The Pattern on the Wallpaper Represented in Words

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From Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”:

“I don’t know why I should write this.

“I don’t want to.

“I don’t feel able.

“And I know John would think it absurd.  But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief!” (Gilman 534)

Repetition is always key in literature.  And if one observes some sort of pattern and then sees it broken, that breaking is also significant.  And it is for those reasons that this quote really stuck out to me—this pattern is broken in this quote, just as the pattern is in the wallpaper.

 Gilman skillfully juxtaposes three negative statements of doubt to two strong comments of certainty.  The main character has a running commentary in her head, full of negative comments, pushing herself down.  She has little self-confidence which makes her unable to break free from John who completely controls every minute of her day, even when he’s not there. 

By writing her short story in first person, Gilman (in Poe-like fashion) really lets us get a good look into the main character’s head.  The short, sometimes disjointed sentences, contrasted with a longer sentence broken up with dashes, creates in the reader a similar reading experience as the main character has in her head. 

Yet despite all the main character’s attempts at listening to her husband and attempts at not being angry with him, she cannot keep herself completely apathetic.  Every now and then, she has a burst of passionate confidence.  She “must” express her feelings not only with her longest sentence out of the five sentences I quoted, but also with italics, a hyphen, and an exclamation mark.  She denies that she knows why, she insists she doesn’t wants to, and that she is unable write her thoughts down.  But, eventually she admits she does know why, she does want to, and she is able, and, in fact, she feels better having done so.  

More than anything else, I think she is afraid to taste the freedom of emotions that John is constantly trying to make her suppress.  The wallpaper with the continuous pattern that she tries to follow, but never can, is much like her pattern of thought.  She tries to repeat herself over and over and think in the same way, but eventually she breaks with conventional thought just as she loses her spot on the wallpaper and her true thoughts reveal themselves despite her efforts to the contrary.    

Bewitched by the wallpaper?  Read my classmate’s thoughts on the story.

3 Comments

Interesting entry Greta! I noticed similar repetitions in the text. I didn't think of Gilman's style as Poe-like but you're right, it is. We are presented with the opportunity to see what the unreliably crazy narrator is thinking and why he/she acts out the way he/she does. Well done!

Kayley Dardano said:

I really never though about it like that but during this seen I related the most to because I always sit down to write but feel like I can’t for fear I wouldn’t be able to get my point across and for fear someone would read it and judge me by it. I guess that’s why I never thought about it the way you describe cause I was to busy relating it to myself.

I agree, Greta. I love how Gilman makes use of syntax to express the deeper emotion and confusion in the character. This story is Poe-like, might be the reason I like it so much.

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