The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
The narrator feels uneasy on the estate she and her husband have rented for the summer.
Do you sense the beginning of a horror story? We do: a woman moves into the house; the house is spooky; the woman has serious misgivings; etc. We also learn in this stage that the narrator’s husband makes all the decisions for her, telling her when she is sick and what she is suffering from. This is part of the initial situation as it highlights a certain path that the story may follow.
The narrator wishes to spend her time writing and socializing, but her husband tells her she must rest.
The narrator tries to express her own opinion to her husband, but is overruled on every count. This is conflict, yes, but note its one-sided nature: John doesn’t take his wife seriously. In other words, this conflict results in the narrator’s repression.
The wallpaper freaks out the narrator, and she imagines a woman trapped within the paper.
Forced to lie in bed all day and rest, the narrator becomes completely entranced by the wallpaper and is drawn into trying to decode its design. This adds a layer of complication to the story as the narrator’s vibrant mind deals with repression by focusing on her surroundings.
The narrator strips off all the wallpaper in her room.
This is the ultimate moment of rebellion for the protagonist as she takes action towards freedom. She is finally upsetting the status quo and declaring her own sense of agency. This all adds up to one heck of a climactic moment.
John attempts to find out what his wife is up to.
All of this upsetting of the status quo comes with a certain amount of backlash. When John comes home to find the door to his bedroom locked, he begins freaking out. The uncertainty of the narrator’s fate leads us to conclude that this is the moment of suspense.
The narrator’s actions are so extraordinary and so shocking that her husband faints. This is the denouement because it answers our questions about how John will react to his wife’s craziness. Rather than bullying her or trying to talk to her, he simply faints.
The narrator continues to strip off the wallpaper, convinced that she has achieved liberation at last.
This is the conclusion of the story because it’s how we leave the scene of the story. It functions a bit oddly as a conclusion, however, because it doesn’t exactly wrap up loose ends. For instance, we’re wondering if the narrator ever gets her sanity back. Does her husband regain consciousness? Does she get tired of creeping? Wait a minute. This doesn’t seem like a conclusion at all!