Tag Archives: analysis

Symbolism, Characterization, and Themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Below is my detailed literary analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” for my students and for me … and for you. I used to review and analyze every story that I studied in graduate school, and later, every story I taught. I’ve decided that I want to do that again to help me with my own teaching. My thoughts from 2003 on this story can be found on the blog here, but I thought it was worth updating. My teaching materials for this story – which are extensive – will be available at some time, too, hopefully in the near future.


“The Yellow Wallpaper” (originally the title appeared as “The Yellow Wall-paper”) was first published in 1892 and is based largely on the author’s own experiences. Like many women of her time, including Virginia Woolf (who address this in Mrs. Dalloway), Gilman (then Stetson) was subjected to the “rest cure” a treatment for (generally postpartum) depression. Pioneered by Silas Weir Mitchell – who is called out by name in Gilman’s story – it involved keeping the woman’s mind unstimulated by forbidding reading and writing (aka thinking), and prescribing bed rest that generally included no exercise or socializing. Added to this was a diet heavy in often raw meat, and high fat foods such as butter and milk; this was due to Mitchell’s belief that women’s depression was caused by a lack of “blood and fat,” which the rest cure was meant to remedy. The treatment was worse than the disease for many women, and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was considered an indictment of the treatment, and which directly contributed to its discontinuation. Gilman also explained this in her brief essay, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,which you can read online here.


Unnamed Narrator: As tempted as everyone is to call her “Charlotte,” the narrator of the story has no name. She is taken to a house and subjected to the “rest cure,” which gradually drives her insane. She writes the story as a diary or series of letters over the period of her confinement. At the end of the story she has descended completely into madness.

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The Triumph of Sisterly Love in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”

I wrote this summary and analysis of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” to help myself understand the poem better. Poetry isn’t my strong suit, I admit, but hopefully this will be helpful to someone. I was going to teach it at one point, but ultimately decided against it; maybe someday I will change my mind yet again.


Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti Illustrated by Dion Clayton CalthropChristina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” (written in April 1859, published in 1862) opens with lush images of fruit being peddled by anxious goblin salesmen. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, appear by the river and Lizzie, afraid of what the the fruits may have been ripened on, covers her eyes, but Laura stares at the goblin men. Laura becomes entranced by the goblins, and Lizzie runs away before the goblins approach Laura.

Even though she wants to buy the goblin fruit, Laura has no money, but they tell her she has “much gold” on her head, and so she exchanges a lock of hair for fruit, which she eats ravenously. In a trance Laura returns home where Lizzie scolds her with the cautionary tale of Jeanie who became addicted to goblin fruit and died when she could not get more. Laura reassures Lizzie that she can always get more goblin fruit and will bring her some tomorrow.

The next morning they do their chores while Laura secretly pines for nightfall so she can return to the market. The sisters go to the river to fetch water and Laura delays them until past sunset; however, Laura can no longer see or hear the goblins, now only Lizzie is able to see them. Laura returns home heart-sick and, while Lizzie sleeps, Laura gnashes her teeth and weeps uncontrollably.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley JacksonThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson was originally published in 1959 before being being turned into two movies and (soon) a Netflix series. After terrorizing students for years with her short story, “The Lottery,” I became intrigued by this novel when a friend read it for a book club. A year later, I’m happy to say that I finished the novel, and in two readings nonetheless. The night I started it, I stopped reading it when I was about 80 pages in because I could tell something terrifying was about to happen, and I didn’t want to be up all night either reading it or worrying about ghosts.

The novel has a relatively small cast of characters: Dr. John Montague, a paranormal scientist; Eleanor Vance (Nell) a shy woman of 32 who has taken care of her mother for the last 11 years; Theodora (Theo) who seems to possess some sort of telepathic or psychic abilities; and Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house, a charming rake, and whose aunt seems to want to get rid of him. If four people from diverse backgrounds staying overnight in a haunted mansion where terrible events took place seems trite, don’t blame Jackson: she invented these tropes. As much as I hate horror movies, I absolutely love terror in books, and Jackson’s novel is a slow, atmospheric build. Once events start happening you know that it’s already out of control, and many questions remain unanswered at the end of the novel.

The Question of Eleanor and Theodora

One of the main questions that I ended the novel with is about Eleanor and Theodora; are they in love? I talked about “lesbian disruptions” in my The Return of the Soldier writeup, but this is something more. Eleanor is the shy mousy girl in the story, she’s living with her sister, Carrie, and her brother-in-law three months after her mother, who she was forced to take care of, died. She hated her mother, and kind of slept through her mother’s demand for medicine, which may have been what killed her. Oops! At 32 years old we get the impression that she’s never had a boyfriend or relationship of any kind, and that she sees herself as essentially unwanted. She has a wild, immersive imagination that fills the beginning sections of the novel, and she covers up the banality of her own life with pieces of these early daydreams. It’s only at the end of the novel that she reveals that she truly has no place to go home to, and it’s crushing.

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I Just Watched Season 8 of The Big Bang Theory and I’m Depressed

Big Bang Theory Season 8

Show of hands: Who though Season 8 was weak?

Season 9 of The Big Bang Theory is six weeks away and over the last week Boyfriend and I have been marathoning Season 8 to prepare. I only started watching the show last December and now I’ve watched every episode in fairly rapid succession. While Seasons 1 through 7 are lighthearted and hilarious with only a few hiccups, Season 8 was uniformly depressing. I’m not sure why, but the show seems to be taking a How I Met Your Mother approach to ruining a sitcom by making everyone have super sad “real life” stuff to worry about. Spoiler alert: if I wanted to worry about real life I would be worrying about my real life and not watching a sitcom. To put it another way: if I wanted a show about adult people being sad I’d watch a drama or listen to my neighbors fight through the walls. I wanted to grab Season 8 by the collar and shake it while yelling “Be a comedy!” at it’s stupid face.

One of the major issues is that this season centered around Howard’s mom dying. The actress who voiced her did die in real life and the show made the decision not to re-cast, unusual for a comedy. They even let you know that they could have re-cast her in the episode where Bernadette yells at Sheldon and Leonard off camera. Strangely, there was no fade-to-black-no-music-in-memory-of-credits which would have been much classier considering they got rid of her character. The death of a parent also happens in HIMYM and signals the big down turn in that show as well. The only successful comedy with dramatic character maturation that was still successful that comes to mind is Frasier.

Frasier is, in many ways, a similar show, chronicling the romantic plights of the misfit brothers Frasier and Niles Crane. Like BBT’s Raj, both brothers are mistaken for homosexuals frequently, with Frasier once accidentally dating a man (Patrick Stewart), and considering continuing to do so after he realizes what’s happening. Frasier and Niles are both lovable misfits, and both struggle, mature, and end up in love. Their foil is their father Marty (Martin), who experiences similar growth, and ends up with a significantly younger wife, Ronnie, the brother’s former babysitter. While all three of these characters go through conflict and change before finding true love, they are also all doing it at different points in the show. While Niles is going through his upheavals, Frasier and Marty are relatively stable. When Frasier undergoes his major crisis at the end of the series, Niles and Marty have both happily re-married and are in healthy relationships. This is, I believe, the secret to Frasier’s success, and the reason that Season 8 of Big Bang Theory is a failure: all of BBT’s characters are having major issues all at the same time.

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