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The Yellow Wallpaper | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 12, what happens when the narrator tries to move the bed to reach the wallpaper, and what does this action reveal about her character?

Because all the other furniture has been moved out of the room, the narrator tries to push the bed over to better strip off hard-to-reach parts of the wallpaper. However, the bed is unmovable, and after trying for quite a while, she becomes frustrated. In anger, she bites off a small piece of the bed. This action reveals that she is the source of the teeth marks that she has observed on the bedstead, which she believes someone else—such as the children who lived in the room previously—had made. Her inability to remember or recognize her own actions is evidence that her sense of self is disintegrating.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," how is the narrator's situation reflected in her hallucinations?

The narrator's hallucinations often involve people: people outside, a woman creeping, and finally, many women. For example, from the window she sees "people walking in these numerous paths and arbors." Later, she hallucinates a woman's figure in the wallpaper pattern. This woman turns into many women, who come out of the wallpaper and creep about outside. These hallucinations reflect the isolation and loneliness in which the narrator is trapped. She has little contact with other people, spending most of her time alone. The isolation she endures leads to greater mental disintegration, and in the hallucinatory world that disintegration causes, she creates other people. These people populate the narrator's world as a substitute for the social contact of which she has been deprived.

Who is the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" addressing as she writes her journal, and why is this audience significant?

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that she is writing to some outside audience—the reader. Another is that she is writing to herself. If she is writing to a reader, she confides her story to this person, addressing the person as you: "And I'll tell you why—privately—I've seen her!" However, as the story progresses, she trusts this person less and less: "I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much." This is a fairly straightforward reading of the story. If she is writing to herself, these issues of trust take on a different meaning. By writing, she has already become her own audience—her identity is already divided. And while she trusts herself with her own secrets at first, at the end of the story she has begun to conceal information from herself. This reading of the story is supported by the fact that she is unaware of some of her own actions—which may be a way that her mind is trying to protect itself.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 6, what is the significance of daylight and moonlight?

Daylight is a time when the wallpaper's pattern has "a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind." It is the time when both the narrator and the woman in the wallpaper are subdued and quiet. It is a time when women do not usually creep, and the narrator tends to sleep most of the day. In the moonlight, however, the woman in the wallpaper becomes more substantial and more active. She shakes the bars. She tries to escape. The narrator, too, is more active. She stays up to watch the woman; she gets out of bed, and she peels off wallpaper. This reflects the narrator's active mind and how she is discouraged from using it in reality (the daylight hours). "The moon shines in all around just as the sun does," the narrator tells the reader, suggesting that as she loses her mind, night and day are blending together for her. Yet this is not exactly true. She remains very aware that John is gone during the day and that he is usually home in the evening. In fact, the narrator does not cry when her husband is with her, and she tells him her appetite is better in the evening "when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!" Having become so dependent on her husband—who dominates her reality—for company and mental stimulation has played a part in the narrator losing her grip on reality.

How do the many references to boundaries throughout "The Yellow Wallpaper" set the stage for the story's ending in Section 12?

As the narrator describes the estate and the house, she frequently mentions its various boundaries—hedges, walls, edges, paths, and the like. Her personal boundaries, too, are intact when they move in to the house. She sees herself as an individual with her own feelings, opinions, and expertise. She's creative, a writer, and knows a thing or two about design. By the end of the story, the narrator's sense of her physical boundaries is askew. She imagines she can pass beyond the wallpaper, and she no longer sees the walls as confining but rather as a defense against the outside. This confusion is reflected in her inner self. Later in the story, she cannot distinguish between herself and the imaginary woman she believes is in the wallpaper. She begins to confuse herself with the woman: "I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper." At the story's conclusion, the narrator has come to fully believe that she was the woman (or one of the women) that was trapped behind the wallpaper's pattern, speaking of herself as if she had been inside the wallpaper: "I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? ... I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!"

What is the significance of the rope in "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 12?

At the end of the story, the narrator says she has a "rope up here that even Jennie did not find." She plans to use the rope to capture and trap the woman in the wallpaper if she tries to escape. This is an interesting development because it casts a woman in the role of prisoner as well as one in the role of prison warden. A little later, the reader learns that she has used the rope to tie around herself, and it is meant to keep her from having to go outside: "But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope—you don't get me out in the road there!" This, again, casts her in the role of both prisoner and prison warden. The rope shows how her insanity has progressed and her sense of self lost, but it also shows that women can be part of the system that keeps women, in general, confined.

How does the narrator feel about the room in "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 12?

By the end of the story, the narrator feels perfectly at home in the room. She feels as if she is a natural part of it, and that yellow is a more natural or comforting color than the green color one encounters outside. She believes that the room is beautiful and worthy of her protection: "It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!" She clearly begins to believe that she has escaped from the wallpaper into the comparative freedom and comfort of the room, noting that it is "pleasant to be out in this great room" and "here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way." Her world has become smaller. She now lives primarily within her own mind, and it is the outside world that has become frightening.

What is the significance of the color of the wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

The color yellow has a range of associations, both positive and negative. It is the color of sunshine, and is often associated with warmth and happiness. It calls to mind a meadow of yellow buttercups on a fresh summer day. This is, presumably, why it would be chosen for a children's nursery. In this view, the color would represent the fact that the narrator's state of mind causes her to interpret her surroundings as negatively cloying, even when they are often viewed positively. The color can also be associated with cowardice and deception. Having a "yellow belly" is to be a coward. "Yellow journalism" is poor or erroneous reporting. Yellow can also call to mind images of stained and dingy white clothing. This more negative association would align with the narrator's weak position in the household and eventual deception of the others.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 12, why does the narrator refer to John as "young man" and "that man"?

John, once viewed by the narrator as her loving husband, has become suspect as her paranoia has grown. She has become afraid of him. The distance between them has grown over time as she has kept secrets from him, hid her actions from him, and allowed him to believe that she was gaining health when, really, she was getting worse. By the end, she no longer feels like his wife. She's lost her anchoring in the real world and has fully entered her hallucination. So she does not recognize him as her husband but just as a stranger—not John, but "that man."

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Section 12, what happens to John, and what does this suggest about his emotional resilience?

At the end of the story, John finds the key, uses it to unlock the door, and sees his wife crawling along the wall. He is shocked, and cries out "What is the matter?" When she replies strangely ("I've got out at last.") and keeps creeping, he faints. This suggests that he is unprepared for the possibility that he could be so wrong. It also suggests that men are just as given to emotional responses as women are supposed to be, as fainting is part of the stereotypical "feminine" response to emotional distress and not part of the "masculine" stereotype.

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