Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper is overflowed with symbolism. Symbols are images that have a meaning beyond them selves in a short story, a symbol is a detail, a character, or an incident that has a meaning beyond its literal role in the narrative. Gilman uses symbols to tell her story of a woman’s mental state of being diminishes throughout the story. The following paragraphs tell just some of the symbols and how I interpreted them, they could be read in many different ways.
The title itself, The Yellow Wallpaper, is symbolizing the role men play in a patriarchal society, where men are the more dominant sex, and how women are ‘trapped’; in a life of male control. For instance, At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all moonlight, it becomes bars!’;(Gilman 211) This shows how the narrator feels trapped by the paper. Another symbol that refers to the role women play is, ‘And she is all the time trying to climb through that pattern, it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.’;(Gilman 213) This is meaning that if a women tried to play a role in society she was just not taken seriously, or felt like trying to play a role was getting nowhere.
The way Gilman describes the wallpaper tells of what the narrator’s mind is thinking, ‘and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide.’;(Gillman 206) She doesn’t think this on the conscious level but more on the unconscious level. When the narrator writes, ‘(The designs) destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.’;(Gillman 206) She is speaking of her state of mind subconsciously, the narrator is on the brink of losing her mind at this point. Gillman writes, ‘There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. ‘(Gillman 207) She was explaining how the wallpaper is like a ‘watchdog’; or a guard of some type, watching her every move, naturally making her nervous.
I think that the narrator feels much alone in life, even though she has a family who cares for her. She is clinically depressed so naturally she is going to feel isolated from the world. Speaking about a house that the narrator grew up in, she writes, ‘and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.’; (Gillman 208) The chair gave her a sense of companionship or maybe protection as the armrests and the back surrounded her.
As she sits in the room for hours on end, her mind allows her to see herself as an acquaintance portrayed as a stranger trapped behind the design in the wallpaper. ‘But int the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so-I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.’;(Gillman 213) Later in the story when her mind is slipping more she tries to help the ‘women’; get out from the entrapment of the wallpaper, for instance, ‘As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.’;(Gillman 214) The narrator says, ‘I don’t like to look out of the windows even-there are so many of these creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?’;(Gillman 215) She is saying that there are many women out there that feel trapped just as she did.
Symbolism plays a soul part of The Yellow Wallpaper. Gillman gets her point across if the reader can catch what she is trying to say. Gillman put together a remarkable collection of symbols throughout her story. Some are easy to find and others I haven’t even found. The point to the story is that women could not play a role in society back then because society felt it was wrong, society wanted women in the household.
Guth, Hans P., and Gadriele L. Rico Discovering Literature second edition (1997) 204-216. Text Book.