The Yellow Wallpaper: The Usage Of Stylistic Devices To Reveal Main Themes

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Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a semi autobiography, telling of Stetson’s experience with depression and rapid descent into madness. The first-person perspective and various shift in tense allow the audience to fully experience and empathize with the narrator’s mental instability and overall deterioration. Through the many details that make up the setting, Stetson creates an unsettlingly foretelling tone to fully develop the dark theme of the story: the only path to freedom from oppression lies within giving in to the madness. Using a wide variety of literary devices, the story touches on not only the controlling life she lives under her husband, but also on how women were treated by men of late 19th-century society.

Stetson utilizes several literary devices throughout ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ including personification, dramatic irony, and simile, to touch on various themes and highlight the torment the wallpaper delivers to the narrator.

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Using dramatic irony Stetson describes the narrator’s relationship with her husband. Although John seems to be a caring husband to his wife, he continues to downplay her illness by placing her on rest cures. Telling her she isn’t to “work” until she recovers. Meanwhile the narrator begins to succumb to boredom and becomes tired and worn down from having to hide her writing from her husband, her lack of livelihood inhibits the narrator from getting better, driving her to hopelessness and insanity. Over time this leads to what seems to be that the narrator has become aware of the irony of the situation at hand, her physician husband cannot diagnose the fact that she is unhappy.

Personification plays a huge role in the story as it is used to describe the wallpaper as its own living entity, making the wallpaper its own character. The curves of the wallpaper “suddenly commit suicide—plunge off in outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” and the off-putting pattern “slaps you in the face, knocks you down and tramples upon you.” this gives the audience a chance to intimately relate to the narrator’s feelings toward the wallpaper.

Through simile, the narrator describes the wallpaper’s twists and convulses like a string of “toadstools” and how she is paralyzed by her hallucinations like a “bad dream.” The harsh nostalgic languages help to ensure that the reader has a clear view of the narrator’s “experience” with the wallpaper as a malevolent being.

‘The Yellow Wallpaper” not only brought light to what it was like having any type of mental disorder in the late 19th century, in this case being depression, but also, “it is a direct attack on the authority of men and the conventional wisdom of this time period. This effective attack is laid out in a disturbingly vivid and gutturally wrenching firsthand account of a psychotic breakdown of the individual.” (Everyday Green) this is very important because at the time it was unheard of to challenge the status quo with measures as harsh as this. For decades scholars have discussed “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the steps it took in a forward direction towards progression in how people view mental illness, “using a psychological approach in her literature, Charlotte Perkins Gilman added complexity to the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper to show that mental illness is as multifaceted as the individual it afflicts.” (Rebecca Sutton)


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