Prosperity and Social Justice in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The first-person narrative reads like a diary, and the reader follows the narrator as she chronicles her deteriorating mental condition. Her mental breakdown is brought about by a fascination with the wallpaper in her bedroom. This fascination with the wallpaper is the result of isolation in an upstairs bedroom of the summer home she and her husband rented. This isolation draws comparisons with Gothic literature. At first glance, her surrounding environment does not seem like a frightening gothic setting. She describes it, “it is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore.” It is a converted child’s nursery complete with bars on the windows for child safety.

As her isolation proceeds, she becomes and terrified by the room especially the wallpaper, and describes it in a disturbing fashion. She claims that it commits “every artistic sin”, and when reporting on the progression of the pattern uses morbid imagery,” … they suddenly commit suicide- plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.” She later becomes obsessed and terrified by the woman she sees hiding behind the pattern of the wallpaper. What would seem to be a pleasant mundane setting is transformed into an abhorrent and distressing one. The narrator’s isolation is brought about at the command of her physician husband who prescribes her the “resting cure.” She requests that he allows her to move to another room, but he declines. She writes about her request for him to get rid of her torments, “At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterward he said that I was letting it get the better of me and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give away to such fancies.” He toys with her, giving her hoper and then disappointing; he even laughs at her about the wallpaper.

Right at the beginning of the story, the narrator questions herself about her own health. She mentions to herself that she does not get better, informing the reader that she is ill. Searching for the cause s of her illness, she writes that her husband, John, “is a physician, and … perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster,” adding “he does not believe” that she is sick. Furthermore, for the narrator. John as a physician is incapable of understanding her sicknesses like the other “wise” men mentioned in the tale such as her brother, also a physician, and Dr. Mitchell.