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February 5, 2007

The Ending Drives Me as Crazy as the Woman in the Story is!

Gilman, ''The Yellow Wallpaper'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

“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!” (538).

Like most of us, I have read this story before and while I was rereading it I kept thinking, “why can’t I remember what happens at the end of the story?” Of course, when I got to the end and read this last sentence I remembered why. Because I have no idea what happened after John fainted. Did she just finally lose it completely and then was later put in some sort of facility, but in her mind she is now in the wallpaper as the woman was? Or did she kill herself…and it is her ghost that still creeps? (a part of me thinks so because of the references to the rope just prior, plus the fact that I am not sure that all the wallpaper ripped off the wall would be reason for John to faint). I have no idea. It makes me think that perhaps Gilman wanted us to wonder, she specifically wanted us to be unsure and to have it drive us crazy like the woman in the story!

Posted by LorinSchumacher at February 5, 2007 9:55 PM


I am on the side of her killing herself. Think about it...the rope, the window, her insanity and captivity...it all makes sense. John faints when he sees his wife dangling lifelessly out of the window- as anyone would. I've been argued about this point over and over, so don't expect this to be the "correct" answer. Which is what is great about literature. There isn't a "correct" answer...and there doesn't need to be. It's more fun to imagine and speculate instead of knowing of sure. It adds a bit of mystery...and something to talk about in class! haha

Posted by: Nessa at February 6, 2007 1:42 PM

You aren't the only one who thought it was her ghost who was creeping. The only thing is, if she killed herself, how did she do it?

Posted by: Sue at February 6, 2007 6:49 PM

"so that I had to creep over him every time!" Why would she have to keep creeping over him unless she was swinging. Though the creeping has other meanings as well in the story. I enjoy how Gilman uses the word creeping, an active word, for something done after she kills herself. Her dillusion clearly can influence John, so as NESSA said, it seems unlikely that if she wasn't at least trying to commit suicide he wouldn't have likely fainted.

Posted by: Stephan at February 6, 2007 7:51 PM

Me, too, Vanessa. I've been on that side of the fence all along. However, the only thing that keeps me from siding strictly with the concept of suicide is that after this last reading I have come to the conclusion that perhaps because the story is written like a journal with individual entries, addressing the reader as "you," perhaps this cannot end in suicide.

Unless, of course, there is a shift from when the narrator is writing to when she is doing and the story is told inside of her head for some parts of the story (and not written down like we are led to believe she is doing). I have no idea... but I thought this was worth bringing up since we're discussing it.

Anything is possible, I suppose, when wallpaper takes on a life of its own. I'd start watching my kitchenware if my wallpaper suddenly gained mobility...

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 12:23 AM

I'm so on top of the fence with this issue it isn't even funny. Lorin, if only you could have been in our class freshmen year when we first read this short story. (Wow that was a long time ago.) Like Vanessa and Karissa have said - it has been discussed (excused the pun) to death and I still don't know if I believe she actually killed herself or not. I don't think that she could have as Karissa has said.

I think that her husband entered into the room, saw the rope, and then saw his wife in such a state that it shocked him especially after all the efforts believe that she was getting better.

I agree with you on the fact that I think Gilman was meaning for us to continue guessing. This last part of the short story, I think is the most interesting and is why it will continue to be discussed.

Posted by: Tiffany at February 7, 2007 11:48 PM

I remember arguing about this last year in EL267. If she were to kill herself, she could have hung herself, and when John fainted, he could have easily fell underneath of her. She even mentions how he can't hear her at the end. Nothing else makes sense for why a man would faint, unless he sees his wife dangling in the air, lifeless. There are a lot of reasons that make me believe that she killed herself, including the history of Gilman, considering how she took her own life, and was struggling with living for forty years before she actually killed herself. She suffered from severe depression, and in her autobiography, she states how hard life was to live. Maybe this helps some. Yes, its open ended, but as Vanessa said "Look at the words." We are critics, and we make judgments. My judgment is that she did kill herself, because of the authorial intent, the context clues, and the evidence was there.

Posted by: Jason Pugh at February 8, 2007 11:41 AM

I'm of the opinion that, if this kind of discussion didn't take place, this wouldn't be a very good short story. The fact is, we have been arguing about this for a few years (okay maybe not arguing, but discussing in an academic setting). That is showing that Gilman did something correctly, which I can turn around to argue against looking for authorial intent - if we could pick up all the clues she intended, the debate would be over.

Posted by: Diana Geleskie at February 8, 2007 12:07 PM

I think by the mass confusion, as expressed by numerous people, the end result was achieved. I don't think Gilman wanted it wrapped up in a neat little package, or else it would simply be "..and she died. That's all." kind of thing.

We can debate what happened to her after the close of the story, but, really, does her eventual action really matter? The damage was done and message was passed.

I always just assumed, having finally flipped her lid, that she continued on with her own personal world until, eventually, her natural end came. If she had ended her own life then it would, essentially, be the "easy way out." For such a tortured and awful experience, the logical (hooray for Hirsch) end result would be a continual torture as her body is ravaged by hunger and deprivation of nutrients. But that's just me.

Posted by: Kevin at February 8, 2007 4:35 PM

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