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The Yellow Wallpaper Essay: Summary & Analysis

This essay focuses on the main themes of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and its main characters. The author of this short story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, wrote it as part of her exploration of women’s role in society. This essay will analyze the key ideas of “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the author’s intention behind the narrative.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary

The main theme of this short story is freedom, and women’s freedom, in particular. The author shows that relationships can turn into a prison, with women feeling trapped and helpless in their marriage. Gilman, however, also sends another message: women can overcome various stereotypes that surround marriage and avoid it, keeping their freedom.

The protagonist shows her willingness to change the narrative and does what she wants, even though her husband is against it. The protagonist’s story is especially interesting because of the setting. She and her husband, who is a physician, moved to an abandoned nursery home. Her husband treats her but keeps her condition a secret. He tells everyone she knows that she’s going to be fine and that she feels good. His wife, however, thinks differently.

The main character is diagnosed with nervous depression. Her mood can change because of many minor details, and her condition may quickly worsen. For example, she stays in a room with a terrible wallpaper that drives her insane. She wants to move downstairs but her husband insists that she stays where she is.

She keeps telling her husband how much she hates that wallpaper. She says that she’s never seen such an ugly wallpaper and that its pattern is absolutely terrible. At some point, she asks her husband to renew it but he replies that she just cannot control her imagination.

Her husband has full control over the treatment process, and he doesn’t listen to his wife’s words at all. We quickly realize that this woman married her husband too early and that this relationship isn’t healthy.

The protagonist wants to write, and she feels like this process could help her heal, but her husband keeps giving her medication and doesn’t let her work. He says that she will only be able to work when she overcomes her mental problem, despite his wife’s eagerness to express herself in writing. 

She starts her journal, anyway. At first, she describes how they moved to the nursing home and writes that she immediately felt like there was something wrong with that place. She writes a lot about how ugly the wallpaper is, and we start to see how obsessed she is with that wallpaper.

Eventually, she starts to see someone through it. She believes that someone shakes it and that this is a reason why she cannot sleep at night. When she wakes up, she is absolutely sure that the patterns changed during the night and now they are located at different spots.

Finally, one night, when her husband is away, she hears someone shake the wallpaper again, and she decides to free whoever is stuck behind. She starts to peel the wallpaper and eventually frees a woman. The woman is moving around on all fours, and the protagonist realizes that she freed herself. She sees other women creeping outside and wonders if they were also stuck behind wallpapers, just like her.

When her husband comes back, he sees her creeping around and listens to his wife’s story. He cannot believe his eyes and faints. His wife steps on him while creeping around the room and calls him “young man.” At this point, he can no longer control her, and this is he who’s fragile.

The Yellow Wallpaper: Literary Analysis

The main idea of this short story is to illustrate oppression. The protagonist is obviously oppressed, but the author doesn’t show the oppression directly and chooses a symbolic approach instead. Gilman uses many complex symbols, especially when it comes to the setting.

The main symbols are the wallpaper and the window. The house, in general, turns into a place where the woman goes through a deep process of transformation.  The house symbolizes her self-expression and transition from oppression to freedom.

At the same time, we can see that the house doesn’t belong to the protagonist and that she cannot feel safe there. In this case, the house doesn’t symbolize safety and security. Quite the opposite, this is a place where she needs to fight for her freedom. The main character constantly experiences fear and uncertainty.

The protagonist says that “there is something strange” about that place (Gillman 1), but we shouldn’t necessarily interpret these words literally. Basically, this woman is talking about her emotional state, as well as her hopes and expectations that are being destroyed by this house and her husband. She realizes that her wishes are rather strange and she’s not ready to start her transformation, even though she realizes that it’s necessary.

The window is one of the key elements of the story. At first, it may seem like this window represents the woman’s hidden potential, but we see rather negative associations with this object. The protagonist prefers not to look through the window because she sees other women outside. All these women need to creep to be a part of society. The main character doesn’t want to look through the window because she sees her reflection in other women. On the one hand, she finally experiences transformation. On the other hand, she is too weak to fight her demons because she’s alone in this fight and no one is coming for help.


This short story illustrates women’s oppression in the 19th century. The protagonist only finds peace in her thoughts. Her thoughts allow her to break free from the reality she’s stuck in. She feels trapped, and when she breaks free, she sees that women cannot just take their freedom and live their lives. Instead, they need to creep to fit in. The author portrays a typical woman who was forced into marriage and became a wife too early. Despite how challenging her situation is, she ultimately breaks free and realizes that she has never been free before, just like many other women.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper. Small & Maynard, Boston: MA, 1899. Print.