The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary, Plot, Characters, Literary Analysis & More

“The Yellow Wallpaper,” a gripping short story penned by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and published in the late 19th century, is a remarkable achievement in feminist literature.

Set against the backdrop of a male-dominated society and upper-middle-class norms, the tale delves into the unraveling mental state of the narrator, a new mother grappling with postpartum depression.

As a cautionary tale, it vividly portrays the consequences of the “rest cure” prescribed by the narrator’s husband, John, a physician. The story’s central theme revolves around the suffocating effects of societal constraints on women’s roles and mental health.

The narrator’s descent into madness is entwined with her obsession with the sprawling flamboyant patterns of the titular yellow wallpaper in her bedroom, representing her gradual imprisonment. Through the narrator’s secret journal, the story navigates her struggles, situational irony, and growing awareness.

This haunting narrative serves as a poignant commentary on the treatment of women’s mental and emotional well-being in a patriarchal society, unveiling the hidden anguish behind the barred windows of domestic life.

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a compelling exploration of a woman’s mental descent within the confines of a patriarchal society.

The narrator, an upper-middle-class woman suffering from nervous depression and a slight hysterical tendency, is placed under the care of her husband, John, who believes in the efficacy of the rest cure.

Isolated in an airy room with peeling yellow wallpaper, the narrator becomes increasingly fixated on the sprawling flamboyant patterns, perceiving a trapped woman within.

Despite her husband’s dismissive attitude and the scrutiny of John’s sister, the narrator’s belief in the trapped woman’s existence intensifies, reflecting her own sense of entrapment.

As the diary entries progress, her mental state deteriorates, leading her to embrace her own creeping woman persona and reject her husband’s control.

The story starkly depicts the detrimental effects of a male-dominated medical approach on women’s autonomy and mental health, making it a powerful critique of its time.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a compelling exploration of a woman's mental descent within the confines of a patriarchal society.

The Plot

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an upper-middle-class woman is confined to a room in her home due to nervous depression and a “slight hysterical tendency.” Her husband believes that the rest cure is the remedy for her condition.

Isolated in the room with peeling yellow wallpaper, she becomes fixated on the intricate, sprawling patterns, sensing a woman trapped behind them. As her fascination grows, she begins to narrator believes in the woman’s existence and struggles.

In her secret journal, she expresses her deteriorating mental state, challenging her husband’s authority. The story vividly depicts the impact of a patriarchal society on women’s autonomy and mental well-being, unraveling the narrative through the eyes of the narrator herself.

The eerie interplay between her perceptions and reality ultimately paints a haunting picture of a mind suppressed and driven to madness.


Each character plays a crucial role in illuminating the story’s themes of women’s struggles, mental health, and the oppressive nature of societal norms.


The unnamed protagonist and narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of the upper-middle-class women struggling with nervous depression and a “slight hysterical tendency.”

As the story unfolds, her mental state deteriorates, and she becomes increasingly obsessed with the yellow wallpaper, which she believes contains a trapped woman.

Husband John

John is the narrator’s husband and a physician who subscribes to the rest cure for treating his wife’s condition. Despite his intentions, he inadvertently suppresses her, dismissing her concerns about the wallpaper and her mental well-being.

John’s Sister

A secondary character, John’s sister plays a minor role in the story, echoing her brother’s beliefs and reinforcing the patriarchal views of the time.

Woman Trapped in the Wallpaper (Imaginary)

The woman the narrator believes is trapped within the yellow wallpaper serves as a symbolic representation of the narrator’s own sense of confinement and entrapment.

Key Themes

For the next part of this “The Yellow Wallpaper” summary, we discuss key themes. The story delves into multiple interwoven themes.

One prominent theme is the notion of the imprisoned woman, embodied in the narrator’s increasing fixation on the yellow wallpaper.

The woman she perceives within it mirrors her own entrapment in a prescribed domestic role, emphasized by her physician husband and confined to a former nursery.

The sprawling flamboyant patterns on the wallpaper symbolize the stifling constraints placed upon her. Her temporary nervous depression is compounded by the lack of agency and understanding, as her pleas are met with refusal by her husband.

Through this, Gilman explores the detrimental effects of societal norms on women’s mental health, providing a stark critique of the era’s treatment of women.

Genres in The Yellow Wallpaper

The book encompasses various genres that blend to create a compelling narrative. Primarily a short story, it’s a psychological exploration of the narrator’s unraveling mind.

The story masterfully combines elements of horror and psychological thriller as the narrator’s increasing fixation on the sprawling flamboyant patterns in the wallpaper drives her to the brink of madness.

The incorporation of symbolism and imagery contributes to the portrayal of the trapped woman, vividly depicting her decline.

The narrator’s journey, marked by her refusal to accept societal norms, highlights the feminist undercurrents of the narrative.

These genres collectively emphasize the struggle between reality and the narrator’s imagination, unraveling a haunting exploration of mental distress within a confined and oppressive environment.

Language used in The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman employs a distinctive writing style that skillfully captures the mental stimulation and gradual descent of the narrator.

Through the narrator’s first-person perspective, readers are immersed in her thoughts and emotions, experiencing her postpartum depression, frustrations as a good wife, and yearning for self-expression.

Gilman utilizes vivid descriptions, such as the portrayal of the eerie wallpaper that represents the narrator’s mental confinement. The language also explores societal norms, like the husband’s shocking moment when John faints, revealing the limitations of his perspective despite his assurances to friends.

The repetitive emphasis on the bedroom walls underscores the narrator’s physical and mental entrapment. This writing style cultivates a suffocating atmosphere, capturing the essence of the narrator’s nervous breakdown and the profound need for fresh air amidst a stifling reality.

Literary devices in The Yellow Wallpaper

Gilman employs an array of literary devices that enrich the narrative. Through the narrator’s inner monologue, the author subtly assures friends while concurrently revealing the narrator’s hidden turmoil.

Symbolism plays a pivotal role, with the wallpaper representing the narrator’s increasing mental confinement, paralleling her sense of self-control slipping away. This symbolism extends to the notion of artistic sin, metaphorically reflecting societal suppression.

Gilman also utilizes the narrative to address delicate topics, like postpartum depression, shedding light on women’s experiences in a patriarchal society.

These literary devices are deftly interwoven to accentuate the story’s themes, allowing readers to navigate the nuanced emotional landscape of the narrator’s journey.


Gilman employs vivid similes that amplify the reader’s immersion and comprehension. The narrator’s refusal to acknowledge the wallpaper’s disturbing nature is likened to closing one’s eyes to unpleasant truths, enhancing our understanding of her deliberate denial.

Narrator crawling along the floor, it’s likened to a child’s actions, evoking a sense of vulnerability and regression, providing a poignant insight into her unraveling mental state.

Describing the sprawling patterns like an “interminable string of toadstools,” Gilman paints a vivid picture of the entire house transforming into a haunted house, underscoring the narrator’s increasing paranoia and the eerie atmosphere.

These similes serve as windows into the narrator’s psyche, heightening engagement while deepening the story’s emotional resonance.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman masterfully employs metaphors in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to convey intricate layers of meaning. The postpartum depression afflicting the narrator becomes a metaphorical confinement, separating her from the outside world and her true self.

The ordinary people, like the narrator’s husband, exemplify societal norms that contribute to her repression. Her first husband is a metaphor for her previous self, a stark contrast to her current state.

The metal rings embedded in the wallpaper represent societal constraints, highlighting the high standing of the societal expectations she struggles against. The wallpaper’s transformation is a metaphorical mirror of her spiraling mental breakdown, depicted with great detail.

The isolated room is a metaphor for her nervous condition, while her yearning for the open country is symbolic of her desire for liberation. These metaphors enrich the narrative, unraveling its profound emotional depths.


In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman employs analogies that aid readers in comprehending intricate concepts. The New England Magazine, where the story was first published, serves as an analogy for the broader societal context.

Just as the narrator’s plight is unveiled through her writing, so too were the struggles of feminist writers revealed within the pages of such publications. The analogy of the young woman trapped behind the wallpaper mirrors the limitations imposed on women’s roles during that era.

By likening the narrator’s experience to the larger struggle of women in society, these analogies create a bridge between the personal and the universal, deepening the readers’ understanding of the story’s themes and the broader implications for feminist discourse.


Gilman employs rich imagery to immerse readers in the narrator’s world. When the narrator refuses to acknowledge the unsettling wallpaper, the imagery paints a picture of her deliberate blindness to discomfort.

The sprawling flamboyant patterns committing to the wallpaper evoke a sense of suffocation and entrapment, paralleling the constraints of women’s roles during that era. The imagery of the narrator’s confinement in her room is vividly described, creating a tangible atmosphere of isolation.

Through this meticulous use of sensory imagery, Gilman elicits readers’ emotions and allows them to viscerally experience the narrator’s mental descent, enhancing the story’s impact and leaving a lasting impression on their minds.


This is a powerful tool used to explore profound themes. The post partum depression that afflicts the narrator becomes symbolic of women’s suppressed emotions and mental struggles during the era.

The wallpaper represents both the narrator’s deteriorating mental state and the societal norms that confine women. As the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper’s “sprawling flamboyant patterns,” it symbolizes her own entrapment within her prescribed role.

This symbolism extends beyond the wallpaper to encompass the broader constraints women faced, revealing the larger theme of women’s struggles for autonomy and expression in a patriarchal society. Gilman’s adept use of symbolism elevates the narrative, providing a multi-layered exploration of societal and psychological complexities.


Gilman skillfully employs personification to enhance both character development and setting. The personification of the wallpaper as having “committing” patterns adds a haunting layer to the setting, reflecting the suffocating constraints of women’s role during that time.

The wallpaper becomes a silent witness to the narrator’s descent, mirroring her own feelings of entrapment. This technique adds depth to the story’s atmosphere and engages readers by attributing human-like qualities to an inanimate object.

Through personification, the wallpaper takes on a symbolic significance, serving as a tangible representation of the narrator’s mental turmoil and her struggle against societal norms. This literary device enriches both the narrative’s emotional resonance and its exploration of larger themes.


Hyperbole, the deliberate use of exaggeration, plays a subtle yet impactful role in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Gilman employs this literary device to intensify the narrator’s emotional turmoil and her sense of entrapment.

For instance, when the narrator states that the sprawling patterns on the wallpaper are “committing every artistic sin,” the hyperbolic description vividly conveys her deep-seated frustration and emphasizes her perception of the wallpaper’s oppressive nature. This hyperbole effectively captures her growing desperation and mental strain.

Furthermore, hyperbole enhances the narrative’s thematic depth. The narrator’s insistence that she “must pull off most of the paper” showcases her determination to escape her confined reality, even if she must resort to an exaggerated physical act.

This exaggeration amplifies the story’s exploration of the devastating effects of societal norms on women’s mental health.


“Irony” takes on various forms in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” adding layers of complexity to the narrative. Dramatic irony arises from the contrast between the narrator’s perception of her situation and the readers’ understanding of her mental decline.

The narrator’s assertion that she’s “getting well faster” while her condition deteriorates creates an unsettling juxtaposition.

Situational irony emerges through the narrator’s husband, a physician, who insists on the rest cure while failing to comprehend its detrimental impact on her mental health. His intentions of helping her ironically lead to her further descent.

Additionally, the ending revelation of the narrator’s own “creeping” in the wallpaper challenges the assumption that the trapped woman is an external entity, highlighting the irony of her projection.

Verbal irony is present when the narrator says she is “absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again,” as her husband forbids her creative outlets, which further contributes to her decline. These different forms of irony lend depth and nuance, contributing to the story’s overall impact.


Juxtaposition is skillfully utilized in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to accentuate contrasts and underscore themes. The story employs the juxtaposition of the narrator’s confinement within the room and her yearning for the open country to emphasize her desire for freedom and her entrapment.

The juxtaposition of the ordinary people who dismiss her condition and the narrator’s deepening distress highlights the broader societal ignorance towards women’s mental health.

Additionally, the juxtaposition of the narrator’s husband, who is supposed to care for her, and his lack of understanding contribute to the story’s critique of patriarchal attitudes.

The contrast between the wallpaper’s appearance and the trapped woman symbolizes parallels in the difference between societal expectations and women’s inner struggles.


Paradoxical statements and situations add depth to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” reflecting the complexity of the narrator’s experiences. One such paradox is the narrator’s assertion that she is “getting well faster” even as her condition worsens.

This paradox underscores her declining mental state while also hinting at the cognitive dissonance created by societal expectations. Additionally, the paradox of the narrator’s confinement being intended for her well-being becomes the catalyst for her mental breakdown. This highlights the story’s critique of the rest cure and traditional notions of health.


The allusion is subtly woven into “The Yellow Wallpaper,” enriching the narrative with historical and cultural references. The rest cure, prescribed by John, alludes to real medical practices of the time, grounding the story in its historical context.

The allusion to the “woman behind the paper” can be interpreted as a nod to women’s hidden struggles beneath societal facades. Furthermore, the story’s publication in the New England Magazine reflects a literary allusion that situates the narrative within a broader context of feminist discourse.

By drawing on historical and literary references, Gilman invites readers to connect the story’s themes to real-world issues, deepening their engagement and understanding.


The yellow wallpaper itself functions as an allegory for women’s oppression and mental confinement. The trapped woman behind the wallpaper represents the narrator’s own entrapment in her prescribed role, serving as an allegory for the broader experiences of women in society.

The narrator’s descent into madness can be seen as an allegory for the consequences of suppressing women’s voices and autonomy. The oppressive domestic setting and the narrator’s eventual embrace of the “creeping” woman can be interpreted as an allegory for the potential dangers of enforcing societal norms without consideration for individual well-being.

These allegorical elements expand the story’s scope, inviting readers to consider the narrative’s implications beyond its surface plot, and providing a lens through which to view larger societal issues.


While “The Yellow Wallpaper” primarily focuses on psychological exploration, ekphrastic elements are subtly incorporated into the narrative. The vivid descriptions of the yellow wallpaper itself and its “sprawling flamboyant patterns” can be seen as instances of ekphrasis.

Gilman uses detailed imagery to paint a mental picture of the wallpaper, allowing readers to visualize its intricate design. The description of the trapped woman behind the wallpaper also provides a form of ekphrasis, as the narrator’s words create a visual representation of the woman’s plight.

These ekphrastic elements contribute to the story’s atmosphere and symbolism, engaging the reader’s imagination and adding layers of meaning to the narrative.


While onomatopoeic words are not prominently used in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” subtle instances can be found to enhance the auditory dimensions of the narrative. For instance, the narrator describes the “nails… all clawed and gnarled” in the wallpaper.

The use of “clawed” and “gnarled” creates a sense of texture and sound associated with scratching, adding a subtle auditory element to the description. Although onomatopoeia is sparingly used, these instances contribute to the reader’s sensory engagement with the text, enhancing the overall reading experience.


Puns are not a prominent feature in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as the narrative leans more towards psychological exploration and social critique. However, an example of a pun can be found in the narrator’s assertion that she must “climb through that pattern.”

The pun lies in the dual meaning of “climb,” both as a physical action and a metaphor for her mental struggle. This subtle wordplay underscores the narrator’s internal conflict and the layers of meaning within the story.

While not a primary source of humor, this pun contributes to the narrative’s depth by adding a layer of linguistic playfulness and amplifying the thematic exploration of the protagonist’s descent into madness.


Repetition is a powerful literary device employed in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to accentuate themes and intensify the emotional impact. The repeated mention of the yellow wallpaper underscores its significance, transforming it into a symbol of the narrator’s increasing mental confinement.

The use of phrases like “sickly” and “unclean” when describing the wallpaper heightens the sense of discomfort, aligning with the narrator’s psychological distress. This repetition deepens the story’s themes of oppression and female suppression, as well as highlighting the narrator’s deteriorating mental state.

Additionally, the repetition of the phrase “I’ve got out at last” in the final passage serves as a culmination of the narrative’s tension. The repetition here contrasts with the reader’s knowledge of the narrator’s worsening condition, creating a poignant paradox between her perceived freedom and her actual descent into madness.

Overall, repetition in “The Yellow Wallpaper” serves as a powerful tool to magnify themes and emotions, engaging readers on multiple levels.

The Use of Dialogue

Dialogue in “The Yellow Wallpaper” plays a crucial role in conveying character traits, themes, and narrative tension. The conversations between the narrator and John reflect their differing viewpoints on her condition.

John’s dismissive attitude and his assertions that the narrator’s concerns are due to her “nervous condition” reveal the societal norms of the time, highlighting the theme of women’s suppression.

The dialogue also underscores the narrator’s growing mental instability. Her conversations with John’s sister, where she attempts to convince her about the woman trapped in the wallpaper, showcase her desperation and detachment from reality.

These interactions serve to emphasize the story’s exploration of gender roles, mental health, and societal expectations, contributing to a rich and layered narrative.

Word Play

Wordplay techniques, including puns and double entendre, are not prominently featured in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which focuses more on psychological exploration and societal critique. However, subtle instances can be found that contribute to the narrative’s depth.

The use of the word “creeping” in the context of the wallpaper can be seen as a form of wordplay. While initially describing the pattern, the word gains new meaning as the narrator adopts the persona of the “creeping woman,” blurring the line between the pattern and her mental state.

While not the primary source of wordplay, these instances add layers of meaning, allowing readers to engage with the text on multiple levels and contributing to the story’s overall complexity.


Parallelism is subtly woven into “The Yellow Wallpaper,” enhancing its structure and reinforcing its messages. One instance lies in the repeated pattern of the narrator’s daily life within the confined room, mirroring her own sense of monotony and entrapment.

This structural parallelism serves to immerse readers in the narrator’s routine, intensifying the narrative’s impact.

Moreover, the parallel between the trapped woman within the wallpaper and the narrator herself showcases the broader societal theme. The parallels draw attention to the limited roles and opportunities for women during that era, emphasizing the constrictions imposed on their lives.

By juxtaposing these parallels, Gilman skillfully highlights the struggles faced by women and the stifling effects of societal norms, ultimately contributing to the story’s critical examination of gender roles and mental health.

Rhetorical Devices

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman employs rhetorical devices to persuasively convey the story’s themes and critiques. Rhetorical questions serve as a powerful tool, compelling readers to contemplate the societal norms that confine women.

When the narrator questions, “But what is one to do?”, it prompts readers to consider the lack of agency and options available to women of that time.

Parallelism, as mentioned earlier, is another rhetorical device utilized for persuasive effect. The repetition of the wallpaper’s pattern and the parallel between the narrator and the trapped woman underscores the story’s themes of confinement and suppression.

These rhetorical devices engage readers emotionally and intellectually, prompting them to reflect on the story’s implications and fostering a deeper understanding of the societal constraints faced by women.

By skillfully incorporating these devices, Gilman amplifies the narrative’s persuasive impact, leaving readers with a thought-provoking critique of gender norms and mental health practices.

The Yellow Wallpaper: FAQs

Welcome to the FAQ section, where you’ll find concise and informative answers to common questions about this captivating literary work, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

What is the Yellow Wallpaper about?

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman’s descent into madness as she is confined to a room with yellow wallpaper, leading to her obsession with and eventual identification with the pattern.

What is the moral story of the Yellow Wallpaper?

The story highlights the harmful effects of oppressive gender norms and the lack of agency for women in the 19th century, serving as a critique of societal expectations and the treatment of mental health.

Is The Yellow Wallpaper about depression?

While the story does explore themes of mental distress, it’s more focused on the consequences of confinement, social isolation, and the mistreatment of mental health issues.

What is the conclusion of the Yellow Wallpaper?

The story concludes with the protagonist fully identifying herself with the woman she sees trapped behind the wallpaper, implying her complete descent into madness.

Does The Yellow Wallpaper have a happy ending?

No, the story does not have a happy ending. It ends with the protagonist’s mental state deteriorating, as she loses touch with reality and becomes one with the imaginary woman in the wallpaper.

Does the wallpaper change in The Yellow Wallpaper?

Throughout the story, the protagonist’s perception of the wallpaper changes as she becomes more obsessed with it, seeing it as a living entity and eventually believing herself to be the woman trapped within the pattern.

Summing up: The Yellow Wallpaper: Summary, Plot & More

Did you like our “The Yellow Wallpaper” summary? Through analyzing its various elements, we’ve uncovered the intricate layers of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s masterpiece.

The story’s powerful portrayal of the narrator’s mental descent and the symbolism of the yellow wallpaper beautifully conveys the stifling effects of societal norms on women’s lives.

The use of literary devices such as repetition, parallelism, and subtle wordplay enriches the narrative, adding depth and complexity to its themes of gender roles, mental health, and societal critique.

The deliberate employment of hyperbole, irony, and allegory invites readers to explore the story’s deeper meanings, while vivid imagery and personification transport us into the narrator’s world. The dialogue offers insight into character traits and thematic tensions, creating an immersive experience.

Furthermore, the various rhetorical devices used, such as rhetorical questions and parallelism, effectively persuade readers to reflect on societal norms.

As we conclude this journey, it’s clear that “The Yellow Wallpaper” isn’t merely a short story but a profound exploration of the human psyche, a poignant critique of a bygone era’s constraints, and a timeless reminder of the importance of individual agency and mental well-being.

Other Notable Works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you like “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, her other works provide equally thought-provoking explorations:

  • Herland“: Delve into a utopian society where men are absent, and women live in harmony, fostering cooperation and equality. Gilman’s vision challenges traditional gender roles and presents an alternative societal structure, making it a captivating read for those interested in reimagining gender dynamics.
  • Women and Economics“: In this non-fiction work, Gilman dissects the economic limitations imposed on women due to societal norms. She articulates the potential for women to contribute to society beyond domestic roles and advocates for their economic independence. This insightful analysis offers a window into Gilman’s socio-economic perspectives.
  • The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography“: For a deeper understanding of the author’s life and thoughts, her autobiography provides a firsthand account. Discover the experiences that shaped her ideas, from her struggles with mental health to her advocacy for women’s rights. This autobiographical work offers a personal lens through which to view her fiction and essays.

Exploring these additional works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman will further enrich your understanding of her feminist ideals, social commentaries, and unique literary voice.

The various rhetorical devices used in "The Yellow Wallpaper" effectively persuade readers to reflect on societal norms.