The Use of Irony in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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The short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells a story of suspense which focuses on a woman’s descent into madness. As a treatment for her depression, her husband John--who is also her doctor--orders that she stay locked up in an old nursery with decrepit, yellow wallpaper. The narrator’s state of mind becomes increasingly frantic and as the story progresses; this, in turn, creates dramatic irony in the story, a literary motif in which the audience is aware of a truth that the narrator is not. “The Yellow Wallpaper” craftily shows how that creative stifling of the narrator as a means of psychological therapy only worsens her condition to the point of insanity.

Many of the details of “The Yellow Wallpaper” suggest irony and embellishment. The narrator’s husband tells her that open-air may help her ailment and yet he locks her upstairs in a room in the house that has bars on its windows like a jail cell. While we as readers can infer that the narrator is suffering from post-partum depression, she is put in a room that is intended for children to play in, only reinforcing her separation from her child. Furthermore, there is nothing in the room to play with or to provide comfort; in fact, it is so bare that the design of the wallpaper becomes the narrator’s only point of focus.

While the narrator sometimes believes she is getting better because of her husband’s recommendations, we know she is losing grip on reality, which is totally lost by the end of the story. Because the narrator was forbidden to express herself or become intellectually stimulated, she has only the vibrant, dizzying design of the wallpaper to contemplate. Gilman successfully undermines the dominant beliefs at the time that rest could cure so-called female hysteria.

Work Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Robert DiYanni, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. Print.