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Research Essay on 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

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The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892 expresses the severity of the suffering people encounter behind closed doors regarding mental illnesses and the factors that affect this. The short story follows a young woman and her diary entries as she documents her journey suffering from post-partum depression. During this time, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the wallpaper within the room she is confined in. Postpartum depression which is now more commonly recognized was misunderstood at the time The Yellow Wallpaper was written in Gilman’s time women in an unstable state after pregnancy was put on the ‘rest cure’ the negative consequences of this medical concern are portrayed alongside the negative effects of mental illness shown by language features within The Yellow Wallpaper and the NAMI mental health blog.

As the text continues the narrator’s mental state is seen to worsen in parallelism to her fascination with the wallpaper. This explanation of mental illness was created with the intention to help people escape a similar state. Gilman sighted during an interview for ‘The Forerunner magazine how the short story has to her knowledge ‘saved one woman from a similar fate’ (Perkins 1913). This reinstates the importance of the purpose of the novel which is to inform others of how possible cures are not the right answer for all individuals suffering from mental health. The Yellow Wallpaper links directly with the postpartum depression that Gilman herself suffered from giving an illuminating meaning to the chosen purpose of the story where she hopes to ‘enlighten other women who had similar experiences. The novel explores different themes such as gender roles, self-expression, appearance vs. reality, and particularly mental health which are carried throughout the short story. I covered the whole text which ensures all aspects of the text are fully understood as well as all themes and ideas implied throughout the novel.

As a perfect example of comparison, I analyzed a blog surrounding a modern-day story and experience of suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia. The different blog posts give an insight into different people’s experiences with mental health conditions in today’s day and age and the type of treatments which can be compared to the 19th Century and how this affected different people expressed through language techniques. My reason for choosing these texts to reflect mental illness is the rawness of first-hand experiences just like in The Yellow Wallpaper they give us a clear first-hand idea of the feelings and emotions associated with different disorders. I chose to focus on the theme of mental illness for my investigation as I believe the impacts of raising awareness can be monumental as seen in The Yellow Wallpaper. The blog post I have chosen also reinstates an illuminating sense of understanding, for people’s everyday struggles. From coming from a family with a history of mental health these texts and investigating them gained an overwhelming interest from me.

The investigation aims to examine language within semantic fields, interrogatives, and emotive language. This is reflected in the literature and language within the two time periods.

How does the use of semantic fields portray the experience of mental illness?

Throughout the entirety of The Yellow Wallpaper,(Gilman 1892) the reader is constantly aware of an underlying tense emotion of horror and paranoia an effect that while being effectively used works well to show the displacement of emotions as portrayed by the protagonist. The writer chooses for example a semantic field of pain to show how emotions are suppressed under the surface when dealing with a mental illness presenting an underlying horror that portrays a significantly deeper horror. The idea that harsh vocabulary connoting pain is in black and white on the page they‘re hidden in between ordinary language and discourse minimizing their importance when explaining ordinary aspects, in this case, the wallpaper the protagonist explains ‘the pattern is torturing’ the simplicity burying the association of the dynamic verb torturing. The written mode of the text is extremely interesting in this context as we explore the interpretation of the hidden meaning of words and linguistics. Furthermore, the use of the pre-modifying adjectives ‘barred’, ‘vicious’, and ‘broken’. Particularly the evaluative adjective ‘broken’ expresses the idea of physical horror and abnormality it expresses the writer’s urgency to show things are not as they should be. The combination of adjectives together showcases an ultimate element of horror the evaluative adjective ‘foul’ gives the reader a sense of lingering bitterness insinuating the consequences are long-lasting building a repeating pattern of inevitable horror. The normalization behind the noun ‘pattern’ again acts as a concealment for the horror the protagonist is feeling mirroring how her everyday routines mask her hidden deep pain and horror from her mental illness. The continued use of dynamic verbs such as ‘slaps’ and ‘tramples’ works to readdress this idea of physical pain mirroring the repressed emotional pain the writer is trying to mirror with the lexical and semantic field of horror. The collection of language features to present darkness highlights ideas of being constantly surrounded by horror giving the perception it is almost inescapable. This is presented throughout a range of pre-modifying adjectives ‘dark’, and ‘black’ and the use of ‘fog and ‘night’ give an illusion of being unable to see clearly. The element of fog as a noun within the semantic field is therefore interesting as it re implies ideas of struggling and repressing emotions.

Similarly, the NAMI blog mirrors a similar semantic field of darkness. The semantic field portrays the theme of negative emotions relating to the experiences of poor mental health the field contains phrases such as ‘dark’, ‘horrid’, ‘consumed’, ‘pit’, and ‘suffer’. The use of the concrete noun ‘pit’ within the field of language highlights the idea of feeling trapped as if the emotions being experienced are inescapable this connotes a horror of isolation portraying the same themes expressed within The Yellow Wallpaper. The use of this within a semantic field highlights this structural thought of being surrounded and therefore unable to escape. The other verbs and pre-modifying adjectives within the semantic field, therefore, contribute to this feeling of being overwhelmed and trapped as their negative connotations represent the fear the speaker is talking about. The adjectives within the semantic field such as ‘dark’ and ‘quiet’ add to the image forming when following the text’s story giving us a better picture of the overall sense of emotion instead of leaving the audience to guess referencing the emotional pain being experienced boldly portraying an on-going element of horror as presented throughout. The use of dynamic verbs gives the readers a sense of involvement and a personal approach when reading the blog making the semantic field technique even more effective in portraying an inescapable tone of darkness. This makes the reality of mental illness and the horror associated relevant.

The writers in both texts present similar ideas within their text with the technique of a semantic field the texts really detail a similar emotion of horror and consistent emotional pain which interestingly gives a similar impression to BPD – (borderline psychiatric disorder) which is said to produce intense emotional pain, agony, and distress to its sufferers. This gives audiences a feeling of not being alone as they can see others even with different diagnoses’ feel a similar emotion of pain. This is especially useful in the blog context for the NAMI blog as people suffering may be reading these blogs specifically to seek identification with individuals going through similar emotions.

How does emotive language portray negative emotions?

Within the NAMI blog, there is the constant use of emotive language used throughout giving an illuminating sense of fear and emotional pain struggle. For instance the effective use of the short emotive declarative, ‘Consumed by your own thoughts’ and the dynamic verb ‘consumed’ gives an emotional impression of having nowhere to turn and being trapped with no other option the use of this verb with the possessive determiner ‘you're’ highlights the self-destructive elements within mental health it almost adds an element of shock highlighting the importance of recognizing your own individual demons. The blog then goes on to describe the experience of depression with the emotive statement ‘You can’t handle the darkness that’s pulling you into an eternal abyss…’ The abstract noun ‘darkness’ immediately sets the tone as cold foreshadowing the emotive language. The dynamic verb pulling represents abstract forces manipulating emotions the use of this emotive technique gives the statement substance, helping the reader to develop an understanding it presents an element of restraint portraying the physical and emotional aspects of pain. The pre-modifying emotive adjective ‘eternal’ really makes the reader think about the experiences they are reading about the fact the pain from these emotions does not just go away it is something the speaker will suffer with forever this adds a deeper sense of thought to evaluate giving the emotive technique a depth that is effective in requiring the reader to emphasize.

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Within The Yellow Wallpaper, when describing the pattern of the wallpaper, the protagonist goes into significant detail seeing emotive and unpleasant images. The writer uses emotive language to describe the people the protagonist is seeing to ‘suddenly commit suicide’ with intense vocabulary detailing they ‘plunge off at outrageous angles’. The casual use of the uncountable noun suicide within the description highlights as seen before a hidden deeper meaning and ultimately extremely negative emotions mirroring the protagonist’s depression. The mention of suicide ultimately shocks the reader causing a deeper realization of the consequences of negative emotions within depression. The dynamic verb ‘plunge’ connotes a negative emotion of feeling trapped and almost submerged perhaps replicating the inner thoughts and feelings of the speaker and ultimately recollecting Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s experiences of emotions from her encounter with post-partum depression. This mirrored effect of hidden meanings within discourse causes deeper processing behind the language in the narrative text. The way the writer specifies the way these hidden people are committing suicide gives a much colder and negative tone surrounding the whole text. The formal register is also significant here as it replicates this colder more distant tone within the language relating to and supporting the semantic field within. The final emotive dynamic verb of the complex description ‘destroy’ almost replicates the horror and emotional pain associated with these connoted negative emotions. Interestingly the verb mimics how the effect of mental health can also destroy lives.

Overall both texts connote the feelings of negative emotions within the text through the use of emotive language similarly presenting horrific and emotional feelings and consequences of mental health. The register comes into significance with the use of this language feature whilst the NAMI blog maintains a slightly more colloquial register The Yellow Wallpaper has a formal register in turn making the story and the characters seem more distant.

How does the use of interrogatives present the idea of insecurity?

Throughout the text of The Yellow Wallpaper, there is a repeated pattern of interrogatives which creates a tense and anxious tone ‘What can one do?’ as presented in the discourse the interrogatives often refer to the actions of the narrator clarifying she is talking about herself. The constant self-doubt is also presented through the modal verb ‘can’. The constant pattern of self-questioning allows the reader to understand the elements of mental illness demonstrated in this case such as anxiety. The pattern continues with ‘Did not that sound innocent?’ the sentence mode picking up the pace and mirroring the protagonist’s panicked emotions. The use of questioning also highlights the significance of words used around the question such as when questioning the protagonist is questioning her own dialogue the post modifying adjective ‘innocent’.

Within the NAMI blog, a similar effect is mirrored presenting a similar effect to the intended audience. Interestingly although the same technique is used the structure of interrogatives differs between the two texts with the blog using repetition interrogative followed by interrogative whereas the yellow wallpaper presents the interrogatives with gaps and distance between them. These different structural techniques can be looked at from different perspectives and judged on the way they interpret language features. ‘Will she be okay with it?’ ‘Will she laugh?’ the constant use of the interrogative represents the continuous invasive thoughts sufferers deal with having no break in the sentence mode links back to the idea of the emotions being inescapable. The constant need to question the surroundings the speaker is in gives a greater idea of insecurity highlighting a constant need for reassurance giving an insight into the invasive thoughts that are being described.

Using the same technique to create a similar effect highlights the significance of anxiety within mental illnesses creating an ongoing effect of insecurity for many people widening the scope of the texts.


Originally, I intended to explore how the different genres of texts worked together to illicit a realistic image of mental illness experiences and consequences within their different registers and forms. Overall, I believe there is an element of success as we can see how the different aspects of linguistics enable the audience to see similar effects portrayed differently. The degree of personal emotive language presented within the short text gives the audience an overall empathy and contextualized understanding of the protagonist portraying the element of ‘psychogenic pain’ through language features.

The use of first-person within the text’s narrator provides a deeper and more personal approach to exploring the element of poor mental health. Both texts present the same emotions of pain and horror with the use of distinguished emotive language and semantic fields and the use of first-person within the text’s narrator provides a deeper and more personal approach. However, the difference in genre presents these ideas differently with my non-literary text being a blog it allows for a more modern and personal tone being received the fact that it is presented online also means it has the potential to reach millions compared to the 19th- century origins of my literary short novel. This leads back to the purpose of the texts the blog to potentially reach and help millions in the same situation and the novel to tell a story reflective of the author’s personal experience this, therefore, alters the difference they have therefore made within society.

Ultimately, I feel both texts have contributed to this and as I have shown have demonstrated this through the use of emotive and intriguing narrative techniques. Therefore, I would consider my exploration a success for these perceptive and emotional objectives which have been maintained throughout the entirety of the investigation.

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Research Essay on ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. (2023, November 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
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