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Spiraling into Insanity: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Perkins

Being a perfect example of a gothic novel, “The Yellow Wallpaper” sets its readers on a journey through the dark realms of human nature. Its unique manner of narration makes it extraordinarily difficult to draw a line between what happens in reality and what represents the fantasies created by the tortured mind of the protagonist. Although madness manifests itself in the climax of the novel, it is present throughout the story since its seeds had been planted into the lead character long before the story starts.

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Being pressured into obedience and not allowed to express her true identity due to the boundaries set by the societal norms of the time, the leading character proceeds to a new and darker stage of madness with every turn of the plot, thus, slowly being devoured by her insanity.

The spiraling nature of the conflict development can be noticed at every point at which the lead character reaches another stage of insanity. The first symptom of insanity beginning to break through the wall of self-defense that the lead character built for herself can be spotted at the point when the narrative starts. For instance, it could be argued that the woman who tells the story is not given a name up until the very end of the narration, which can be seen as the first step toward depriving her of her identity and, thus, pushing her to lose her mind.

The next symptom of insanity starts to become more apparent in the narration as the lead character claims that she has noticed a strangeness about the mansion: “Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it” (Gilman 647). Although the specified line does not tell much without context, it points to the fact that the narrator tried to project her despair and tension onto the physical environment in which she lived as opposed to the social and emotional one. Therefore, the specified line can be regarded as the primary symptom of the lead character developing a mental disease.

When the main character starts to sense the weirdness of the house, even though the strangeness evidently happens only in her tormented mind, she progresses to a new stage of insanity: “There is something strange about the house – I can feel it” (Gilman 648). The tragedy of her mind being overpowered by delusions, therefore, comes to a sharp focus at the specified point of the narrative. With the increase in the confusion and anxiety that the lead character experiences, the tension rises, and she becomes gradually affected by the disease with every passing day.

The madness continues to devour the main character as the story progresses. Her attempts to reconcile with the necessity to live in the room are expected to stifle her insanity, yet they only contribute to its aggravation: “But I find I get pretty tired when I try” (Gilman 649). The necessity to fight the emotions that she feels without the opportunity of exploring and accepting them makes the lead character even more desperate and hurts her to the point where she can no longer take the oppression. Thus, the failed attempts to ignore the problem aggravate the situation, making the main character take another step on her way to becoming insane.

The final stage of madness experienced by the character manifests itself in her assault on her husband. Despite involving little to no dialogue and relying purely on the description of the scene, the specified plot twist makes it evident that the character has gone mad. The description of the lead character moving in an animal-like manner across the room is enough to send shivers down any reader’s spine: “I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder” (Gilman 656).

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The specified lien marks the final step toward the development of madness; the character is entirely deprived of her identity. Thus, her suffering reaches its climax, and the protagonist kills her husband in agony, thus, completing her escape from her dependence on the societal norms and ultimately destroying her own self: “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall so that I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman 656). Thus, although being admittedly tragic, the ending serves as the means of opening a dialogue about the impact that societal restrictions, injustice, and prejudice have on one’s personality (Benitez 5).

It should be noted that, while being linear in its representation of the lead character’s descent into madness, the story does not have a point at which the conflict starts. Instead, it implies that the conflict has always been in existence and that it was the sudden exposure to an unfriendly environment that made it get out of control. The specified characteristic of the novel is the reason why it does not technically have a point at which the main character develops the motivation required for the conflict to gain a sense (Cariappa et al. 11).

It would be a mistake to claim that the character is deprived of motivation; quite the contrary, her desire to be relieved of the weight of her dependence on her husband is made very explicit from the very start (Gilman 647). “The Yellow Wallpaper” has the starting plot point, which is the moment when the character sees the room and realizes that the wallpaper has a depressing and very unsettling effect on her (Lin-na 234). However, the point of developing the motivation to struggle against the societal contempt, which should technically occur once the narrative sets, seems to be very difficult to locate (Ghandeharion et al. 116).

Some studies argue that it marks the couples’ decision to move to a temporary place to live while their house is renovated (Gilman 647). Nevertheless, the identified point does not mark the beginning of the protagonist’s madness; instead, it indicates that the feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction with her life has always been there and was only waiting for the right moment to manifest itself (Raouf 159). The specified phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that the conflict is supposed to have started before the protagonist moved to the new house. In other words, the factor that caused madness to start unraveling happened once the societal restrictions were imposed on her, i.e., since the day when she was born.

Being constrained by the societal norms of the time and not being allowed to express and explore her identity, the lead character of “The Yellow Wallpaper” faces the threat of madness way before the novel even starts. Madness as the only way for the character to give vent to her feelings does not emerge at a certain plot point; instead, it exists before the plot is even set into motion.

Works Cited

Benitez, Paula. The Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilman. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

Ghandeharion, Azra et al. “Women Entrapment and Flight in Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Alicante Journal of English Studies, vol. 29, no. 1, 2016, pp. 113-129.

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Cariappa, Pamela, et al. A Study Guide for Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper.” Cengage Learning, 2016.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wall-Paper. National Institute of Health, n.d. Web.

Lin-na, Ni. “A Non-Feminist Reading of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR), vol. 4, no. 12, 2013, pp. 233-237.

Raouf, Chalak. “Patriarchy’s Control on the Narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Research Journal of English Language and Literature (RJELAL), vol. 2, no. 2, 2014, pp. 157-162.

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