The Yellow Wallpaper Figurative Language

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  • 0:03 Summary of ''The…
  • 0:56 Figurative Language
  • 1:26 Imagery
  • 2:24 Personification
  • 3:05 Similes
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson will teach readers about the types of figurative language that Charlotte Perkins Gilman used to enhance her descriptions in her 1892 feminist short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'

Summary of ''The Yellow Wallpaper''

Charlotte Perkins Gilman published her famous short story, ''The Yellow Wallpaper,'' in 1892. It is about a young woman whose husband, a doctor, wants her to stay in bed and do nothing after the birth of their child. He believes she is afflicted with nervous anxiety and that as little stimulation as possible is the best cure. They rent an old house for the summer, and the story is comprised of journal entries written by the woman.

Readers watch as the woman slips further and further into insanity, fueled by the strange designs of the gaudy wallpaper in her room and the lack of stimulation in every other aspect of her life. By the end of the story, the woman believes that there is a woman trapped in the patterns of the wallpaper, trying to escape. The story is an early feminist statement about the treatment of the physical and mental health of women and how misguided male doctors often were about what is best for women.

Figurative Language

Gilman uses figurative language, or words and phrases that are not literal, to emphasize the woman's loss of touch with reality. She chiefly uses imagery, personification, and similes to achieve this effect. Readers must also pay attention to the connotations, or feelings associated with a particular word, which contribute to a creepy, nightmarish atmosphere of the room. She uses words like revolting, unclean, fungus, and many others that have a negative connotation.


Imagery is a type of figurative language where the writer uses words and phrases that appeal to the senses. This is sometimes also called sensory language. Gilman uses a lot of imagery to vividly describe how horrible and strange the yellow wallpaper is that hangs in the woman's room. For example, she writes, ''The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.'' This is one of the first observations the woman makes about the wallpaper in her journal.

Several pages later she writes, ''The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus.'' Towards the end of the story, the description of the pattern is more detailed and terrifying: ''All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!'' This use of imagery, and the way it changes over the course of the story, reflects the woman's increasing madness.

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