Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” 1. Describe the basic situation that the narrator finds herself in at the beginning of the story. 2. Discuss John’s attitude and behavior toward his wife, especially in terms of her illness. In the course of thinking about this issue, consider the symbolism of the “nursery.” 3. Identify some of the ways in which the conflict between the narrator and her husband are established. 4. Discuss the general nature of the narrator’s feelings toward her husband. 5. Do you think John is trying to drive his wife crazy? 6. What clues can you point to that suggest that the woman in the story is not an entirely “reliable” narrator? Is there any irony to this fact? 7. Consider the multiple functions that the wallpaper plays in the story. Also, does the wallpaper stay the same throughout the story, or does it change? 8. Who is the figure in the wallpaper? 9. What is the principal social institution against which the narrator of the story struggles? 10. In what ways might the ending of the story be seen as both a victory and a defeat for the narrator? In what ways is her situation both similar to and different from that of the creeping woman in the wallpaper? 1) What was Charlotte Perkins Gilman's incentive to write this story? What goals did she hope it would accomplish? 2) What did hysteria mean, and why were women diagnosed as hysterical? What sorts of behaviors led to a diagnosis of hysteria? What were the common treatments hysterics received? 3) Imbedded within Gilman's story is her critique of the role and place of women in Western cultures. What does Gilman see as the lot of women in her own society? What is the cost to women of being consigned to that lot? 4) Who is the woman behind the yellow wallpaper, who looks out through its bars at the narrator as she sleeps? Why does she creep about the yard and garden at night? 5) Compare "internal" (female) and "external" (male) spaces in the story. What is Gilman saying about each as places for both women and men to live? 6) What is Gilman's view of motherhood as presented in this work? 7) How does this work reflect the challenges to the Cult of Domesticity put forward by First Wave feminists? 1. Why are they living in this colonial mansion? What is its history? Does the heroine feel comfortable in the house? 2. 2. How about John? Why does the narrator say his profession is "perhaps . . . one reason I do not get well faster? Who else supports John's diagnosis? 3. 3. What clue does the narrator's repeated lament, "what can one do?" give us about her personality? What conflicting emotions is she having toward her husband, her condition, and the mansion? 4. 4. What's the narrator's initial reaction and description of the wallpaper? How does her description of the wallpaper change? 5. 5. Who is Jennie? What's her function? 6. 6. By the Fourth of July, what does the narrator admit about the wallpaper? What clues does Gilman give about the narrator's state? 7. 7. How does the narrator try to reach out to her husband? Is this her last contact with sanity? Do you think John has no comprehension of the seriousness of her illness? 8. 8. Why change the point of view from 1st person to 2nd person? 9. 9. By the final section of the story, what is the narrator's relationship to her husband? To Jennie? To the wallpaper? 10. 10. What is the central irony of the story? 1 Why does the narrator give a series of different names to the house? What does this say about the narrator? What do these names suggest about the house? The words "ancestral" and "hereditary" both suggest that the house has a history? How could this relate to the rest of the story? 2 Notice that the narrator uses extreme qualifiers (both adjectives and adverbs) to describer her husband. What might this suggest about her opinion of him? Notice she repeats the notion of ridicule. How might this be important? What assumptions about the nature of marriage are revealed here? 3 What does her repetition of "perhaps" reveal about the narrator? Why is the paper "dead"? Does paper have to stay "dead"? 4 Why is the narrator using "one" instead of "I"? What do the questions she asks say about her current state of mind and her relationship to her husband? 5 Why is "work" in quotation marks? What sort of work is she "forbidden"? The narrator switches only momentarily to "I" here. What does this suggest? 6 Notice how the narrator sets up an "me" versus "them" opposition. How does she characterize each side with her choice of "spite," "sly," and "heavy"? Instead of thinking of her condition, the narrator talks about the house. What does this say about her? Could the two acts be related. Take note of how she describes the house. 7 What do all of the words in this passage that refer to enclosure and solitude suggest about the way the narrator sees the house? Notice the idea of inheritance introduced in the opening recurs. 8 Notice how she uses the qualifiers "unreasonably" and "so" to describe herself. What does this suggest about her self-opinion? Why might the narrator link "pain" to "control"? 9 Why might the narrator repeat "he said" so many times? 10 What does this choice of bedroom by the husband suggest about the narrator's and her husband's relationship. Note as you continue to read Gilman's references to both "jail" and to being placed in a "childish" situation. 11 Why is she talking about the paper being stripped within her reach? Is it possible that she is stripping it? Or that someone else in the past--and not boys--stripped it? Look carefully at her descriptions of the room, especially the condition of the wallpaper and the furnishings of the room. Do they sound appropriate for a nursery? Why might the choice of "artistic sin" be important here? Is this related to the pattern's "unheard of contradictions"? How is she "reading" the wallpaper at this point and what does this show about her frame of mind? 12 What might "yellow" symbolize in this story? 13 Why do you think he would feel this way? How would writing disrupt her prescribed rest cure? 14 Is the narrator consistent in her opinion of her husband? Why or why not? Are there inconsistencies in his treatment of her? 15 What "duty" is she blocked by her sickness from doing? What expectations would there be on her now that she is a mother? She barely mentions the baby in the story; why is that? Why might she change the subject so quickly to the wallpaper ? 16 He does know what aspects of the room disturb her; why does he discount them? What would be your reaction if someone called you a "blessed little goose" and then ignored what you said? 17 Why does she change her opinion of the room? In what ways are the notions of "writing" and "fancy" being presented here? 18 What is the importance of the "eyes"? Why might she see these in the paper and get angry? 19 What kind of child was she? Relate this to the nursery environment she is confined to and the fact (?) that she has just had a child. 20 Note her recurring descriptions of the room's furnishings and its history. What do her explanations show about her? What other explanations might there be for the condition of the room? Why is she disturbed only by the wallpaper? 21 Do you believe the narrator when she calls John's sister [later named as Jennie] a "dear girl"? Does she have mixed feelings about her 'happy' domesticity? Look carefully at what she says about her. Some film interpretations of the story see her as a kind of foil for the narrator. 22 In the last few passages, the narrator goes from looking out the window to seeing a sub-pattern in the wallpaper. Could these two activities be linked? How? Why? 23 She isn't confined to her room or isolated, though she is relieved of domestic and maternal duties. 24 Gilman herself was one of Dr. Mitchell's patients (after giving birth to her child), undergoing his "rest cure" for "hysteria" (or postpartum depression?). 25 What double meaning could the phrase "turn my hand over" have? 26 Her isolation is both voluntary and involuntary. The narrator's changing attitude toward the wallpaper is coupled with a new tone of self- assurance reflected in the her use of "I know." However, what is it she knows about the wallpaper? What is she discovering about its pattern? Why might this be important? 27 Continue to look at details of the wall-paper and especially how she interprets them. What do these interpretations reflect about her state of mind? 28 Notice that the narrator feels she must talk to her husband. She must have a "real earnest reasonable talk" with him. Is this the way in which she best communicates? How is she communicating? Why is she so tired? 29 How does John treat her? Is this helping her? Why doesn't he mention the baby? 30 Notice the odd syntax in this passage. Why might she say "such a room for worlds"? 31 Does the narrator sound confident here? Why or why not? 32 She is now looking beyond the surface of the paper. What type of emotions do you associate with "stooping" and "creeping"? 33 Why is the moonlight introduced here? The creeping figure is starting to take positive action? Is the narrator taking positive action? 34 Is the husband being sympathetic here? What is his attitude toward her and her illness? 35 What "laws" are being defied at this point in the text? What might a "normal" mind be? 36 Notice the violence that she is reading into the wall-paper. What ideas and sensations do you associate with "fungus" and "toadstools"? 37 Note the times when the bars and the woman are visible to her. Why is full daylight so different? What does keep the narrator "quiet"? 38 How is her attitude about John changing? Is he changing? Is she becoming paranoid? 39 The narrator seems to be reversing the role of observer with her husband and Jenny. What significance might this have in the story? 40 The report of the "yellow smooch" is coming from Jennie, who seems reliable. Why is the "smooch" on their clothes? Notice the narrator sense of power. She thinks that she frightens Jennie and notes that "nobody" but she will find out the pattern. What type of "power" is she claiming? Is it selfish? Does it give her any "real" power? 41 Is there any "healthy" laughter in this story? What does "laughter" represent in this text? 42 Note the differences in the wallpaper in the daylight and other light. The yellow of the wallpaper seems to be seeping off of the wall in the form of a smell that stalks the narrator? What could this scene mean? Notice how it affects her. 43 Again, she mentions the "smooch" but as if she is seeing it for the first time. Where might it have come from? Has she been creeping around the room? 44 Why might the narrator sometimes see only one and at other time see many women? When the narrator compares the action of the creeping woman behind "very bright" and 'very dark" spots are you reminded of any other times in the text that lightness and darkness have made a difference? When? 45 Why would the women get through and then be strangled? Why might anyone be "better off" without a head? 46 Notice that the narrator uses "my" to refer to the windows. What might this imply? 47 When do most women creep? What might "creeping" mean? 48 This foreshadows the last scene in which the narrator lets her husband unlock the door on her creeping. 49 What tone does the use of "fast," "open," "as fast as a cloud in a high wind" create? 50 The narrator is even withholding information from the reader. Does this make you distrust her? 51 Is the narrator becoming paranoid? How could John and Jennie also be "secretly affected"? 52 The narrator and the women trade actions in this passage? What might Gilman be suggesting? 53 Look at her relationship with Jennie at this point.Is she making a threat? Is the narrator becoming dangerous? Or could this link back to her first reference to "dead paper" at the beginning of the story? 54 Why might the narrator enjoy the room more when it is bare? What does the word "bare" suggest to you when you read it? 55 Why has she not mentioned the "gnawed bedstead" before? Or the rope? Why might the narrator want to tie up the woman whom she is trying to free? 56 Has the narrator been reduced to an animal state? Is this good or bad? Has she been gnawing the bed before? 57 Would a sane person say that the reason for not jumping out the window is because it is "improper" and might be misconstrued"? How concerned is she about what other people might think? 58 Why does the number of women suddenly multiply? Why are they all creeping? 59 What does the fact that she wants to stay in the room tied up suggest? Why does she want to do this? What does she fear about being both outside or inside the wallpaper? 60 This is the first time the narrator's words have been able to control her husband's action. What circumstances were needed before the husband listened to the narrator? 11. 61 What does the narrator's use of "that man" suggest? 1. How is the female narrator different from her husband? What kind of relationship do they have as husband and wife? Most probably, the wife is suffering from postpartum depression. How does her physician-husband (John) try to cure her? Does the wife agree with the treatment? 2. The following is the treatment the author Gilman received from her doctor when she suffered from depression. Is it similar to that of the narrator's husband? "Live as domestic a life as possible, Have your child with you all the time. Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live." (from Why I Wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper"?) 3. The story is highly symbolic, and its development is in the changes in the woman's attitudes toward the other people and in her views about the yellow wallpaper. Can you describe this process? For instance, how does the woman feel about John at each stage (e.g. respectful, guilty, distanced, etc.)? And how does she feels about the wallpaper-- like? dislike? and what does it represent for her? (Read carefully the changes in the descriptions of the wallpaper) 4. Considering the unequal relationship between the husband and the wife, what can the wallpaper, the creeping woman and the narrator's madness be symbolic of? 5. The movie presents ONE interpretation of the short story. How does the movie version differ from the story? Please give details.
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