The Meaning of The Wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 639 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 639|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Confinement and Imprisonment
  2. Female Oppression and Subjugation
  3. The Complexities of Mental Illness
  4. Conclusion

Throughout literature, symbolism plays a crucial role in conveying deeper meanings and themes. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's iconic short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," the wallpaper itself serves as a powerful symbol that reflects the protagonist's mental state and the oppression she experiences. This essay will examine the multifaceted symbolism of the wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper" and its significance in understanding the themes of confinement, female oppression, and the complexities of mental illness.

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Confinement and Imprisonment

First and foremost, the wallpaper symbolizes confinement and imprisonment, reflecting the protagonist's physical and mental entrapment. From the very beginning of the story, the narrator describes the wallpaper as having a "repellent, almost revolting" pattern that "commit[s] every artistic sin." This description highlights the oppressive nature of the wallpaper, mirroring the oppressive circumstances in which the protagonist finds herself.

Furthermore, the patterns within the wallpaper trap the narrator's attention and imagination, just as her illness and the expectations of society trap her within the confines of her domestic life. As she spends more time in the room, she becomes fixated on the wallpaper, describing it as "committing suicide a dozen times a day," symbolizing her own feelings of despair and the gradual deterioration of her mental state.

This interpretation of the wallpaper as representing confinement aligns with the historical context of the story. In the late 19th century, women were often confined to their domestic roles and denied agency or autonomy. The protagonist's confinement within the room, coupled with her husband's dismissive attitude towards her illness, symbolizes the societal constraints placed upon women at the time.

Female Oppression and Subjugation

Another significant interpretation of the wallpaper's symbolism is its representation of female oppression and subjugation. The narrator repeatedly describes the pattern of the wallpaper as "strangling" and "domestic," emphasizing its association with the restrictive and suffocating expectations placed on women in patriarchal societies.

Moreover, the physical deterioration of the wallpaper mirrors the narrator's own declining mental state as she succumbs to the oppressive forces acting upon her. The protagonist's obsession with the wallpaper represents her growing awareness of the restrictions placed upon her as a woman, and the subsequent rebellion against these constraints.

Additionally, the yellow color of the wallpaper holds symbolic significance. Yellow has historically been associated with mental illness and madness, further emphasizing the female protagonist's struggle against societal expectations and the limitations placed upon her.

The Complexities of Mental Illness

Beyond its representation of confinement and female oppression, the wallpaper also serves as a symbol of the complexities of mental illness. The narrator's fixation on the wallpaper and her belief that it is alive reveal her deteriorating mental state and the blurred line between reality and delusion.

As the story progresses, the protagonist becomes increasingly obsessed with the wallpaper, seeing it as a woman trapped behind bars. This personification of the wallpaper reflects the narrator's own entrapment and her identification with the figure she perceives within the wallpaper.

Furthermore, the act of tearing down the wallpaper at the story's climax can be interpreted as the protagonist's attempt to break free from her own mental confinement. By tearing down the wallpaper, she symbolically rejects the societal expectations and constraints that have contributed to her mental decline.


In conclusion, the wallpaper in "The Yellow Wallpaper" symbolizes confinement, female oppression, and the complexities of mental illness. Through its vivid descriptions and the protagonist's obsession with it, the wallpaper serves as a powerful symbol that reflects the protagonist's mental state and the societal constraints placed upon her. Gilman's use of symbolism enhances the reader's understanding of the themes of confinement, female oppression, and the intricacies of mental illness. By analyzing the symbolism of the wallpaper, readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of women's experiences in patriarchal societies and the importance of agency and autonomy in mental well-being.

Works Cited

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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The New England Magazine, vol. 5, no. 3, 1892, pp. 647-656.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Meaning of the Wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
“The Meaning of the Wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
The Meaning of the Wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
The Meaning of the Wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 24]. Available from:
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