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20100128-11 Gilman (Group 4)

Page history last edited by Angela Sinisgalli 10 years, 7 months ago



"The Yellow Wall-paper" is Gilman's response to her own struggle with post partum depression and the "rest cure." This story is about a woman struggling with a mental illness that her husband, wishing to appease her condition, classifies as "hysteria." Her physician-husband, John, urges her to remain in a yellow wallpapered room within their temporary home. As the confinement continues, the woman begins to loathe the wall-paper, with its awful patterns and tears. She also notices the nailed down, gnawed-on bed, barred windows, and gate at the top of the stairs that make the room prison-like. In her idle time, she focuses on this wall-paper and begins to see women trapped behind it. Because she is forbidden to write, her creativity surfaces in the form of obsession with the wallpaper. Her goal is to free the women from the paper, and upon doing so, she believes she has freed herself as well. With her sanity fleeing, she thinks that she too had previously been trapped behind the paper. Her husband faints, upon finding her surrounded by shredded wall-paper, realizing that he must face the truth about his wife's insanity.

     This story was written to highlight that the "rest cure" was not successful in treating mental health disorders. It also emphasizes that women and men imprison themselves by buying into society’s gender roles that force women to be docile and submissive, and that proclaim men should control their families. Throughout the story, the narrator wishes to write, however, this activity is prohibited by her husband, because he believes it will only tire her. She is trained by society to believe he knows best for her, though the story clearly proves otherwise. Had she been able to express herself creatively, she may not have suffered so severely.

Word Count: 295



  • "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage" (808).

               The context of the above quotation is the discussion between the narrator and John about why the house was available at such a cheap price. The narrator believes that there must have been something wrong with it.  John laughs at his wife's suspicions that there is something strange about the house.  This is significant because the reader, too, can sense that there is something strange about the house -- from the rings in the walls and gate at the top of the stairs to the nailed-down furniture.  Yet John, the supposedly sane husband, makes the narrator feel silly for suspecting something to be wrong with the house.  While he does not outwardly tell his wife that she is crazy, he makes her feel foolish for thinking about crazy things.  Besides the belittling of the narrator as a crazy woman, John also shows his tendency to treat his wife as a child in marriage in general.  The narrator finds it casual and acceptable to be laughed at by her husband, "of course."  This passage is an example of Gilman commenting on the culture and time in which she lived.  Gilman reveals to the reader that women were often considered to be silly by their husbands, and the women believed this too.  When the woman in the story is being put down all the time by John, she starts to think of herself as the dumby that he thinks she is.  Perhaps the word "expected" is Gilman taking the man's side a little bit, because it seems as though the women should not enter into a marriage if they are not okay with being laughed at.


  • "Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal -- having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition." (808-9)

               This quotation shows the struggle the narrator has with being ill and doing what her husband, the doctor, tells her is best, versus what she personally feels is best.  It also shows the struggle she has with the expectations that are put upon her, such as getting well so that she can take care of her baby and the needs she has within to write.  The passage also shows how difficult and frustrating her life is when she talks about having to sneek around in order to do the one thing that makes her happy and the one thing that she thinks can help her feel better. 


  • "She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!" (811).

               This quotation refers to Jennie as a member of the "true womanhood cult."  While this cult does not actually exist, it is a way that we today view the absurdity of women who dedicated their lives to housework and pleasing others.  Jennie’s ability to keep a house tidy, along with her willingness to lead the simple woman’s life makes her seem perfect to the narrator.  The narrator never wishes that she could be perfect like Jennie, but she doesn’t despise her perfection either.  She wants to want to be the perfect angel that Jennie is.  Instead, the narrator is indifferent and accepting of the fact that she cannot be what society expects her to be.  What the narrator really wants to do is write, but since this is what seems to be getting in the way of her wanting to be a good housewife, Jennie and John think the writing is what made her sick.  It is important to note the word “sick” in this quotation because the narrator doesn’t have any sickness known to society at that time.  She is considered sick simply because she doesn’t want to be the symbol of "true womanhood."


Key Terms

  • hysteria: a range of disorders, today, depression; has the "hyster" prefix suggesting it is something that only happens to women
  • Angel of the House: the idea that it was the woman's role to stick to domestic duties, care for others, and tend to the home in order to provide a pure, peaceful sphere for her husband when he arrived home from work and the "harsh, bad world;" this woman was upperclass and both pure and religious. She was very content to stay within this role as it was "natural," women were not supposed to do "hard work."
  • Rest Cure: a remedy invented by Silas Weir Mitchell that was given to people, particularly women, who were dealing with conditions that had not yet been studied. The women were told to do nothing but rest inside of their home. After Gilman wrote this story, the doctor who had prescribed her the rest cure turned to other options for treating similar cases.
  • Post-partum Depression: a serious illness that can occur in the first few months after childbirth.  It also can happen after miscarriage and  stillbirth.  Post-partum Depression can cause women to feel very sad, hopeless, and worthless.  Women also have trouble caring for and being with their baby.


Comments (14)

Angela Sinisgalli said

at 1:56 am on Jan 29, 2010

I have included a number of quotes, I believe we can only have three though. Feel free to add different ones or choose which you like best. Once they're chosen I can add descriptions of the quotes. (Didn't want to write a bunch for quotes we weren't going to use.) Also, I will add my summary, or will add/edit whatever is there sometime this weekend. Feel free to add/change anything! Let me know if you have any questions, Angela Sinisgalli, asinisg@clemson.edu

Angela Sinisgalli said

at 1:56 am on Jan 29, 2010

OH! ps - I cannot figure out how to make the quote un-bolded... driving me a little nutty

Tate Smith said

at 9:35 pm on Jan 29, 2010

Hey ya'll, I went ahead and wrote a summary. However, anyone can add whatever changes they would like! Hope you're enjoying the weekend!

Angela Sinisgalli said

at 6:27 pm on Jan 31, 2010

Thanks for writing the summary Tate! I had to cut it down because it had to be within 300 words. Feel free to change anything back though! Same goes for the rest of the group if they want to add things, as long as it's within the word count limit. If someone wants to pick which quotes to do I'd be happy to add a description of them.

Gabrielle Valentini said

at 2:37 pm on Feb 1, 2010

I like these quotes best... I will go ahead and write about them and edit it today!
# "Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal -- having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition" (809).
# "'I've got out at last,' said I, 'in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!'" (819).
"She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!" (811).

Gabrielle Valentini said

at 4:15 pm on Feb 1, 2010

I picked the three passages I thought were most important for this text and got rid of the other ones. I wish we didn't have to just pick three, because all of the ones that Angela had picked were pretty meaningful... If you guys don't agree with the ones I chose, go ahead and change it back! I haven't quite figured out what to say about the last passage (about not being put back into the wallpaper), so if any of you has any good commentary for it, great! Otherwise I'll figure out my thoughts and write it in tonight.

Daniel Schutzman said

at 7:15 pm on Feb 1, 2010

hey guys sorry i'm just getting to this now. looks pretty good, will try and add a few things.

Daniel Schutzman said

at 7:23 pm on Feb 1, 2010

thought an interesting quote was on page 814: "he's so wise and he loves me so". goes back to the gender roles for the woman and John, she takes his suggestions almost blindly, because he is supposed to know what's best for her.

Kaitlynn Wright said

at 9:15 pm on Feb 1, 2010

I think I'm going to add the term Post-Pardum Depression to the terms since it not only has to do with the narrator but also Gilman and Yellow Wall-Paper is a responce to it.

Kaitlynn Wright said

at 9:30 pm on Feb 1, 2010

I think we should take out the quote about getting out. Its a strong quote but I think there's stronger ones that we can write more about that the other quote.

Kaitlynn Wright said

at 9:31 pm on Feb 1, 2010

I don't mind if you fix it since this is suppose to colaborative work so if you don't agree with my writing jsut delete it!

Brian Croxall said

at 12:38 pm on Feb 8, 2010

This is a very good first set of notes. I'm glad that you were able to use the comments section of the page to discuss the evolution of the notes. That's exactly how this tool is supposed to work.

I'm especially impressed with your passages. You picked three that tackle different portions of the text and use them to talk about different things that we discussed during class. I was a little surprised to see you not make more of the fact in the first passage that the narrator's words suggest that it is typical for a husband to laugh at his wife. This is reflective of the culture in which they are living at the time and which Gilman is careful to critique. In the third passage, it's worth noting that there isn't such a thing as a "true womanhood cult." Instead, that's how people today refer to the past belief in this 19th-century version of womanhood.

Your terms go above and beyond what I had expected, and they do so with aplomb.

Where the biggest problem of your notes at the moment lies is in the summary. In the first place, it is too long. You are only allowed to have 300 words in the summary, and while I'll gladly acknowledge that that is an arbitrary number, I'm going to hold you to it. Second--and more importantly--much of the summary is a plot summary of the story. You discuss the details of the room that reveal it to be a place of confinement and doing things like that is fine. But the overall thrust of the first paragraph is summary. The second paragraph is more what you should be aiming for. Try to give a summary of our discussion rather than the story, even if you might feel like you are duplicating what you are saying in the passages in some instances.

Gabrielle Valentini said

at 11:47 pm on Feb 10, 2010

Hey everyone, the word count is now down to 299, so that should help us out a bit. Also, I took care of fixing up the first and third passages - of course feel free to add/remove/change as you see fit!

Brian Croxall said

at 5:47 pm on Feb 13, 2010

I've just looked at the revised version of your notes. The passages have been improved and are everything that they should be. You got the summary down to the right number of words, but I think that it is still too focused on plot summary. You could have discussed other things here, such as hysteria or the cult of true womanhood. To talk about some of the aspects of the plot, you could have done more to discuss how the confinement of the setting only slowly comes to be revealed (we don't get all of the details at once, and this seems to be s strategy of Gilman's for not only setting but also the increasing madness of her protagonist). Work to not use so much summary, and then you won't have any problems with this assignment.

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