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The Yellow Wallpaper | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does the narrator's attitude toward the garden reflect her emotional state in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

When they first move in to the house, the narrator says the garden is "delicious," and she describes its quaint beauty in a very appealing way. At this point in the story, she may be ill and anxious, but she is not unraveling. She can still find pleasure in the normal, everyday things, like a lovely garden. The next time she mentions the garden, she describes it as "mysterious" and notes its deep shade and rather chaotic flowers, bushes, and trees: "riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees." This suggests that her emotional state is more conflicted. The chaos of her mind and emotions is increasing. Toward the end of the story, she notices that the woman creeps "all around the garden," and has a fear of going outside where "everything is green instead of yellow." Over the course of the summer, the garden has gone from a pleasant place to walk to an uncomfortable place. This reflects the narrator's more fearful emotional state, as she becomes more invested in her indoor surroundings and more convinced of her role as part of the room's wallpaper.

Why does the narrator say that the "the effort is getting to be greater than the relief," in "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 4?

The narrator continues to write as a means of self-expression, yet writing is forbidden by John and so she must do it secretly. She feels it is a relief to write ("this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind ... But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!"), yet the act of writing is both physically and mentally taxing. She must be on alert as she writes to make sure she is not caught. While writing, she is aware that her husband disapproves, and her desire to please him is very strong. Gradually, living with this constant tension is so tiring that the effort outpaces the relief felt.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 5, what does John's reaction to the narrator's words, "Better in body perhaps—" reveal?

John is surprised by this half-thought, because the second half is implied: but not in mind. The narrator reports that he sits up in bed and looks at her with a "stern, reproachful look." As her doctor, he does not believe her condition is a "real" illness, and he is convinced that the more she thinks of herself as going mad, the more likely it is to happen. In denial of her real suffering, he asks her to trust him and not say the words that would complete the sentence. His reaction reveals his strong opinion of her condition and the absolute compliance he expects from her—to trust him and not to speak in ways that contradict him.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 10, why does the narrator believe that the woman gets out from behind the wallpaper in the daytime, and what is really going on?

The narrator literally believes the woman behind the wallpaper sneaks out during the day because she claims to have seen the woman creeping about outside. From her window, she has seen the woman "in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down ... in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden ... on that long road under the trees, creeping along." At this point in the story, she has certainly been hallucinating things that cannot be real, so it could be that she is simply continuing to hallucinate and her hallucination has become more and more elaborate. However, a more sinister implication is that she has observed herself creeping along in these places, as if from an outside point of view.

Why does the narrator characterize creeping as "humiliating" in "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 10?

The narrator says, "It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight." Then she says that she, personally, locks the door so no one can see her creeping. So in some ways, her use of "humiliating" suggests that she is ashamed of her own behavior, or that she knows it would be frowned upon. In a larger view, the fact that she finds the woman's behavior and her own behavior humiliating suggests that the narrator, or Gilman, finds women's functions in society demeaning. They are not allowed to have the purpose and satisfying public work that men can have.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," is John a victim or a villain?

John seems well suited to the role of villain, because he is the one responsible for the narrator's isolation, lack of stimuli, and lack of purpose. In a patriarchal system, he is a respected male doctor, so he holds all the power over the narrator, who is relatively powerless. However, details about his motivations—that he is a kind, loving husband who only wants the best for his wife—force readers to question whether he is truly a villain. In some ways, it seems that he is yet another victim of a system that funnels both men and women into very narrow roles. He has more physical freedom than the narrator, but he doesn't seem to have much emotional or mental freedom. How he thinks, feels, and acts is appropriate for his gender and station in life.

Does the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" obtain the freedom she desires?

On one hand, the narrator seems to have escaped the things that once confined her: traditional women's roles, meeting expectations, social norms. By ceasing to worry about keeping up appearances, she breaks out of the confining system that held her. She escapes through one of the only avenues available: she loses her mind. Yet on the other hand, the narrator has less freedom at the end of the story than at first. She's lost the ability to communicate rationally, she is locked into a pattern of behavior (creeping along the wall) that is severely limited, and she is likely to be institutionalized when John eventually regains consciousness. At most, she has gained one kind of freedom by sacrificing another.

How does Gilman use repetition of the word creep to develop the mood of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

Gilman uses the word creep, or a variation (creepy, creeping, and so on), 20 times in the story. Fifteen of these uses are in the final three sections. The word has connotations of sneakiness, hiding, and keeping one's self secret. By using the word so frequently, Gilman establishes an unsettled mood—one that is in keeping with the mystery she feels surrounds the house. By using it more frequently in sections where the narrator's identity is merging with that of the imaginary woman in the wall, she intensifies the "creepy" mood. In addition, in its first uses, the narrator describes things outside herself as creepy or creeping: "And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern." Later, she does the creeping herself: "I always lock the door when I creep by daylight." The external has become internalized.

What example of situational irony provides the basis of the plot of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

Situational irony occurs when the actual result of actions is not the expected one. Certain information sets up an expectation, but somehow the result is a complete surprise. In this story, John has certain ideas about his wife's behavior and about what will cause her to get better. He sets up a rigid schedule of eating, resting, and taking various medicines. His expectations seem to be confirmed when he sees her in better spirits. Yet ultimately, it has been his own "healing" actions that have caused her mental and emotional decline the whole time. His prescriptions have made matters worse, not better. It is also ironic that the narrator's own feelings about what she needs to do in order to get better are more accurate than the orders she receives from her doctor husband.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," how can the pattern of the wallpaper be viewed as a metaphor for the narrator's own mind?

When the narrator first sees the wallpaper, she describes it as confusing, with elements that "provoke study." In a particularly foreboding phrase, she notes that its loops and curves "destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions." As she studies it day after day, it seems to constantly change, and even though she spends hours following it with her eyes, she can't figure it out, or find where it concludes. Ultimately, it divides, in her perception, into two distinct parts: an outer part and a hidden part. Like the wallpaper, the narrator's mind is confusing to her, yet she tries to understand it, without luck. As she thinks, her own thoughts loop back on themselves in "unheard of contradictions." Ultimately, like the pattern, her mind is divided into separate parts and destroys itself.

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