Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper: Moonlight & The Paper & The Bed

by Staff

In literature, symbolism is a tool in which a symbol – an object, word, action, character, or concept – represents something. It can be a thing, person, or idea. In the short story The Yellow Wallpaper, the author and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses multiple symbols, including the character John, who symbolizes Silas Weir Mitchell. The narrator symbolizes Charlotte and other women on rest cure. The rest cure was a treatment developed by Silas Weir Mitchell, which the author underwent, inspiring her to write this short story in 1982.

The use of imagery has been well-designed to show the feminist aspect. Because of this, it has become a good topic for college essays and research papers. The author has provided well-tuned insight into the yellow wallpaper. In your  The Yellow Wallpaper essay, you need to answer several questions like why Gilman and her husband, John, stayed in the “colonial mansion,” What its history is and if she feels comfortable in that house. At the book’s start, Gilman undergoes postpartum depression after giving birth. Below are some of the symbols:


In the book, moonlight symbolizes a period for the feminine. During the day, the author says that the female trapped in the wallpaper is immobile and motionless. When moonlight hits the wall, the woman starts to move or, to be more precise, to creep. The pattern reflects Gilman’s daily movements. She is asleep during the day, stays alert, and is awake at night. At this time, she invested in the scholarly activity which she needs to suppress during the day while her partner is watching.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The motif that stands out the most in this story is the yellow wallpaper. It assumes the center stage, and we can say it’s the character itself. The importance of the yellow paper lies in its symbolism and represents the society during that period. Gilman’s obsession with the yellow paper and passion for creative expression symbolizes madness. According to the book review of The Yellow Wallpaper, the yellow paper can be viewed as a metaphor for multiple things, such as reduced sexual desires, unfulfilled literary ambitions, or fears of migrating to a foreign land. The beauty of this title is it’s open to different interpretations. It is rich in possible senses meaning it can inspire you to write your essay after reading it.

The House

The Yellow paper story is often known as psychological, but it’s also gothic. One of the reasons for this is the nature of the tale; it talks about a woman’s rise into madness, narrated excitingly, but the setting also influences this. The house is a traditional gothic motif symbolizing darkness and terror and is meant to help readers with discomfort and tension. In the beginning, the book describes the houses as a hereditary estates, colonial mansions, or haunted houses.

By the story’s start, Gilman predicts the events to come because readers discover it’s a haunted house through the woman in the paper. The narrator doesn’t want to live in the room with the yellow wallpaper. It is her husband who convinces her to. Its windows have an iron bar, giving the room the feel and look of a prison. It’s a deteriorated room, and Gilman causes more damage after tearing off the paper.

The Baby

Gilman references the nameless boy several times to enhance the other characters and show the reader that she most likely suffers from postpartum depression. The narrator doesn’t mention the baby and only does it as past comments. She intentionally does this to highlight Gilman’s problems with playing the feminine role. The author wants to suggest the “mental illness” she has is called postnatal depression.

The Bed

Apart from the house and the room, the furniture and things have individual purposes. The author mentions the bed severally throughout the book; it’s old and heavy, but the most curious thing is it’s nailed to the floor. When all occupants are about to leave, the bed is the only furniture left, and Gilman describes it as “fairly gnawed” and believes the kids are the culprits.

Towards the end of this tale, the author is writing that the bed will not move despite trying to push and lift it until she is lame, and then she gets mad and bites off a small piece at one corner to a point it hurts her teeth.

The bed symbolizes being trapped and stuck and the inability to change or move anything. It also has several sexual connotations. Once Gilman gnaws on it herself, she has allowed the room and the bed to overpower her, but she is yet to be the woman in the wallpaper.

The Woman in The Yellow Wallpaper

She symbolizes the author’s insane feelings and inner thoughts as a hopeless, trapped woman. The reason is this is how she feels in society. She represents how other women felt at the time of writing this book. At first, Gilman thinks she has seen a dim “sub-pattern” on the paper only to realize it’s a woman’s shadow. In the beginning, the narrator thinks it is a separate person, but in the end, she says she’s the same person.

To Review

The characters and plot in the book confirm that the misunderstanding results from misinformation about the patient’s status. It’s also influenced by the husband’s attention to involving Gilman in everything other than treatment. No wonder the author goes after what she wants secretly, to find the creeping woman. If she tried to tell anyone, she would be unable to realize it. She keeps a daily journal a secret for this reason.

The first-person style has worked effectively to bring out the central theme. It helps evoke the readers’ emotions to empathize with several ideas, including the partner’s love misunderstanding for being locked in the house and thoughts that might worsen her condition. The title manages to bring to light the dullness and tedium of women’s life during the 19th century and the mistrust and sexism they faced when talking about their intellectual and creative pursuits.

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