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Themes in The Yellow Wallpaper

Treatment of mental illness: Although it is one of the central themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” mental illness was a taboo topic during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, those with mental illnesses and emotional distress were often extremely misunderstood and abused by society. The unnamed narrator suffers from what is now referred to as postpartum depression. Rather than addressing this illness, her husband believes the best cure for her is a “rest cure,” a medical treatment in which the patient is confined to bed until she has recovered. In the case of the unnamed narrator, the isolation, loss of control, and boredom caused by this treatment causes her to gradually descend into madness..

Female Oppression: Marital constraints on women prevent the narrator’s successful treatment, as her husband’s stifling of her creative self-expression only exacerbates her illness. “The Yellow Wallpaper” also creates a distinct contrast between outward appearances and inward thoughts as male characters frequently fail to see the rich inner world of the female narrator.

Themes Examples in The Yellow Wallpaper:

The Yellow Wallpaper


"there is something strange about the house—I can feel it...."   (The Yellow Wallpaper)

Gilman draws on motifs from Gothic literature, a popular genre in the 1800s, in her description of the “strange,” isolated, haunted-seeming mansion, with its ruined greenhouses, abandoned servants’ cottages, extensive gardens, and mysterious past. Gothic tales often revolved around a troubled heroine narrating her own story while imprisoned in just such a setting.

"he hates to have me write a word..."   (The Yellow Wallpaper)

One of the major themes of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is silence and the way that women's voices are silenced. There's no medical reason for the narrator not to be allowed to write, but her husband doesn't like it because he is, by all accounts, very controlling and doesn't want her voice to be heard.

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