The Yellow Wallpaper was a short-story that I read in high school and again in college for English. There aren’t many things I remember from school to be honest, but I remember my favorite reads, and this is one that’s at the top of that list.
I’ve read it a couple of time even outside of school, just to refresh my memory of it, because it’s just so good. You follow the writer, a woman in the late 1800’s who I believe is going through postpartum depression after the birth of her son. Her husband is a physician, and he decides to take his nervous wife to the country side for three months to get her some much needed rest and to keep her socially distanced from others. Basically, if they were around today, he’d be a smartish man.
Throughout the story, the husband irritates me more and more. He doesn’t listen to his wife at all because he’s a man and a physician, so obviously he knows more about her body and mind than she, herself, does. Because of this, the wife begins to grow worse and worse, while seeming, in his eyes, to be doing better. I also think he might be sleeping with someone else, there’s times were he’s just gone for extended periods of time as he stays in the town nearby.
One of the many subjects that the husband doesn’t listen to his wife about, is the room that he sets them up in. An old nursery with chunks of exposed, yellow wallpaper.
“There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.”
This wallpaper is what becomes the bane of her existence and also a strange comfort as she grows use to the color and pattern. At first though, all she wants to do is move to another room in the house, get as far away from the ghastly yellow as possible while they stay there.
It is her husband of course, that makes the decision not to move to another room of the house. There’s not enough room apparently anywhere else, nor is there enough windows and whatnot to make him happy. Because, again, he knows best. I cannot roll my eyes any harder at his character.
So she stays within the room, spending more and more time there to ‘rest’. In reality, she stays in the room to write about the wallpaper and to continuously observe it’s strange pattern. She begins to be drawn in by it, and it starts to become the only thing she really writes about.
“I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps because of the wall-paper. It dwells in my mind so!”
The second half of the short-story is where her mind starts to really become absorbed by the wallpaper. There were pages upon pages that I highlighted when she began to write more and more details about it. She starts to see a women in the pattern, who only comes out at night to shake at the vines and thorns within the paper’s pattern, as if she’s trapped within it.
At times there seems to be more than one woman within the paper, as if the woman separates herself into multiples, trying to find any way to escape through the awful yellow and break out into the world. Other times it is only one woman who stands there. She even begins to see the woman outside, creeping around the long road just outside the house, yet somehow the woman is still trapped within the wallpaper.
She becomes determined to help the woman escape the wallpaper. So one night, the last night that they are to be staying at the house, her husband just so happens to stay in the town nearby (again, I really think he was cheating on his wife. Upstanding guy). She decides to rip off all the yellow wallpaper in the attempt to free the woman.
“But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me-not alive!”
Her husband of course comes home in the morning to find her ‘creeping’ around the room. How I image this scene is that she’s scuttling around with just yellow paper all around her thinking that she’s done what needed to be done. The best lines from this part in my opinion, is the last two paragraphs: ‘”I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane [husband’s sister]. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!’
This short story stuck with me all these years because it shows a quick development of what can happen when mental health isn’t take care of properly. This woman goes crazy from just looking at the same yellow wallpaper for three months, and the whole time her husband ignores every thing she says that she believes could actually make her feel better. Because he though he knew best.
She, the writer, is the one who is trapped. Trapped by her husband, trapped in that house, trapped in that room that creeps her out. No wonder she begins to see things within the pattern! Her mental health starts to project, and she’s unable to do anything to stop it. She is the woman within the yellow wallpaper. And she believes she truly saves herself when she destroys it.
If you haven’t read this short-story, I definitely recommend spending the the $3 to get the Kindle version. It takes only about a half hour to read, but it is worth the experience!
I hope you enjoyed my dive into this story! I have a few other short stories I’d like to cover eventually as well. Let me know what you think, and if there’s any short stories you enjoyed in school!