Symbolism in The Short Story "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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About this sample


Words: 553 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 553|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

The short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a captivating tale that delves into the psychological deterioration of a woman confined to a room with yellow wallpaper. Throughout the story, Gilman employs various symbols to convey deeper meanings and explore themes such as gender roles, societal expectations, and the oppression of women. This essay will analyze the symbolism in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and demonstrate how these symbols contribute to the overall message of the story.

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One of the most prominent symbols in the story is the yellow wallpaper itself. Initially, the wallpaper appears to be merely a background element, but as the story progresses, it becomes a powerful symbol of the protagonist's mental state and the oppression she experiences. The wallpaper represents the societal norms and expectations that confine women, as well as the protagonist's own internal struggles. The narrator describes the wallpaper as having "repellant, almost revolting, a smoldering unclean yellow," which reflects her own feelings of entrapment and disgust with her situation (Gilman, 1892). The patterns on the wallpaper also mirror the protagonist's descent into madness, as she becomes obsessed with deciphering their meaning. This symbolizes the destructive effects of societal constraints on women's mental health.

The room itself is another important symbol in the story. The narrator is confined to this room, which represents the patriarchal society that restricts and isolates women. The barred windows and locked door symbolize the protagonist's lack of freedom and agency. Additionally, the room's resemblance to a nursery suggests the infantilization of women and their relegation to domestic roles. The protagonist's desire to escape the room and her growing obsession with the wallpaper reflect her longing for independence and autonomy.

Another key symbol in the story is the woman the protagonist sees trapped behind the wallpaper. This woman represents the narrator's own suppressed identity and desires. The protagonist describes her as "stooping down and creeping about" and "shaking the pattern" in an attempt to break free (Gilman, 1892). This symbolizes the protagonist's own struggle against the confines of societal expectations. The woman's creeping and shaking of the pattern also mirrors the protagonist's growing rebellion and eventual descent into madness.

The color yellow recurs throughout the story and carries significant symbolism. Yellow is often associated with sickness, decay, and madness. In the case of the wallpaper, the yellow color represents the protagonist's deteriorating mental state. It also reflects the societal perception of women's mental health issues as something to be dismissed or hidden away. The protagonist's fixation on the color yellow further emphasizes her growing obsession with her own mental state and her struggle to be heard and understood.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman masterfully employs symbolism to explore themes of gender roles, societal expectations, and the oppression of women. The yellow wallpaper, the room, the woman behind the wallpaper, and the color yellow all serve as powerful symbols that contribute to the overall message of the story. Through these symbols, Gilman highlights the detrimental effects of societal constraints on women's mental health and emphasizes the importance of autonomy and self-expression. "The Yellow Wallpaper" remains a timeless piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today, challenging us to question and challenge the societal norms that limit women's potential.


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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The New England Magazine, vol. 5, no. 5, 1892, pp. 647-656.

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Symbolism in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“Symbolism in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
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