The Effect of The Unreliable Narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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About this sample


Words: 574 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 574|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a chilling and thought-provoking short story that delves into the themes of mental illness, gender roles, and the power dynamics within a marriage. One of the most striking aspects of the story is the use of an unreliable narrator, whose perspective and deteriorating mental state shape the reader's understanding of the events. This essay aims to explore the effect that the unreliable narrator has on the reader, examining how it enhances the themes of the story and heightens the sense of tension and unease.

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The unreliable narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" immediately captures the reader's attention and engages them in the story. The narrative is presented as a series of journal entries written by the protagonist, a woman suffering from postpartum depression. The use of the first-person perspective allows the reader to experience the protagonist's thoughts and emotions intimately. However, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that her perception of reality is distorted, making her an unreliable narrator.

This unreliability serves to heighten the tension and uncertainty in the story. The reader is constantly questioning the accuracy of the narrator's observations and interpretations. For example, when the protagonist describes the patterns on the wallpaper, she claims to see a woman trapped behind the bars. This imagery symbolizes her own confinement and oppression within the patriarchal society of the time. However, it is unclear whether the woman in the wallpaper truly exists or if it is a product of the protagonist's deteriorating mental state. This ambiguity creates a sense of unease and leaves the reader questioning what is real and what is a figment of the narrator's imagination.

The effect of the unreliable narrator extends beyond the narrative itself and has a profound impact on the reader's interpretation of the story's themes. By presenting the story through the eyes of a mentally unstable protagonist, Gilman sheds light on the oppressive nature of the society in which the protagonist lives. The reader is made aware of the constraints placed on women during the time period and the detrimental effects it can have on their mental well-being.

The unreliable narrator also serves to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. The protagonist's descent into madness can be seen as a rebellion against the prescribed role of a submissive and obedient wife. Her obsession with the wallpaper and her eventual identification with the trapped woman within it can be interpreted as a rejection of societal norms and a desire for freedom and self-expression.

Furthermore, the unreliable narrator forces the reader to confront their own biases and preconceived notions. As the story progresses, the reader is forced to question their own understanding of reality and the reliability of their own perceptions. This challenges the reader to consider the subjective nature of truth and the limitations of their own knowledge and understanding.

In conclusion, the use of an unreliable narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" has a profound effect on the reader. It enhances the themes of the story, heightens the sense of tension and unease, and challenges the reader's own perceptions and understanding. By presenting the narrative through the lens of a mentally unstable protagonist, Charlotte Gilman sheds light on the oppressive nature of society and encourages the reader to question traditional gender roles and expectations. Through its use of an unreliable narrator, "The Yellow Wallpaper" remains a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

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Gilman, Charlotte. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The New England Magazine, 1892.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Effect of the Unreliable Narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“The Effect of the Unreliable Narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
The Effect of the Unreliable Narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
The Effect of the Unreliable Narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:
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