“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a psychological horror story that expresses the fragmented reality and the thoughts of a deranged mind, and how the fantasy in our minds can at times overwhelm reality. Written in a diary format, the narrative manages to evoke a sense of dread and anticipation as the narrator and her husband, John, rent a house that was up to three miles from the village, to a room with a strange, yellow wallpaper. However, under John’s harsh guidelines not to exercise any creative thoughts, she disobeys, and writes a secret diary, in which she begins her obsession with the wallpaper in the room. Eventually, as the narrator’s logic and reasoning disintegrates, she imagines a woman creeping about under the wallpaper, whose pattern started to resemble the bars of a cage . Her subsequent delusions and her slow descent into mania highlights the question of fantasy and reality, and how, at times, they are indistinguishable.
From the beginning of the narrative, the story alone feels uneasy when it is discovered that the narrator has a romantic and naive mind that does not seem to fit her facade. This is not only through how her husband, John, isolates her from society and consequently reality, but also through the query as to why he would do this in the first place. At first, we see that John is unusually overreactive and protective of the narrator, such as forbidding her to think about her condition, moving house just because of the narrator’s condition, and treating her as if she was a child “‘What is it, little girl?’ he said. ‘Don’t go walking about like that-you’ll get cold.” However, it is only when the narrator expresses her reactions to the room she was in that John’s behaviour seems to make more sense: the narrator describes, in her fantasy, how the room could have been a nursery, as it had barred windows, “for little children”, and from the “rings and things in the walls”, which was covered with torn wallpaper. However, she fails to realise the reality: that the room could also have been used to house a mental patient.
The narrator’s state of mind becomes more prevalent and startling when she begins to develop a profound interest in the yellow wallpaper, of which she is disgusted at first:”the colour is repellant, almost revolting: a smouldering, unclean yellow”. However, after noticing the wallpaper, the narrator’s diary entries starts to focus more on it, especially the “pattern”, as the narrator tries, in vain, to find a pattern for the stripes on the wallpaper, a pattern that evidently does not exist. She then delves deeper into fantasy as she begins to imagine a woman creeping about the wallpaper, trying to escape from the lines, which starts to resemble the bars of a cage with the heads of others who had tried to escape, although she does not realise that the woman’s predicament symbolises her own: she was also, in a sense, trapped, isolated, and unable to escape both the house and continually unable to escape her own fantasy. The narrator’s deranged mind becomes clearer when she discovers a smooch in the wallpaper, going around the entire room, “round and round and round”, failing to see that the smooches were made by her clothes rubbing against the wall, even when she saw yellow stains on the clothes.
Through the diary entries of a narrator who is not sane, Gilman delivers a chilling message to her readers about the distinct line between reality and fantasy, and what would happen if we delve too deeply into our fantasies and consequently lose control of our ability to return to reality. There is a very thin line between the two, Gilman seems to be implying, and sometimes it is possible for someone to lose control of their sanity and therefore their lives, as they continually draw back from society, which was demonstrated when the narrator’s obsession with the wallpaper ends with her mind believing that she was the woman in her own fantasy. She then tears up the wallpaper, to “set her free”, only for the two to fully combine. She then surprises John with this behaviour, making him faint, which was annoying, since she “had to creep over him each time!”