Study Guide

John in The Yellow Wallpaper

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Dr. Evil

No, he's not a cryogenically frozen mastermind with a bald head and a bald cat to match. And no, he doesn't have an infuriating habit of raising his pinky finger to his lips. But hey: this guy is a doc whose malpractice (or at least, gross neglect) helps his wife lose her marbles.

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." (Maybe "practical" was code-word for "control freak" in the 1800's?)

But according to the narrator, John embodies a supreme rationality. This makes it difficult for her 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.) Also, John’s decisions and opinions occupy most of the text because 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...and maybe that's why John literally keels over in the story’s final scene.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...