The short story "The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, illustrates mental illness through a first-hand reliable source. The main theme in this story is insanity vs. loneliness as well as the theme of being trapped. These themes are shown through the main character as she battles with her own mind, life, and surroundings. The theme of insanity is the main focus of the whole story.
The story surrounds the main character who is a woman suffering from a mental illness. It is very evident to the reader that the main character is in fact sick when she states, "You see he does not believe I am sick!" (106) speaking about her husband who is a physician. So here she admits that she is sick when after a few weeks she states, "I'm glad my case is not serious!" (108) In this statement she is contradicting herself and this shows the reader the confusion she is facing. The yellow wallpaper in the main characters bedroom is a major symbol in this story. This wallpaper plays a big role in the main characters insanity. The main characters infatuation with the paper inflames her problem and infects her mind and perception.
This is evident when she confesses "It dwells in my mind so!" (111) The main characters disease gets worse the more time she spends around the wallpaper. Near the end if the story she says, "no person touches this paper but me, -not alive!" (118) Therefore the yellow wallpaper plays a very large part in the main characters insanity. Loneliness also is a theme in this story although it is not as evident. The reader can tell that the main character does not only suffer from insanity but also from depression, perhaps because of her loneliness. She often finds herself crying and she says "I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time." (111) She tries tot ell her husband how she is feeling but she is unable, she discovers "I was crying before I had finished." (112) The reader can see how this woman is very upset and it is not only due to her illness. Although the main character makes many references and comments about her husband she does not find him very reassuring.
He talks to her like a child, this is shown when he says "What is it little girl?" (113), and "Bless her little heart!" (113) This makes the main character feel insignificant and once again alone. She states, "I am alone a good deal just now." (111) The theme of being trapped intertwines with both of the previous themes. The main character feels extremely trapped. Although she never admits it, this theme is greatly implied throughout the story. The main character first of all feels trapped by her husband. This is obvious when she states "I am absolutely forbidden to 'work' until I am well again." (106) Even more-so, the main character feels trapped by her sickness.
As her sickness grows and she becomes more involved with the yellow wallpaper, she begins to see a woman behind the wallpaper, she states, "it becomes bars! ... and the woman behind them is as plain as can be." (114) This symbolizes the main character trapped behind her sickness and unable to escape. She is seeing herself in the wallpaper without even realizing it. She also makes a comment stating, "she is all the time trying to climb through, but nobody could climb through that pattern-it strangles so;" (116) This shows the main characters desperateness to be free but her husband, the wallpaper and her sickness wont let her.
The narrator in this story is first person. This is effective because it allows the reader to see into the mind of the main character and realize how truly sick she is. Of course this is only from her perspective, as the reader cannot see what the husband John, or nurse Jennie are thinking. Anyhow, since the themes of this story surround the main character the point of view is sufficient, and relevant.
The main literary device in this story is personification. The wallpaper seems to look at and talk to the main character from her perceptions. This is evident as the main character describes what she sees in the wallpaper here, "two bulbous eyes stare at you." (109) Also as her sickness deepens she feels that the wallpaper "slaps (her) in the face." (114) The tone and mood in this story is very disturbing. As the story progresses so does the main characters sickness. The reader is sucked into the mind of this woman and therefore begins to realize her pain and insanity.
This story almost gives the reader a sick feeling as they notice the incomprehensible things that the main character goes through and sees. The reader becomes wrapped in the readers twisted thoughts and almost becomes frightened. It is a dark and disturbing atmosphere. The ending of this story is rather disturbing but yet uplifting at the same time. It is disturbing that the main character locks herself in her room and destroys the wallpaper that fascinated her for so long, and when John finally breaks in he faints and it is not totally clear why.
It is uplifting though that at the end the main character feels that she is free from her sickness and free from all of the bad things she saw in the wallpaper. She finally comes to see that she was in fact the woman who she saw in the wallpaper. All throughout the story the word "creep" is used. Referring to the smell of the wallpaper and how "it creeps all over the house." (115), also referring to the woman in the wallpaper. The main character states "It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping and most women do not creep by daylight." (116) At the end of the story these statements all come together when the main character has ripped down all of the yellow wallpaper and her husband faints across the path she has made.
She states "I had to creep over him every time!" (119) and "I kept on creeping just the same." (119) This shows the reader that the main character saw herself trapped in the wallpaper and once she rips it down she states " I've got out at last." (119) The main character feels free and cured. This ending is very emotional for the reader. If provides feelings of sadness, and happiness. This story is very effective in showing all of the different themes whether they are clearly stated or just implied.
It combines many literary techniques that all intertwine together to make a very enjoyable story.