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The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis Statements

The Yellow Wallpaper Thesis Statements

Example 1 – The Yellow Wallpaper – Journey into Insanity

In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity.

Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there might really be something wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician. While this attitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to prove them wrong.

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As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never learn — tells of her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?” (Gilman 193).

These two men — both doctors — seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her condition than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when summer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept that she may have a real problem.

Throughout the story, there are examples of the dominant – submissive relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I . . . am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193). She is not even supposed to write: “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman 194).

She has no say in the location or decor of the room she is virtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted…But John would not hear of it.” (Gilman 193).

She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work…but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 196).

Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline. “I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. . .” (Gilman 197). It seems that her husband is oblivious to her declining condition, since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of the story — at which time he fainted.

John could have obtained council from someone less personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was away at work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 195). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the house. “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 196).

He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother.

Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell on her problem. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner.

Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased her depression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” (Gilman 195). It seems that just being able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “…I must say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.” (Gilman 198).

Meanwhile, her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong. “John is a physician, and perhaps . . . perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someone coming. This is obvious throughout the story.

It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behaviour, she wants to drive her husband away. “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 195). As her breakdown approaches, she actually locks him out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.

I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.” (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this other than to force him to see that he was wrong, and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to drive him away.

 

Example 2

Here is your assignment for the literary analysis: Based on your reading of chapters 11 and 60 in NFG, write a 3-4 page essay on “The Yellow Wallpaper” in which you argumentatively defend ONE of the following three thesis statements with AT LEAST FIVE pieces of textual support. Avoid paraphrasing. All textual support should take the form of word-for-word citations, and the thesis statement you choose should be woven into your introduction exactly as it appears below. Citations must be woven into the body of your text according to MLA style. Inclusion of parenthetically noted page numbers for each citation is mandatory.

  • Thesis #1: “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses descriptive imagery to chart the progression of Jane’s madness.
  • Thesis #2: Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the form of a diary kept by an allegedly hysterical woman who uses the diary as a means of escape.
  • Thesis #3: The end of “The Yellow Wallpaper” suggests that freedom can only be obtained through insanity.

FINAL NOTE: You are neither encouraged nor required to include secondary sources in your literary analysis. I am interested in how you alone interpret Gilman’s story, a primary source, by way of the story’s details and formal elements.

 

Example 3

In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity. Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there might really be something wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician.

While this attitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to prove them wrong. As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never learn — tells of her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?” (Gilman 193).

These two men — both doctors — seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her condition than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when summer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept that she may have a real problem.

Throughout the story, there are examples of the dominant-submissive relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I . . . am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193).

She is not even supposed to write: “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman 194). She has no say in the location or decor of the room she is virtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted . . . But John would not hear of it.” (Gilman 193).

She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. . . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 196).

Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline. “I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. . .” (Gilman 197). It seems that her husband is oblivious to her declining condition since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of the story — at which time he fainted.

John could have obtained council from someone less personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was away at work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 195). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the house. “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 196).

He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother. Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell on her problem. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner.

Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased her depression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” (Gilman 195). It seems that just being able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “. . . I must say what I feel and * * * * * Roberts 4 think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.” (Gilman 198).

Meanwhile, her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong. “John is a physician, and perhaps . . . perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someone coming. This is obvious throughout the story.

It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behaviour, she wants to drive her husband away. “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 195). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks him out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.” (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this other than to force him to see that he was wrong, and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to drive him away.

 

Example 4

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: The Significance of First-Person Narration in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The central character in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” narrates her own life; however, the reader never learns her name. Gilman has cleverly taken the reader into the inner-most realms of a woman’s mind and experiences, yet the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” remains anonymous, a reflection of her status in society. Narration, of course, is an important element of any story or novel, and as readers, we are always evaluating whether the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is credible and reliable.

The narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” appears credible as the story opens, but as her mental state deteriorates, does her narrative follow suit? As you read this story, consider the role that narration plays in the development of the plot and the theme. How might the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” have been different, for instance, if it had been told by the woman’s husband? Other important questions include: Why is it important that the woman narrator have the agency and the voice to tell her own story? What effects does this particular choice of narration have on establishing a connection with the reader and eliciting certain emotional responses.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” as a Feminist Story

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” was written in 1892, and is often referred to as a feminist short story. Given that the woman in the story goes mad because her role in society is limited and her ability to express herself creatively is constricted, can the reader assume that the author is making a feminist statement?

This topic could take at least two different approaches. You could either situate the story within a larger sociohistorical context (i.e.: What was happening in 1892 that made this particular story so relevant and resonant, and why does it remain so important today?), or you could take the story only on its own terms: What does Gilman seem to say about “the female condition” in general by writing about the life of this one woman and her descent into madness in “The Yellow Wall Paper”?

 

Example 5

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: the value of First-Person Narration in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The main character in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The yellowish Wallpaper” narrates her own life; but your reader never learns her title. Gilman has cleverly taken your reader into the inner-most realms of a woman’s mind and experiences, yet the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” stays anonymous, a reflection of the woman’s status in society. Narration, of course, is an important component of any tale or novel, so that as visitors, we have been always assessing whether or not the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is legitimate and dependable.

The narrator of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” appears credible since the tale opens, but as the girl state of mind deteriorates, does the woman narrative follow suit? While you check this out story, look at the role that narration performs in the growth of the plot therefore the theme. Just how might the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” have now been various, for example, if it absolutely was told by the woman’s spouse?

Other important questions consist of: exactly why is it important that the woman narrator have the agency and also the sound to inform her own tale? What effects performs this particular choice of narration have actually on developing an association utilizing the audience and eliciting particular psychological reactions.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” as a Feminist Story

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” ended up being written in 1892, and is also known as a feminist quick tale. Considering the fact that the lady in the story goes angry because her part in culture is restricted and the woman-power to show herself artistically is constricted, can the reader assume that the writer is making a feminist declaration?

This subject could simply take about two various approaches. You could either situate the story within a more substantial sociohistorical context (i.e.: the thing that was happening in 1892 that made this specific tale so relevant and resonant, and just why does it stay so essential today?), or you could just take the story just alone terms: What does Gilman seem to say about “the feminine condition” in general by currently talking about living of this one girl and the woman lineage into madness in “The Yellow Wall Paper”?

 

Example 6 – A Study Of Insanity

For the women in the twentieth century today, who have more freedom than before and have not experienced the depressive life that Gilman lived from1860 to 1935, it is difficult to understand Gilman’s situation and understand the significance of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Gilman’s original purpose in writing the story was to have gained personal satisfaction if Dr. S. Weir Mitchell might change his treatment after reading the story.

However, as Ann L. Jane suggests, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is “the best crafted of her fiction: a genuine literary piece? the most directly, obviously, self-consciously autobiographical of all her stories” (Introduction xvi). More importantly, Gilman says in her article in The Forerunner, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked” (20). Therefore, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a revelation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own emotions.

When the story first came out in 1892 the critics considered “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a portrayal of female insanity rather than a story that reveals an aspect of society. In The Transcript, a physician from Boston wrote, “Such a story ought not to be written? it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it” (Gilman 19). This statement implies that any woman that would write something to show opposition to the dominant social values must have been insane. In Gilman’s time setting “The ideal woman was not only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but she was also expected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and good-humoured”

(Lane, To Herland 109). Those women who rejected this role and pursued intellectual enlightenment and freedom would be scoffed at, alienated, and even punished. This is exactly what Gilman experienced when she tried to express her desire for independence.

Gilman expressed her emotional and psychological feelings of rejection from society for thinking freely in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which is a reaction to the fact that it was against the grain of society for women to pursue intellectual freedom or a career in the late1800’s. Her taking Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure” was the result of the pressures of these prevalent social values. As Gilman came from a family of well-known feminists and revolutionaries, it is without a doubt that she grew up with the idea that she had the right to be treated as anyone, whether man or woman.

Not only did this strong background affect her viewpoint about things, it also affected her relations with her husband and what role she would play in that relationship. From the beginning of her marriage, she struggled with the idea of conforming to the domestic model for women. Upon repeated proposals from Stetson, her husband, Gilman tried to “lay bare her torments and reservations” about getting married (Lane, To Herland 85). She claimed that “her thoughts, her acts, her whole life would be centred on husband and children. To do the work she needed to do, she must be free” (Lane, To Herland 85). Gilman was so scared of this idea because she loved her work and she loved freedom, though she also loved her husband very much.

“After a long period of uncertainty and vacillation”, she married Charles Stetson at 24 (Lane, Introduction x). Less than a year later, however, “feelings of nervous exhaustion’ immediately descended upon Gilman, and she became a “mental wreck’” (Ceplair 17). In that

period of time, she wrote many articles on “women caught between families and careers and the need for women to have work as well as love” (Ceplair 19). The stress that Gilman was under of rejecting the “domestic model” of women led to her breakdown and caused her to meet Dr. S. Weir Mitchell. She attempted to express the tensions she felt in her work, her husband, and her child in her writing. She did her best to fight against the depression but finally “she collapsed utterly in April 1886″ (Ceplair 19), forcing her to turn to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, a nationally renowned neurologist in women’s nervous diseases.

He told Gilman that “she was suffering from neurasthenia, or exhaustion of the nerves” the diagnosis required his renowned “rest cure” (Lane, To Herland 115). The treatment required for the cure involved “1) extended and total bed rest; 2) isolation from family and familiar surroundings?” (Lane, To Herland 116). The treatment was basically a version of how to be submissive and domestic according to the dominant social values outside of the sanitarium.

After being treated for a month Gilman was sent home and was told to “live as domestic a life as possible and never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live”(Lane, To Herland 121). Having a strong love for her work and being a free thinker and writer, Gilman would naturally consider this way of treatment a cruel punishment. In her diary she wrote, “I went home, followed those directions rigidly for a month and came perilously near to losing my mind” (Lane, To Herland 121).

In the late 1800s women did not have the opportunity to have both a career and their families. They have to give up their families if they want to pursue a career. Despite the great controversy she created, Gilman decided to choose her work over her family when she divorced her husband in 1887 and moved to California. A few years later, she gave her child to her ex-husband in order to lecture across the country.

In 1890 she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in reaction to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure”. In her “Why I wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper’?” in The Forerunner, Gilman portrays the “years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown” and goes on to talk about the doctor who treated her and how in reaction to treatment had “sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad” (Gilman 19, 20). And she says, “the best result? years later I was told the treating specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” (Gilman 20). Despite what Gilman said, we can sense the tone of this work being close to her emotional and psychological reality.

Many studies have been carried out to find what Gilman’s intent was in writing “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Joanne Karpinski says, “one theme that seems to run through all her works? is a desire for order and coherence in lived experience” (3) while Lane suggests, “(it) is an intensely personal examination of Gilman’s private nightmare” (To Herland 127).

This implies that she wrote this story to sort through her emotions and fears in her own life. If her revenge for Dr. Mitchell is part of the reason for writing this work, it is also true that her creation of this story allows her to reveal her emotional and psychological state of mind. Although “The Yellow Wallpaper” is just a story that is most probably fictitious, there are amazing similarities between Gilman’s real-life experience and what is depicted in the story.

Lane describes one of Gilman’s diary entry where she wrote, “I made a rag baby hung it on the doorknob and played with it. I would crawl into remote closets and under beds to hide from the grinding pressure of that profound distress” (To Herland 121). This is amazingly similar to what is described of the narrator in the story, who crawls and creeps in the corners of the room.

Gilman showed her emotions in the story and tried to discover “what happens to our lives if we let others run them for us” (Lane, introduction xviii). The attempts to discover was hard for her “(it) must have haunted Gilman all her life because it answered the question: what if she had not fled her husband and renounced the most advance psychiatric advice of her time?” (Lane, Introduction xviii). “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a testament to Gilman’s own life experience.

We can feel the tough decisions she made and how those decisions affected her emotionally as Lane puts it, “perhaps the emotional truth and intensity of  “The Yellow Wallpaper’ drained her; perhaps it frightened her” (To Herland 127). Gilman delved deep into her emotions and feelings in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and that is why it is Gilman’s best-known work today (Charters 318).

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