Characterization and “The Yellow Wall-Paper”

Many stories are “plot-driven;” that is, they create constraints for the characters to move within to bring about a predestined end. The characters are interchangeable as long as the inevitable outcome takes place. Stories with a moral are typically plot-driven. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” on the other hand, is one that is character driven. In this kind of story, characters are more important than the action and the plot in that they are the ones that bring the story about to their unavoidable ends.

The main character is more important than the action of the story, which largely take place in the background. It is her thoughts that we see throughout Gilman’s story. All of the actions, including other characters’ dialogue, are reported through her and are colored through her perceptions. This main character, who acts as narrator, controls what the reader sees and, more importantly, what the reader believes about what he or she sees. For that reason, it is the narrator’s thoughts that control the movement of the story to its inevitable conclusion.

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Unfortunately, the narrator begins by showing she is not a stable woman through her fanciful idea that the house to which her husband has brought her is not right somehow. While feeling uncomfortable in a new place is not unusual, she soon leaves her laughing comments regarding “superstition” about the house behind and slowly enters madness (Gillman, 1899, p 1). The reader sees the changes in her through her own thoughts as she dissociates from reality.

It is because of her altered psychological state that the wall-paper in the room in which she is confined can seem to come to life; the wall-paper itself, however, remains inanimate in truth. Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” could take place in any room; however, it could not take place in any other woman’s mind. For that reason, the character, not the plot, is what is important in this story.


Gilman, C. P. (1899). The yellow wall-paper. Retrieved 6 January 2008 from http://www. library. csi. cuny. edu/dept/history/lavender/yellowwallpaper. pdf