The Yellow Wallpaper Questions: Critical Literary Analysis of Form, Structure, Language and Context

Directed Questions to enhance textual knowledge and quality of response.

The narrator’s husband:

1. Find and note down the detail which we are given about him.  What impression does the reader gather?   For instance:

the narrator states that ‘he is very careful and loving’, he does laugh at her and he cautions her not to give way to fancy’.  He calls her his ‘blessed goose’ and he asks, ‘Can you not trust me as a physician?’   He gives instructions such as to ‘lie down for an hour after meals.’ How do you respond to these points?

2. How does the narrator relate to her husband differently from how a twenty first century reader might, to such a man?   For instance, how do you feel about:

‘John says I mustn’t lose strength’ and how do you respond to her apparent helplessness and her ‘unreasonable’ anger?  Consider his final words, which are an instruction albeit couched in endearing terms: ‘Open the door, my darling!’

Response to the narrator:

4. There is a change of narrator from the incarcerated wife to the person from inside the wallpaper.  How are the tones of the two narrators different?  What is the social significance of her being an obedient and respectful wife who believes John is…so wise’,  She wife recognises that her husband ‘does not believe I am sick’ and that he ‘does not know how much I really suffer.’  In what ways is she suffering?  Who is the other woman?

5. Consider where the narrator becomes more anxious with no sense of her earlier actions.  Address the matter that the narrator is unreliable: find examples.

Look at the different ways in which tension is created for instance:

6. The reader  does not fully understand character.

7. The nature of such images as: ‘strangled heads and bulbous eyes’.

8. The struggle when e.g.: ‘I pulled and she shook’.

9. The desperation and/or anger at not being able to move the bed.

10. The impact of different thoughts following on quickly from each other in short sentences towards the end of the story.

11.Find examples of an increasing sense of the bizarre.

12. The threat of ‘Not alive!’

13. Note how the narrator calmly describes her husband’s desperate attempts to enter the room.

What is the purpose or effect of such ironical elements as:

14. Crawling over John – the man who was in control.  Note how the ‘Hurrah’ suggests victory is close and consider the significance of her impersonal description of: ‘that man’

15. The narrator is condescending towards her husband – contrasting with earlier attitude

16. Does escaping from the wallpaper mean that she is trapped in the room?  The narrator wanted to go outside but now wishes to stay inside.

17. At first we feel sorry for the narrator but at the end, might we feel sorry for John?  Or do you feel that a woman is finally able to exert control?  What price victory?

18. Yellow was despised but later becomes desirable.

19. Find other examples of irony and consider how they help to identify meaning

Time element:

20. Note they are about to return home – but there is ‘enough’ time.

21. The gnawing of the bed leg has been done before.

22. The room is denuded as it had been at the beginning with the clear implication that the events have also recurred.

Place element:

23. The setting has barred windows, a bed that is screwed to the floor, a gate at the head of the stairs and the room is locked.  Do you feel this might have a wider metaphorical significance relating to the place of women in Victorian Society?  What is the physical atmosphere of the story?

24. What is the dramatic impact of  Unity of Place?  i.e. action all takes place in the one room, from which even the reader has no escape!

25. How do you react to such surprising elements as:

26. The woman coming out of the wallpaper – and being tied up by the other!

27. What do you make of the wallpaper?  Is there any symbolism?  What is it symbolic of?

Victorian England:

28. Do you think that Perkins is exposing the plight of women in Victorian England?  Give support to your view with textual references.

29. Do you feel that the author has written an allegorical tale of patriarchal dominance and the need for female emancipation?   Justify with reference to the text.


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