Not Getting Any Better: An Explication of a Passage in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
The paint and paper look as if a boys’ school had used it. It is stripped off–the paper in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.
One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.
The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight (Gilman).
This passage presents the writer of “The Yellow Wallpaper” describing the title of her story – the yellow wallpaper – for the first time. After describing her illness to the reader as “temporary nervous depression,” the writer informs the reader that her husband has brought her to a new place for rest and revitalization (Gilman). Even so, the writer’s dark thoughts are evident as she describes the yellow wallpaper in loathsome terms. As a matter of fact, the writer is describing her own lowly condition as the yellow wallpaper – an object she detests.
She describes the wallpaper as “stripped off,” as though it had been used by a school for boys (Gilman). Thus she relates her belief that boys might be violent, which in turn is connected to her dark or depressed frame of mind. Thinking of violence is, in fact, depressing on its own. The wallpaper is stripped off “in great patches all around the head of my bed,” according to the writer (Gilman). Because she believes that her illness too is connected to her head, that is, the seat of the brain, she does not find it difficult to analyze her own mental condition thus. Cognitive psychologists believe that depression may be caused by unhealthy patterns of thinking. Hence, the “great patches all around the head of my bed” remind the reader that the writer is trying to understand or know something that she has not been able to gather thus far, which is actually the cause of her depression (Gilman). The writer is unable to “reach” what she is perhaps subconsciously trying to “reach” (Gilman). Because she loves to write, as described elsewhere in the story – it is obvious that she may be one of those fortunate few that try to gather as much knowledge as they can. For as long as she has not found what she is trying to search through her own mind or experiences, she may remain depressed. Subconsciously, however, she knows that she means well by trying to search for the meaning of something she is yet to uncover for herself. Thus she mentions “a great place on the other side of the room low down (Gilman).” While it is “great” to gather knowledge she feels “low” because she is yet to find what she is searching for in the privacy of her mind (Gilman). On a similar note, she writes about “sprawling” flamboyance alongside her mention of “sin” (Gilman). It is interesting that she uses the word “patterns,” too, as if she is at least subconsciously aware that there is something seriously awry about her thought patterns (Gilman).
The yellow paper is “dull,” according to the writer, although yellow is the color of brightness and joy (Gilman). The depressed person is confused in his or her thoughts, which is the reason why the writer describes the yellow wallpaper as “dull enough to confuse the eye (Gilman).” Of course, “the eye” is considered one of the seats of understanding, as is the ear, in mystical terms (Gilman). Earlier in the story the reader is informed that the writer may very well be a believer in superstition, which in fact is connected to mysticism. The depressed person realizes that he or she is suffering, thus the wallpaper (or the writer’s own dull state of mind) is “pronounced enough to constantly irritate (Gilman).” What is more, her depression leads her to “study” that which she is irritated about (Gilman). Depressed people tend to ruminate on the same things again and again. Their thought patterns irritate them; this is the reason why the writer’s “study” of the wallpaper is provocative (Gilman). She mentions lameness and uncertainty as well, before mentioning the unmentionable – “suicide (Gilman)!” Undoubtedly, depression is intimately connected to suicidal ideation. Plunging off “at outrageous angles” and destruction of oneself in “unheard of contradictions” are further descriptions of the writer’s state of mind (Gilman). Indeed, she is depressed beyond her understanding. Even though she mentions through the beginning of the story that her husband considers it “temporary” depression, she might believe otherwise, which is why she describes the wallpaper in such gravely negative terms (Gilman).
It is not surprising, therefore, that the writer refers to repulsion and revulsion as well. Of course, to smolder is to have strong feelings that are suppressed. She mentions uncleanliness, too, because her own thoughts are dirty or bad – leading her astray – according to herself. Strange fadedness is yet another description of her state of mind. Finally, she believes that the sunlight is “slow-turning (Gilman).” After all, she is convinced that she is not getting any better, despite the effort made by her husband to help her rejuvenate her spirit.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 31 May 2008.