Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892)

Discussion Questions

1.) Why have the narrator and her husband, John, rented the "colonial mansion"? What is its history, and what is the reaction of the heroine to this estate? Does she feel comfortable living in the house?

2.) Give a description of John. Why does the heroine say that his profession is "perhaps . . . one reason I do not get well faster"? How does the narrator view her husband? Does she agree with John's diagnosis and treatment? Who else supports John's diagnosis? What effect does this have on the heroine?

3.) What clue does the narrator's repeated lament, "what can one do?" give us about her personality? Describe other aspects of the woman's personality that are revealed in the opening of the story. What conflicting emotions is she having toward her husband, her condition, and the mansion?

4.) How would you characterize the narrator's initial reaction to, and description of, the wallpaper?

5.) Describe the narrator's state after the first two weeks of residence. Has John's relationship with his wife changed at all?

6.) Who is Jennie? What is her relationship to the narrator, and what is her function in the story?

7.) How has the narrator changed in her description of the wallpaper? Is it fair to say that the wallpaper has become more dominant in her day-to-day routine? Explain.

8.) By the Fourth of July, what does the narrator admit about the wallpaper? What clues does Gilman give us about the education of the narrator and her increasingly agitated state? Is she finding it more and more difficult to communicate? Explain.

9.) As the summer continues, describe the narrator's thoughts. What is her physical condition? Is there a link between her symptoms and psychological illness?

10.) How does the narrator try to reach out to her husband? What is his reaction? Is this her last contact with sanity? Do you think John really has no comprehension of the seriousness of her illness?

11.) Why do you think Gilman briefly changes the point of view from first person singular to the second person as the narrator describes the pattern of the wallpaper? What effect does the narrator say light has on the wallpaper?

12.) Who does the narrator see in the wallpaper? How have her perceptions of John and Jennie changed from the beginning of the story?

13.) Abruptly the narrator switches mood from boredom and frustration to excitement. To what does she attribute this change? How does John react to this? What new aspects of the wallpaper does she discuss?

14.) By the final section of the story, what is the narrator's relationship to her husband? to Jennie? to the wallpaper? How has the narrator's perspective changed from the start of the story? What change to do we see in her actions?

15.) Identify what has driven the narrator to the brink of madness? How does she try to free herself from this element? What is her greatest desire? What is the central irony of the story?

16.) Compare and contrast the monologue in Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" with that in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Cask of Amontillado."