1. What actually happens in the story? How does this differ from the story the narrator tells? For starters, why is the narrator in a room with bars on the windows, a bed that is nailed down, rings and things on the walls, and partially ripped off wallpaper?
(Important: Even if you choose to focus on a different follow up question or questions, these first questions need to be addressed and clarified. They are fundamental to the plot.)
2. Consider the characters in the story. How would you describe the narrator, the husband John, the sister-in-law Jennie? What motivates each of them to do what they do? How do you feel about the way John talks to the narrator?
3. Who is the woman in the wallpaper? What might the wallpaper be symbolic of?
4. In what way does this story employ gothic elements?
5. Gilbert and Gubar write in their introduction to the Turn of the Century that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is pessimistic. Do you agree? Whether or not you agree, do you think art with pessimistic messages can bring positive results?
6. How did reading Gilman’s biography affect your reading of the story?
7. Thematically relate “The Yellow Wallpaper” to “The Other Side of a Mirror.”
I will try to answer on all these questions in my review on book “The Yellow Wallpaper" that takes part in Edusson's Essay Writer Contest.
The narrator describes the woman in the wallpaper as a “woman stooping down and creeping about behind the pattern…The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.” I think the woman in the wallpaper is symbolic of the narrator and eventually she truly believes she was the woman in the wall paper, finally set free by herself.
The narrator’s husband John, who I would consider controlling and oppressive toward the narrator, has her convinced of an illness she has where she should only stay inside under close watch, do pretty much nothing and sleep “as often as possible”; he doesn’t even allow her to sit in a room and write. She hides her writing from him, because he believes any activity will cause her to become more ill, more hysterical, nervous and depressed. I believe the only reason she actually is the way she is, nervous and so forth, is because she fears her husband and his disapproval of anything she wants to do or any idea she has. What might have been a small problem has turned into a huge psychological illness, all because of the way her husband treats her.
By locking her in the room she has become even more insane and depressed, becoming obsessed with the wallpaper and its intricate design, shadows, patterns, and movement. There is a part of the narrator that knows it is wrong that she is treated like a “little girl,” but there is nothing she can do about it but obsess over the wallpaper. Jennie, is a typical woman in this time, allowing the male figure to have all control and just going all with it.