.. r she becomes. In her mind, the wallpaper becomes more than just wallpaper. It takes on human characteristics. “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had” (Gilman 643)! When the story begins the narrator refers to the house as haunted.
This theme is again brought to the forefront when she begins describing the wallpaper. “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (Gilman 643). Gilman’s sensory descriptions are ingenious. The descriptions are intense and detailed. They make the reader a part of the story, increase suspense, and help the “reader’s perception of the particular kind of insanity that afflicts the narrator” (Cunningham par.
1). In reading the story we are provided not only detailed visual images, but vivid olfactory descriptions as well. We are told: But there is something else about that paper the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house.
I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair. Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it-there is that smell! Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like. It is not bad — at first, very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather it is awful.
I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me. It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the houseto reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell. (Cunningham par. 2; Gilman 647) The combination of Gilman’s words, and the short choppy sentence structure, combine to allow the reader grasp the depths of the narrator’s insanity.
In addition to the sense of smell, the reader is also captured by the sense of touch. The narrator tells us: “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out. I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move and when I came back John was awake (Gilman 645). She further tells us: “The front pattern does move and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it”(Gilman 647)! It is through these compelling descriptions, utilizing the reader’s senses, that Gilman is “pulling the reader into the narrator’s world . .
. these descriptions nearly perfectly encapsulate what we might all imagine it is like to be insane”(Cunningham par. 5). It is as if the haunting images of the wallpaper mirror the haunting feelings inside the narrator’s mind. The heroine, unable to openly express her feelings to anyone, begins to see herself through the wallpaper. She imagines a woman trapped behind the wallpaper, just as she is trapped in the room and in her mind.
The wallpaper, and the barrier it poses to the woman behind it, as imagined by the narrator, mirror the narrator’s own thoughts about being confined in a room with barred windows. “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be” (Gilman 646). The heroine is also behind bars. “I am getting angry . .
. but the bars are too strong . . . “(Gilman 649).
The behavior of the woman behind the wallpaper mirrors the narrator’s behavior. “By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour” (Gilman 646).
The narrator is also subdued in the daytime. “I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal during the daytime” (Gilman 647). Another parallel between the actions of the narrator and the woman behind the wallpaper is reflected when the narrator looks out the window and sees “her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping around the garden. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.
I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight: (Gilman 648)! The narrator is expressing her own humiliation in having to sneak around. “I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once”(Gilman 648). Similarly, while her husband is away, the narrator sometimes will “walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, .
. . “(Gilman 644). As the narrator realizes the meaning of the wallpaper, her life begins to change. “Life is much more exciting now than it used to be.
You see, I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was” (Gilman 647). It is apparent that she is still feeling imprisoned by her husband. “I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard” (Gilman 649)! However, she has decided to rebel and break free. “I’ve got out at last,’ said I, in spite of you and Jane.
And I’ve pulled off most of the paper so you can’t put me back'” (Gilman 650)! Because the story is somewhat autobiographical, Gilman is able to vividly portray a woman’s descent into madness. She “wrote the story to effect change in the treatment of depressive women” (Gilman 640). She once stated that “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy” (Anderson par. 10). The story brilliantly depicts a woman whose opinions and feelings have never been acknowledged or recognized as valid in the real world. The room, and particularly the wallpaper she hates so much, become the center of her world her voice. She realizes the woman in the wallpaper is herself, and is finally able to break free. Perhaps it can all be summed up in this exchange: “John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.
I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper . . . “(Gilman 647).
Bibliography Anderson, Daniel. *http://cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/wallpaper/wh ywrote/htm* Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”? As it appeared in the October issue of The Forerunner, 1913.” 1996. (19 Sept. 1998) Biedermann, Hans, ed. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism. Cumberland House: Hertfordshire, 1996 Cunningham, Iain and Holmes, Douglass.
“Sensory Descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1977. *http://englishwww.ucla.edu/individuals/mcgraw/wal lpaper/senses.htm* (19 Sept. 1998). Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Women’s Work An Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Barbara Perkins, Robyn Warhol, and George Perkins. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994.
640-650. Lane, Ann J. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990.