Who is the Narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper?

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

The narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's ''The Yellow Wallpaper'' fulfills several roles. She is the patient and wife of the man attending to her. Perhaps more importantly, the narrator is a prisoner in her own home. She is a physical representation of the woman in the wallpaper.


When we hear a story, it is usually told from a particular point of view. This can affect how we react to the story. When reading a story, the person narrating can take several forms. In some instances, the narrator is omniscient and knows everything that is going on. Other times they have a limited but specific point of view. In Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator describes events from a first-person perspective, describing her own feelings and observations.

It is obvious that the narrator is a woman who believes that she is not well. In narrating the story, she takes on several roles. One of the more immediate is that she is a patient. She mentions that she is ''to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.'' She indicates that she is suffering a ''temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency.'' So she remains at home and is ''absolutely forbidden to 'work'.'' While she may insist that she is suffering from some illness, her physician disagrees with this self-diagnosis.


The narrator is married to her physician. He believes that ''there is really nothing the matter.'' Yet he continues to prescribe rest, ''phosphates…and tonics.'' In addition to this, he recommends that she refrain from any type of work. This means that she is not allowed to write, and he ''hardly lets her stir without direction.'' He essentially controls her movements and activities. The only thing she can do on her own is think. In her narration, she finds that these restrictions make her ''a comparative burden.'' Rather than curing his wife, he seems to encourage her to accept a life of domesticity.

The narrator explains how she would like to ''make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.'' Her husband, however, just gathers her ''up in his arms, and just carried (her) upstairs and laid (her) on the bed.'' Her husband does more than just confine her. He tells her ''to sleep all (she) can.'' She comments throughout her narration that she loves her husband, mentioning that he in return ''said I was his darling.'' By the end of the story, however, she is painting a different picture. She tells her husband that she has ''got out at last…in spite of you and Jane!'' She will no longer be submissive.


A portrait of the narrator that is only mentioned briefly is her role as a mother. She never describes having the baby, or even seeing it for that matter. The narrator does mention that ''the baby is well and happy.'' She gives an indication that she has concern for her child. Even her husband indicates that she has concern for her child. He wants her to recover not only ''for my sake (but) for our child's sake.'' All these expressions of concern and love for her child, yet why is the child not with her?

The answer comes in a comment made by the narrator as she describes the home they are renting. She is happy that the baby ''does not have to occupy this nursery.'' She tells the reader that while the house does bother her, she ''can stand it so much easier than a baby.'' Does she not want the baby, or is her malaise related to the birth of her child? Although the narrator expresses concern and love for her child, she clearly prefers that the baby not be with her.


There is indication that the narrator is a prisoner in her own home early in the story. Her husband controls her movements and keeps her in ''the nursery at the top of the house.'' Her sister-in-law even provides the husband with ''a very good report'' about his wife's activities and behavior. She is monitored and watched during the day. At night, when she cannot sleep, she realizes that she is a prisoner.

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