Literature doesn’t have to be long to pack a punch. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is only 6,000 words and takes you on quite the psychological journey. There are no changes of scenery and only a handful of characters, but you get to experience a thrilling narrative.
But with so few words, how do you choose a topic to write about for your The Yellow Wallpaper analysis?
Don’t worry—I’m going to give you a few tips for what to write about in your paper.
A Bonus Tip Before We Get Started
For other pieces of literature you read for class, it’s pretty impossible to read over the whole text more than once. But “The Yellow Wallpaper” is only 10 pages.
My suggestion is to read it at least once without having a topic in mind.
When you’re done, make a list or highlight the things that stand out to you. Then, take time to think about what you want your topic to be, and read through the entire story again with that topic in mind. This way, you don’t miss anything.
Now, let’s jump into it.
Characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
Although there aren’t many characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the few there are have depth—which is pretty impressive for such a short story.
When thinking about how to tackle an essay about characters, consider these tips.
Tip #1: Write about whether the narrator is an unreliable one.
The narrator clearly has mental health issues—ones her husband seems to downplay. Her descent into madness happens gradually in the middle of the story and picks up speed at the end.
But consider her reliability as a narrator in the beginning of the story.
Is she so unwell already that the reader shouldn’t trust her perception of others or her surroundings?If she’s a reliable narrator in the beginning, at what point does she become unreliable?
Tip #2: Think about why the author chose not to reveal the narrator’s name.
The main character of “The Yellow Wallpaper” doesn’t have a name. This isn’t an accident. Nor is the fact that her husband’s name is John and that we don’t get to know his surname.
This purposeful anonymity shows the reader that this is not an isolated event. Instead, the narrator and her husband could be anyone.
The way women were treated as wives and as patients in the Victorian era was just as horrible for most women as it was for the main character.
Tip #3: Think about how John represents the practice of medicine as a whole in the Victorian era.
As you saw in Tip #2, both the narrator and her husband have the potential to be just about anyone—well, anyone in the middle class and attached to the practice of medicine (either as a doctor or a doctor’s wife).
It could follow, then, that John represents Victorian medicine as a whole. His views on the “resting cure” and his refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of his wife’s mental illness were common at the time. Explore this in your The Yellow Wallpaper analysis.
Themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
This short story is considered a very important piece of feminist literature. Its themes are direct responses to the injustices Victorian women faced. Consider these tips.
Tip #4: Think about the ways in which “The Yellow Wallpaper” promotes self-expression.
The narrator says several times how much she enjoys writing but isn’t allowed to write. Nor is she allowed to do other work. This strips her of her ability to express herself, which leads to her isolation and, eventually, her complete madness.
When writing about this theme, find the instances where she talks about work or writing, and follow those thoughts to the consequences of not being able to do those things.
Tip #5: Write about whether the narrator is liberated or confined at the end of the story.
This is a hot topic of debate among students and literary scholars.
In one way, the narrator’s madness allows her to shed social expectations. On the other hand, she’s clearly suffering from a mental breakdown, so she may be confined to her own madness.
Tip #6: Discuss the ways in which the narrator is subordinate to her husband.
There are tons of things you could point out in your The Yellow Wallpaper analysis about subordination. The narrator goes along with John’s attempts at a cure even though she knows they won’t be helpful.
For instance, she stays in the room with the yellow wallpaper even though she wants to stay in one of the others. She wants to leave but isn’t allowed. There are so many rules it seems she must follow, and most of them relate in some way to her husband.
Symbols in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
This short story is just as rich in symbolism as it is in themes. When writing your The Yellow Wallpaper analysis, remember the following tips about its symbolism.
Tip #7: Identify how the actions of the woman behind the wallpaper mirror the actions of the narrator.
When we first read about the woman behind the wallpaper, it’s a little ambiguous. But she becomes more and more real as the story progresses.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” indicates that she’s stationary during the day but moves around at night. This is similar to the narrator, who is also pretty inactive during the day but restless when the moon comes out.
At the end, the narrator and the woman converge into one person, but think about all the similarities that led up to that point.
Tip #8: Consider whether the paper the narrator is writing on is scraps of wallpaper, and if so, explain the significance of this.
It’s clear that the narrator isn’t saying her story out loud, but rather is writing it in some sort of journal. However, her husband has forbidden her from writing, so what exactly is she writing on? Some argue that she has a small notebook stashed away somehow.
But she also refers to the wallpaper several times as just “paper,” so perhaps she’s using it as paper to write on. And if this is the case, does the act of writing her thoughts and feelings put part of herself into the wallpaper?
Tip #9: Think about the symbolism of the wallpaper pattern in terms of confinement.
Women in the Victorian era were expected to fit into a certain mold. They had to adhere to the stringent pattern of domestic life, and this could feel like a type of prison to many.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” this is exemplified in the pattern of the wallpaper serving as a means of confinement for the woman behind it.
Final Thoughts on Your The Yellow Wallpaper Analysis
No matter which direction you go in your analytical essay, you have the time to read over the text a few times—though maybe don’t do it at night if that last part reminds you of The Ring like it did when I read through it the first time…
- The Yellow Wallpaper: An Analysis of Major Characters
- The Central Conflict in The Yellow Wallpaper
- A Sign of Society’s Sexism in The Yellow Wallpaper
- An Analysis of the Symbols of the Window, the House, and the Wallpaper in The Yellow Wallpaper
Once your done, the editors at Kibin are happy to look it over and make sure you’ve hit all the right points.
So what are you waiting for? Do what the narrator was not allowed to do, and start writing.