Course Hero. "The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Sep. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Yellow-Wallpaper/>.
Course Hero. (2016, September 29). The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Yellow-Wallpaper/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide." September 29, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Yellow-Wallpaper/.
Course Hero, "The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide," September 29, 2016, accessed April 14, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Yellow-Wallpaper/.
Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University explains the symbols in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story The Yellow Wallpaper.
The yellow wallpaper's pattern symbolizes the confinement of the narrator. It traps the narrator's thoughts as she is increasingly fascinated by its paths, and follows them with her eyes at the expense of doing anything else. After several weeks, she believes that the wallpaper's pattern includes bars that trap a woman inside. This woman shakes the bars, trying to get out. At the end of the story, the narrator tears the paper from the wall, trying to free the woman. This action of tearing down the symbol of confinement represents the narrator's own desire to be free.
The yellow wallpaper also symbolizes contemporary xenophobia, particularly fears of Asian immigration. In this way the wallpaper evokes a powerful combination of debilitating cultural anxieties.
The estate, which consists of an isolated house and its gardens, reflects the narrator's own isolation. The boundaries of the estate, house, and room symbolize the ever-smaller spaces in which the narrator has physical and mental freedom: "hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people." The narrator's room, as a former nursery, even has bars on the windows. It also functions as an extension of the narrator's perception of herself. In early descriptions, she says that it is "beautiful" and "quite alone," yet "strange" and "all broken now." Later, as she becomes more self-destructive, she considers burning the house to get rid of the smell.
The moon, with its pattern of monthly phases long connected to a woman's menstrual cycle, represents womanhood. As the narrator deteriorates, she notices the moon is most active when it is shining. Its movements mimic the creeping of the woman the narrator hallucinates, and, later, the narrator herself: "it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another ... I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wallpaper till I felt creepy." The moon's movement also causes the light to shine on the wallpaper in a way that suggests, to the narrator, the figure of a woman trapped behind bars, trying to get out. As a result, the moon, the trapped woman, and the narrator all move about by night and are stilled or unseen during the day.