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The Yellow Wallpaper Study Guide

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


The Yellow Wallpaper: Quotes

Table of contents

  1. By character
  2. By theme
  3. The Narrator
    Gender Roles
    Mental Health
    Freedom & Self-Expression

By character

The Narrator

“I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.”

This quote highlights the oppressive nature of the narrator's situation. The "them" referred to in the quote are the men in the narrator's life, particularly her husband and brother, who deny her the freedom to express herself through writing. This denial of her creative outlet is a significant factor in the narrator's mental decline.

The quote also reveals the narrator's sense of isolation and powerlessness. She feels that she must be "sly" in order to write, suggesting that she is constantly being monitored and restricted in her actions. The fact that she is exhausted by this constant vigilance further emphasizes the toll that her oppressive environment is taking on her mental and emotional well-being.

“I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.”

The quote reveals the narrator's desire for creative expression and its potential therapeutic effect on her mental and emotional well-being. Writing is depicted as a means of relieving the pressure of the narrator's ideas, which suggests that she is struggling to articulate her thoughts and feelings due to her oppressive environment and the restrictions placed on her by her husband.

The quote also highlights the importance of creative expression as a form of self-care and as a means of coping with mental illness. The narrator suggests that writing would not only relieve the pressure of her thoughts but also provide her with a sense of rest and relief.

Furthermore, the quote emphasizes the limitations placed on women during the time period in which the story is set. The narrator's desire to write is viewed as an act of rebellion against the societal norms and expectations that restrict her autonomy and expression.

“I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store.”

This quote reveals the narrator's vivid imagination and her tendency to imbue everyday objects with meaning and significance. The quote also highlights the narrator's fascination with the yellow wallpaper in her room, which she sees as possessing a range of expressions and emotions.

Moreover, the quote speaks to the power of imagination and the ways in which the mind can create meaning and significance out of seemingly mundane experiences. The narrator's childhood fascination with blank walls and plain furniture suggests that she has always had a rich inner life, and that her imagination has served as a means of coping with the world around her.

However, the quote also foreshadows the narrator's descent into madness, as her fixation on the yellow wallpaper becomes increasingly obsessive and her perceptions become more and more distorted.

“I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!”

This is one of the most important quotes from The Yellow Wallpaper, as it represents a significant turning point in the narrator's journey. It marks the moment when she finally breaks free from the oppressive forces that have been holding her back and asserts her independence and agency.

The quote highlights the narrator's defiance and determination, as she refuses to be controlled or silenced by her husband and his sister, Jane. By tearing off the yellow wallpaper that has been tormenting her, the narrator is not only breaking free from the physical constraints of her environment but also the psychological and emotional constraints that have been holding her back.

Moreover, the quote is a symbolic representation of the narrator's liberation from the societal expectations and limitations that have been imposed on women during the time period in which the story is set. By tearing down the wallpaper and asserting her independence, the narrator is challenging the patriarchal structures that have been used to control and oppress women.

“I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.”

This quote reveals the narrator's desire to assert her independence and prove herself to her husband, John. The quote comes at a moment in the story when the narrator is beginning to assert herself more forcefully and to challenge John's authority over her.

The quote also highlights the narrator's sense of isolation and loneliness. She does not want to see anyone until John comes home because she wants to share her accomplishments with him and gain his approval. This speaks to the importance of human connection and the ways in which our relationships with others shape our sense of self and our place in the world.

Moreover, the quote foreshadows the dark turn that the story will ultimately take, as the narrator's desire to astonish John becomes increasingly obsessive and her mental state deteriorates further. Her desire to please John and gain his approval ultimately becomes her undoing, as she becomes more and more consumed by her own delusions and fantasies.


“My darling, I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours.”

This quote reveals John's paternalistic and condescending attitude towards the narrator, whom he sees as a fragile and unstable creature in need of his constant guidance and protection. He fails to recognize her agency and autonomy and views her as a passive object to be controlled and molded according to his own desires.

“John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.”

This quote highlights John's rational and scientific worldview, which is in stark contrast to the narrator's imaginative and emotional nature. John's practicality and disdain for superstition reflect his belief in the power of reason and empirical evidence, which he sees as the only reliable ways of understanding the world. However, this rationalistic worldview blinds him to the narrator's emotional and psychological needs, as he dismisses her fears and anxieties as mere figments of her imagination. 

“You know the place is doing you good," said John. "And really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental.”

This quote highlights John's dismissive attitude towards the narrator's concerns about the house and her growing sense of unease. He views her complaints as trivial and unworthy of serious consideration.

“Bless her little heart!”

This quote highlights John's paternalistic attitude towards the narrator, whom he sees as a fragile and childlike creature in need of his protection and guidance.


“Jennie sees to everything now.”

This quote emphasizes Jennie's role as the caretaker of the household and the narrator. It suggests that she is responsible for maintaining order and cleanliness, as well as keeping an eye on the narrator's health.

“She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession.”

This quote reveals Jennie's satisfaction with her role as a housekeeper. She takes pride in her work and is content with her place in society, which stands in stark contrast to the narrator's frustration and dissatisfaction with her own prescribed role as a woman.

“I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.”

This quote suggests that the narrator is becoming increasingly paranoid and suspicious of Jennie's intentions. It reflects the narrator's growing sense of isolation and her belief that everyone around her, even her caretaker, is conspiring against her. This quote also underscores the power dynamics at play in the story, with the narrator feeling threatened by Jennie's intrusion into her personal space.

By theme

Gender Roles

“Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able, - to dress and entertain, and order things”

This quote highlights the societal expectation for women to fulfill domestic duties, such as entertaining and ordering things, despite any personal struggles they may be facing. The narrator's words suggest that this expectation is a burden that adds to her already overwhelming situation. This quote serves to emphasize the theme of the oppressive gender roles and societal expectations placed upon women during the time period in which the story takes place.

“It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.”

In this quote, the narrator expresses the difficulty she faces when attempting to communicate with her husband, John, about her worsening mental health. The use of the word "wise" suggests that John is knowledgeable and experienced, which may make the narrator feel intimidated or unsure of herself. The narrator's mention of John's love for her suggests that she fears upsetting him or disappointing him by discussing her condition. This quote emphasizes the power dynamic in the narrator's marriage, where her husband is seen as the ultimate authority and the narrator feels powerless to express her own thoughts and feelings. This quote underscores the theme of the restrictive gender roles and societal expectations that prevent women from being able to assert their own autonomy.

“John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.”

This quote from the narrator reflects the societal expectation that women should tolerate their husbands' belittling behavior and not challenge their authority.

“It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.”

The narrator's observation that "most women do not creep by daylight" implies that women are expected to conform to certain societal norms, such as appearing poised and graceful at all times.

“Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?”

This quote highlights the limitations placed on women's career options during the time period in which "The Yellow Wallpaper" is set. The narrator is unable to pursue work that would be fulfilling because of her gender.

Mental Health

“I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.”

This quote speaks to the theme of mental health and how it is often misunderstood or dismissed. The narrator, who is struggling with a serious mental health issue, acknowledges that her condition is not considered serious by those around her. She also reveals that her husband, John, is not fully aware of the extent of her suffering, and that his belief that there is no reason for her to suffer only adds to her isolation and despair. This quote highlights the societal stigma surrounding mental health and how it can prevent individuals from receiving the support and treatment they need. It also emphasizes the importance of being empathetic and understanding towards those who may be struggling with mental health issues, even if their condition may not be visible or easily understood by others.

“I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.”

This quote speaks to the theme of mental health and its impact on emotions and behavior. The narrator, who is suffering from a nervous condition, expresses frustration and anger towards her husband, John, which she believes is a result of her condition. This quote highlights how mental health issues can affect an individual's emotions and behavior, and how it can often be misunderstood or dismissed as a character flaw. It also emphasizes the need for empathy and understanding towards those who may be struggling with mental health issues, as their behavior may not always be within their control. The quote sheds light on the complexities of mental health and how it can impact every aspect of a person's life, including their relationships.

“I don't like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.”

The quote reveals the narrator's deteriorating mental state. The "creeping women" can be seen as a projection of the narrator's own feelings of being trapped and oppressed, and her fear of losing control. The phrase "they creep so fast" also suggests a sense of urgency and anxiety. The narrator's paranoia is further evident in her reluctance to look out of the windows, which could represent her reluctance to confront the outside world and the reality of her situation. The quote highlights the narrator's increasingly delusional perception of the world around her and serves as a poignant commentary on the damaging effects of patriarchal oppression on women's mental health.

“I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!”

This quote represents the breaking point of the narrator's mental state, where she has become completely disconnected from reality and is now hallucinating that the wallpaper is coming to life.

“You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back somersault, and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.”

This quote highlights the idea that the narrator's mental illness is not something she can control or overcome easily. The "it" she refers to is likely her illness, which she describes as unpredictable and capable of knocking her down at any moment. Despite her efforts to understand and manage it, she ultimately feels powerless against it, as if it were a bad dream. This sense of helplessness and frustration is a recurring theme throughout the story and underscores the devastating impact that mental illness can have on an individual's life. The quote also suggests that the narrator's illness is not easily understood or treated, and that even those closest to her may not fully grasp the extent of her suffering.

Freedom & Self-Expression

“But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.”

This quote shows the narrator's desire to express herself and communicate her thoughts and feelings. She feels trapped and restricted in her role as a wife and mother, and writing is her only outlet for self-expression. However, the quote also reveals the struggle she faces in trying to balance the need to express herself with the exhaustion it causes her to do so. This struggle underscores the theme of freedom and self-expression in the story. Despite the challenges she faces, the narrator is determined to find a way to communicate her thoughts and feelings, even if it requires a great effort on her part.

“I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.”

The quoted sentence represents the theme of the narrator's rebellion against her husband's authority and the patriarchal society's expectations. The narrator, who has been confined to her bedroom for a long time due to her supposed "nervous condition," begins to develop an unhealthy obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her room. In the quote, she describes creeping around the room while secretly looking at her husband, who represents the oppressive forces that restrict her freedom. The act of looking at him over her shoulder indicates that she is no longer willing to submit to his authority and is beginning to assert her own agency. It symbolizes the gradual process of breaking free from the limitations imposed on her by the societal norms and expectations.

“If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? . . . So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas . . .”

This quote highlights the struggles of the protagonist as she grapples with her own perception of her mental illness versus the opinions of her husband and doctor. She is frustrated with being dismissed as simply experiencing "temporary nervous depression" and feels trapped in their prescribed treatments of rest, medication, and avoidance of work. Her disagreement with their ideas and desire to express herself through writing represents a yearning for agency and autonomy over her own body and mind. It also speaks to the larger societal issue of the invalidation of women's experiences and voices, particularly regarding their mental health. The quote shows the importance of self-advocacy and challenging traditional gender roles and power dynamics in medicine and society.

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