on “The Yellow Wallpaper", consider the development of the mental disorder that increasingly consumes the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and identify her symptoms and their possible causes. Look for textual evidence in the narrator’s description of her own condition. What differences do you observe in her opening insights and those which can be gleaned from the conclusion? Can you make a case that the narrator decompensated in “The Yellow Wallpaper" because she could not find a creative outlet?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 Victorian Gender Roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper"
While the female narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper" gains the most critical attention in essays on “The Yellow Wall-Paper," what is the reader to make of the narrator’s husband, John? He is a physician who recognizes his wife’s compromised state, but he does not seem to realize just how severe her condition is, nor does he have an adequate way of treating it. Instead, he insists that country air will restore her senses and that isolation from others will give her room to breathe and think. The textual evidence from “The Yellow Wallpaper" suggests that John is a caring husband and that he does have positive intentions for his wife; however, he is bound by traditional gender roles. Look to the text for examples of John’s positive intentions, and find ways to support the argument that despite his best intentions, the fact that he was constricted to a particular gender role limited his ability to truly prevent his wife from slipping into insanity.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Symbol of the Yellow Wallpaper
The story is titled “The Yellow Wall-Paper," and indeed, the dreadful wallpaper that the narrator comes to hate so much is a significant symbol in the story. The yellow wallpaper can represent many ideas and conditions, among them, the sense of entrapment, the notion of creativity gone astray, and a distraction that becomes an obsession. Examine the references to the yellow wallpaper and notice how they become more frequent and how they develop over the course of the story. Why is the wallpaper an adequate symbol to represent the woman’s confinement and her emotional condition?
This list of important quotations from “The Yellow Wallpaper” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Yellow Wall paper” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics for “The Yellow Wallpaper” above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes from “The Yellow Wallpaper” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “The Yellow Wallpaper” they are referring to.
“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." (74)
“So I take phosphates and phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good." (74-75)
“I never saw a worse [wall]paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye…, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves…they suddenly commit suicide…." (76)
“It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work." (77)
“I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store." (78)
“It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose." (80)
“There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will." (81)
“It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so." (81)
“I really have discovered something at last….Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind [the wallpaper], and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over." (85)
“I have found out another funny thing, but I shan’t tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much." (86)
Reference: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wall-Paper." In Great Short Stories by American Women. pp. 73-88. Candace Ward, ed. New York: Dover, 1996.
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?The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis Statement: In the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the plot is written in first person. The unnamed narrator, through her depression and illness feels trapped in her life being locked in a room with this yellow wallpaper. After tearing off the wallpaper and seeing the woman behind the design escape she too has the epiphany that she is also free. I. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s depression and treatment influenced her writing. A. Charlotte Gilman endured a rough childhood. B. Her married life and her child have influenced her writing. C.
She suffered from severe post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter. II. The narrator and protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” reveals parts of her own life in this story. A. She suffers from a mental illness, and she beings to turn mad. B. Gilman expressed her illness but the husband dismissed what she was saying. III. The narrator and her husband move into a country house for the summer. A. The narrator discusses her husband John and how he is the reason that she has not gotten better. B. The narrator, Jane, discusses her husband John and her sister in law Jennie and what they do for her. IV.
John believes that the best way to cure his wife is with bed rest, for which he keeps her locked up in the room. A. We learn more about the “rest cure,” and explain how it was used in Gilman’s life as well as in “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” B. Since the woman in the story is on bed rest, she is bored often so she becomes obsessed with the wall paper. V. There are many symbols in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but the most important seems to be the yellow wallpaper itself. A. Critics perceive the symbols in the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” B. The narrator believes there is a woman trapped behind the wallpaper. VI.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in hopes of, “saving people from being driven crazy,” (Rena Korb/Short Stories for Students). A. What was the point in “The Yellow Wallpaper” being written? B. An explanation on the criticism written about “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” VII. Conclusion The life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman significantly influenced her writing. The trials she had to overcome during her life made her the author that she was. Growing up, Gilman endured a difficult childhood. While Gilman was still an infant her father, Frederic Beecher Perkins, abandoned his wife and children.
Throughout Gilman’s life her mother suffered from an illness. Gilman was left to do things most children would never have to do on their own, like teach herself to read. Gilman’s mother showed no affection to her children, because she didn’t want to hurt them like her husband had done to her. Gilman lived a life like the unnamed narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”; a life of isolation and loneliness. Gilman was married in 1884 and had one child, a daughter. Many months after the birth of her daughter, Gilman suffered from post-partum depression.
In that time it was thought to be a mental illness. Gilman would tell her husband that she was sick and he would just dismiss everything she said. After only four years of marriage they separated which was very uncommon; in 1894 they divorced. Gilman moved to California where she started writing stories and sent her daughter to live with her father. After moving to Pasadena, California, she started taking part in social reform movements; which is the reason why “The Yellow Wallpaper,” has so much to do with social reform in the nineteenth century. The story is comprised of ten diary-like entries and written in the first person, thus giving the impression that the narrator is writing her own story in which she is also the protagonist” (Feminism in Literature). As the reader of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” we can also see many aspects of Gilman’s life in the life of the unnamed narrator. The first sign we see of similarity is the way she treats her child. In Gilman’s life she neglected her daughter just like the unnamed narrator neglected her son. We barely even hear of her son in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” so it shows just how unimportant the baby was to her.
Also, the illness that Gilman suffered is nearly identical to the narrator’s illness; the only difference is the level of madness the narrator reaches. At the narrator’s worst stage she was almost animal-like, with the way she was crawling around the room on all fours. “The act of creeping is also a culminating illustration of the protagonist’s disaffection with her husband” (Feldstein). “Her husband, the force that keeps her in the home, has become an inanimate object, one that only gets in the way of her ‘path by the wall, so that [she] had to creep over him’” (Short Stories for Students).
As the narrator is driven further into madness, she becomes obsessed with the wallpaper. Another similarity is the likeness of character in the husbands. The narrator expresses to her husband that she is sick and all he does is dismiss what she says. The narrator is then forced to comply with her husband and go back up to the bedroom where she is cut off from everything; any kind of companionship is gone and she is not allowed to be a wife or a mother. Gilman’s husband was also dismissive of her complaints. The unnamed narrator is married to John who is a physician.
He believes that the “rest cure” is the best way to fix the illness that the narrator is suffering from. The narrator is treated like a child throughout the entire story by her husband, John. She is isolated; not allowed to feed herself or even bathe herself. The narrator believes that the fact that her husband is a physician is the main reason why she hasn’t gotten better, she writes in her journal, “…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” (Gilman).
Then there is Jennie who sees the narrator slowly deteriorate. Jennie is John’s sister and stays at the house to help watch the narrator while John is away at work. She has pretty much taken over the mother role for the newborn baby, because the narrator is not allowed to take care of her child. The narrator sees Jennie as a great housekeeper. The “rest cure” is designed to remove women who are depressed, from stress and all daily activities in her life. “…women such as Jane were separated from their children, kept in bed, hand-fed, bathed, and massaged” (Barth).
Charlotte Gilman was sent to see Weir Mitchell, the physician, who had invented the “rest cure”. She was locked up in a mental institution; after one month of being there she was said to be cured. Mitchell gave Gilman the instructions, “Live as domestic a life as possible… Have two hours’ intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live” (Stories for Students). Being on bed rest one can imagine how boring it would become and that is exactly when the narrator started to become obsessed with the wallpaper.
She would sit there and look at it day in and day out. Throughout the story all she can talk about is how disgusting the wallpaper is; it’s the only thing on her mind. She talks about this figure that she can see just in the perfect light, she says it looks like a woman. Being locked up in the bedroom she starts hallucinating and since she has little human contact, her mental state diminishes rapidly. There are not many symbols in “The Yellow Wallpaper;” although the ones that are used are of great importance.
The wallpaper itself specifically represents the narrator’s state of mind and generally symbolizes how society viewed women in the nineteenth-century. Other symbols would be: all the little details of the nursery; the barred windows and the nailed-down bed. “The nursery is said to represent nineteenth-century society’s tendency to view women as children, while the barred windows symbolize the emotional, social, and intellectual prison in which women of the era were kept. Finally, the bed is said by some critics to represent repressed female sexuality” (Stories for Students).
The reason for writing “The Yellow Wallpaper,” stems from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s personal history with what was classified as mental illness in the times that she lived. Post-partum depression is a legitimate diagnosis in the twenty-first century, unlike in the nineteenth century. It is treated today with medication and talk therapy but in prior centuries it was considered “hysteria. ” The physician, S. Weir Mitchell, treated Gilman with what he considered the proper healing method. Gilman needed to show that S. Weir Mitchell’s methods were wrong for her type of condition.
Overall, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “was written as a critique of the medical treatment prescribed to women suffering from a condition then known as ‘neurasthenia’” (Short Story Criticism). In fact, “Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” (Feminism in Literature). The story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” seems to have been a story written before society could accept it. It didn’t receive any critical acclaim until the 1920’s. In fact, no one seemed to take it seriously at all before that time.
It seemed to just be a story written by a self-serving feminist, rather than a true account of a woman’s suffering. In the more progressive time, the 1920’s women’s suffrage was at an all time high and Gilman’s work spoke to all women. In several sources they compared her literary style to Edgar Allen Poe. Her use of description and illustration seemed “Poe-esque. ” Once Gilman’s story was taken seriously it became a frightening commentary on misuse of power, the power both of the medical community and the “patriarchal” society in which she lived.
In conclusion, “critics illuminate the sociocultural, psychological, and linguistic dimensions of Gilman’s literary pierce as well as explore its place within literary tradition” (Feminism in Literature). And in the words of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “It has to my knowledge saved one woman from a similar fate — so terrifying her family that they let her go out into normal activity and she recovered. ” What Charlotte Perkins Gilman set out to do by writing “The Yellow Wallpaper” is exactly what she accomplished. Works Cited Page Barth, Melissa E. “The Yellow Wallpaper. Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition Salem Press, 2004. Pg 1-2. Print. Feldstein, Richard. “Reader, Text, and Ambiguous Referentiality in ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper. ’. ” The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Ed. Catherine Golden. New York. Feminist Press, 1992. Pg. 307-318. Rpt in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 201. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Apr. 2013 “Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: Title Commentary. ” Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion. Ed. Jessica Bomarito and Jeffrey W.
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Hunter. Vol. 5: Detroit: Gale, 2005. Pg. 507-528. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Perrine’s Story and Structure: An Introduction to Fiction. Eds. Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson. 13th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. Pgs. 279-293. Print. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. Pg. 279-292. Print. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Short Story Criticisms. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 62. Detroit: Gale. 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.
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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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