Creativity and Rationality in Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper

Date:  2022-01-04 18:36:26
4 pages  (1020 words)
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The Yellow Wallpaper is an extremely powerful short story which lets its readers look at the conflict between creativity and rationality through the eyes of a young married woman, an idealistic individual, and a troubled artist. The speaker's perspective is neither objective nor reliable, of course, but, at the same time, the narrative is quite full, detailed and many-sided as the protagonist is recording both the impulses that prompt her to act and feel in a certain way and the profound emotional effect it has had on her. While on the explicit level, the creative impulse is being dominated by the rational beginning, it is too strong a force to be entirely smothered, so it finds its way into the narrator's subconscious sphere and, deformed by the over-controlling rational beginning, takes on destructive and unnatural forms. Through the carefully selected narrative techniques and usage of symbols the author is exploring the conflict between the creative and the rational beginnings, coming to an enlightening conclusion that creativity is an important psychological outlet and a kind of self-balancing mechanism of the human psyche: interference with it can be fatal.

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The two characters in the story personify the two beginnings: the rational one and the creative one. The narrator is an embodiment of the creative force. She is a born writer, and a talented one at that. Her style is full of subtle humor and irony: John is a physician, perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster (647). Her vision is unique: she sees the garden in a synaesthetic way as being delicious with its box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them (648). But she is clearly a troubled artist experiencing an existential crisis. She fully realizes that creativity is a beneficial outlet for her: I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind (647), says the protagonist. She believes that that congenial work, with excitement and change would do her good (648). Unfortunately, her belief is not shared by her rational husband.

The narrator's husband is an embodiment of the rational sphere: John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. (647) Being seen by her husband as a troubled artist the main character falls completely under his control: John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad (648). John is an embodiment of impassive and logical nature: I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me about this wall-paper! (649). In this way this character is opposed to the protagonist.

The yellow wall-paper in the story acts as a litmus paper which registers the changes in the narrator's state of mind and sensitivity. At first, she gives quite a reasonable and easily digestible description of it: One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin (648). The description clearly manifests the narrators writing skills: It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide - plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions (648). The narrative talent is especially evident in the way the narrator deals with the color scheme: The color is repellant, almost revolting a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulfur tint in others (648). Yet, as the action progresses the observations and descriptions become more and more phantasmagoric until finally they start to resemble hallucinations of a mentally-challenged person:

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is always trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern - it strangles so I think that is why it has so many heads. They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white! (654).

The conflict between the main characters is an embodiment of the conflict between the rational and the creative spheres of the human psyche. It is not explicit, because the narrator's husband is declaring his best intentions in trying to suppress his wifes will and vitality: He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more (648). Thus, one of the themes communicated in the story is spiritual blindness. John is almost literally blinded by his own self-assuredness and pays too little attention to his wife's state of mind to figure out what she is going through. Her own creative flame consumes herself. It is a valuable lesson to everyone as we all can become victims of our own emotional short-sightedness.


The human psyche is an extremely complex awe-inspiring mechanism where many impulses are carefully balanced so that they promote and improve each other's work. When the balance is ruined, the resulting lack of alignment affects the functioning of the whole system. As Gilman's short story shows, creativity, this essential human need for self-expression, is one of the core elements of this system. Fortunately, in modern society, it is finally getting to be appreciated on par with analytical abilities. Nowadays creativity is no less important than literacy. Gilman's short story is a literary insight that makes this message sound powerful, genuine and urgent.

Works Cited

Perkins Stetson, Charlotte. The Yellow Wall-Paper.

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