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What Makes Charlotte Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper an Example of Modernism?

During modernism, unexpected breaks in tradition occurred when viewing the world differently. The authors used literature during modernism to show individuals’ decay and growing alienation. A portrayal of a restricted role in society stands reflected in Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman stands as a remarkable example of modernist literature, a genre that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reflecting the profound shifts in societal values, technology, and human consciousness. Different parts of this short story, which was written in 1892, make it fit with modernist ideas (“Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” (1913) | The American Yawp Reader”).

The strong story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is about a woman whose depressed and controlling husband drove her crazy. The story is first-person and told by Gilman’s wife. It is based on Gilman’s own life (Butler). Isolation and rest were suggested as the “resting cure” for Gilman’s postpartum sadness after her daughter was born. In the story, the narrator’s husband locks her up alone because he thinks that will help her overcome her sadness and breakdowns. Since he won’t let her do anything, she writes in her secret book to deal with her sadness. The girl looks at the yellow wallpaper in the room because she has nothing else to do all day. It drives her crazy, and she sees a woman stuck inside the pattern. The wallpaper takes over the narrator’s mind; she feels possessed and secretive about hiding her fixation on it.

Gilman was primarily interested in promoting women’s rights (she thought women should be able to make money on their own) and creating a childcare system based on the idea of “socialized motherhood.” Professional childcare workers would be needed for this setup, just like they are in daycares for babies and little kids now (Butler). She said that women would always be stuck in a place where they couldn’t get to the public space and the rights that come with it. If these significant changes weren’t made, society would stop changing. Gilman became increasingly unhappy after giving birth to her daughter Katharine in 1885. Gilman developed neurasthenia, an emotional disease that makes people sad and tired. Walt and Charlotte agreed that she should see her dad and brother and stay with an old friend, Grace E. Channing, in Pasadena for a few months when the emotional pain got too much to bear. But when she got back home to her husband and baby, the sadness came back.

It is one of the defining characteristics of modernism to challenge the accepted conventions of society, and Gilman’s story exemplifies this trait to a striking degree. Gilman draws attention to the customary arrangement of the assumptions and attitudes toward marriages held by middle-class people in the nineteenth century. These beliefs and attitudes inhibit women from exercising their needs and desires. The unfavorable occurrences that took place in Gilman’s life inspired the theme of the short story, which lends the piece its authenticity. In nineteenth-century America, it was customary for women living in American homes to feel like they had lost their identity. Women trying to get their lives in order and voice their worries were not listened to. Women’s opinions would not be taken if men ran the world. The subject of masculine superiority is the primary emphasis of Gilman’s story. She recounts her harrowing experience to illustrate the challenges that women confront and how their spouses impose authoritarian rules on them.

The story deals with the modernist theme of loneliness, a familiar feeling in a world that changes quickly. Alienation means feeling emotionally cut off from other people. The figures are always outside of society and feel alone. These figures are emotionally and physically away from the people they love. Puritan society’s strict rules and harsh judgments keep these characters alone and ultimately condemn them to hell. People felt a deep separation as cities grew, factories were built, and technology improved (MAMBROL). The main character’s isolation in the room and her growing disconnect from reality are good examples. Her isolation becomes a symbol of how society as a whole felt disconnected during the modernist era.

Key ideas play a significant role in the story. Symbols help us figure out why the author wrote the story in the first place. Metaphors and icons are also used to help the reader and the person telling the story understand it better. Better. The main character in the story, the yellow wallpaper, stands for the feelings she is holding back. It’s “ripped,” “soiled,” “unclean yellow,” “revolting,” and it has “formless sort of figures.” The way the wallpaper is described here is a metaphor for the narrator’s life, which is shapeless and depressing. It means that your life is full of bad memories. “Soiled” stands for the act of burying, which means that her ideal life has died. “Ghostly sub-pattern” is a metaphor for her haunted life, where ghosts of the dead help her fly. It shows what she wants concerning her love of writing and being creative. She’d like to fly. The Narrator’s character grows as a person by changing how the reader thinks about them(Schuster and David 695).

In conclusion, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” embodies the spirit of modernism through its unique story structure, rejection of social norms, exploration of a fractured identity, use of subjectivity and unreliable narration, linguistic experimentation, portrayal of alienation, and criticism of scientific authority. The main character’s fall into madness shows Gilman’s understanding of the worries and difficulties of modern life, making “The Yellow Wallpaper” an essential piece of modernist literature.

Works Cited

“Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” (1913) | The American Yawp Reader.” The American Yawp,

Butler, Halle. “The Trouble with Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” The Paris Review, 11 Mar. 2021,

Davison, Carol Margaret. “Haunted house/haunted heroine: Female gothic closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”” Women’s Studies 33.1 (2004): 47-75.

Manbrol, Nasrullah. “Analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” Literary Theory and Criticism, 27 Apr. 2022,

Schuster, David G. “Personalizing illness and modernity: S. Weir Mitchell, literary women, and neurasthenia, 1870–1914.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2005): 695-722.


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