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The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper


by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Character Analysis

John is a high-ranking physician who tells his wife that he only wants the best for her, but he makes every decision regarding her life, right down to who she gets to hang out with and where she gets to sleep. The narrator writes that her husband John is "practical in the extreme." According to her, "He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures." John embodies a supreme rationality; this makes it difficult for the narrator to convince him of her sincere discomfort with her bedroom and the shapes that she sees within the wallpaper.

Although not the protagonist of the story, John is, in some respects, its central figure. First of all, he has an actual name, whereas the narrator is defined only in relation to her husband. (See "Tools of Characterization" for more on this.) John’s decisions and opinions occupy most of the text, as the narrator defers to his wishes. Moreover, his character is a great example of how the supposedly objective practice of science can actually be a gendered endeavor. Only John;s opinions count, for instance, when it comes to diagnosing the narrator’s illness. While the rest cure may today seem like pseudo-science, in the 19th century it was a widely accepted and popular form of treatment for women with depression. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman tried to knock down these gendered and mistaken notions. Perhaps this is why John literally keels over in the story’s final scene.

John Timeline