Study Guide

The Yellow Wallpaper Quotes

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Part 1

    There are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. (1.19)

    The structure of the house itself highlights the narrator’s confinement.

    He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on. (1.14)

    The heavy bedstead (or bed frame), barred windows, and gate at the head of the stairs all provide a physical confinement that mirrors the narrator’s societal confinement.

    Part 2

    John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. (2.3)

    While the narrator must remain at home, essentially confined to her bedroom, John is free to go out and about.

    Part 6

    At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be. (6.10)

    As the narrator later identifies with the woman trapped in the wallpaper, we understand that her subconscious is more aware of her imprisonment than her conscious mind, which continues to believe that John wants the best for her.

    Part 9

    Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. […]

    And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. (9.4 – 9.6)

    This passage demonstrates the intersection of confinement and gender – the narrator sometimes sees many, many women imprisoned by the pattern.

    Part 12
    The Narrator

    "I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (12.49)

    Notice how she identifies herself with the trapped woman in the wallpaper. The narrator believes that she has freed herself. What do you think? Is this really freedom? Also, see "Names" in "Tools of Characterization" for a discussion of who this Jane character might be.

  • Society and Class

    Part 1

    I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. (1.17)

    The narrator is cut off and isolated from the rest of the society. Is that the real source of her madness?

    If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do? (1.10)

    Here, John’s status in society as a doctor and a husband both conspire against the narrator’s articulation of her own illness.

    It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. (1.1)

    The narrator thinks of herself and her husband as "ordinary people." How accurate is that? Remember that they have servants, including a housekeeper and a nanny.

    Part 5

    The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out. (5.6)

    Everyone can identify with wanting to shake loose the strictures of society.

  • Gender

    Part 1

    My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing. (1.11)

    The men in the narrator’s life have prestigious, active jobs and their opinions dictate the way she lives her life.

    Part 2

    [Jennie] is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick! (2.77)

    John’s sister Jennie embodies the ideal woman of this age.

    Part 9

    Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. […]

    And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern--it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads. (9.4 – 9.6)

    This is a passage demonstrating the intersection of confinement and gender—the narrator sometimes sees many, many women imprisoned by the pattern.

    Part 10

    It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight. (10.4)

    This implies that the narrator believes all women creep at night.

  • Literature and Writing

    Part 1

    I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.

    I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. (1.17 – 1.18)

    Everyone around the narrator opposes her desire to write, which, as you might imagine, makes writing rather difficult.

    Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. (1.14)

    Literature in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the healthiest means of self-actualization.

    Part 2

    I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.

    I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. (2.22 – 2.23)

    John forces the narrator to repress her imagination. While her "habit of story-making" might have found a healthy outlet in writing, repressing her habit instead leads to the narrator's mental illness.

    We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day.

    I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength. (2.1 – 2.2)

    The narrator has been drained of her desire to write because of the persistent opposition of the people around her.

    [Jennie] is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick! (2.77)

    Jennie’s belief is characteristic of the perfect "angel in the house" ideal.

    I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.

    But I find I get pretty tired when I try.

    It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now. (2.23 – 2.25)

    Here John is a clear obstacle to the narrator’s desire to write and to lead an engaged, fulfilling life.

  • Madness

    Part 2

    I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store. (2.70)

    Since her husband repeatedly treats her like a child, the narrator begins reverting to childlike fancies.

    I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.

    I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. (2.22 – 2.23)

    John forces the narrator to repress her imagination. While her "habit of story-making" might have found a healthy outlet in writing, repression of her habit instead damages the narrator.

    Part 5
    The Narrator

    "Better in body perhaps—" I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word. "My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?" (5.16 – 5.17)

    When she expresses her own opinions, John treats the narrator as though she were crazy. This leads to actual mental illness.

    Part 6

    On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind. (6.1)

    Since her mind has nothing else in the world to focus on, the narrator is driven to an obsession with the wallpaper. Here she is still in her normal mind (or is she?), but her brain—for lack of any other occupation—soon fixates on the wallpaper to an unhealthy degree.

    Part 7

    Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. (7.1)

    This is arguably the moment in the story at which the narrator has truly lost her sanity.

    Part 12
    The Narrator

    "I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (12.49)

    The narrator believes that she is liberated, but at this point, she has also lost her sanity. Can we trust what she says?