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"The Yellow Wallpaper"

Part I:
Read "The Yellow Wallpaper" on page 233. In your groups, using the small group discussion board, consider the following questions:

Describe the character in "The Yellow Wallpaper." Is she flat or round, representative or individual?
In the beginning, the narrator refers to her husband John and herself as "ordinary people." What makes the setting and the people at the beginning of the story seem so ordinary? What kind of ordinary person does the narrator seem to be?
When do you notice the first hints of something extraordinary?
Is there an antagonist-protagonist relationship in this story? Why or why not?
What and how do you learn about the narrator's illness? What and how do you learn about the treatment proposed by the doctor-husband?
How does the wallpaper become an obsessive preoccupation in this story? How does its appearance slowly change and shift? How does its meaning change or evolve as the central symbol in the story? What are some major stages?
What is the symbolic contrast between the garden and the enclosed, confined room? Why does the woman, herself, throw the key away?
What, for you, is the symbolic meaning of the way the story ends? Can the ending be read as a kind of liberation? Why or why not?

Part II:
Read the two sample student papers reading the Charlotte Perkins Gilman text (pages 254-258). After reading these two different readings, consider the following questions:

Discussions of the story find symbolic meaning in many key elements of the story. How do the two papers compare in their interpretation of key symbols? How do they read the symbolic meaning of the wallpaper pattern, the woman behind the paper, the creeping, and the peeling of the paper?
Critics have probed the symbolic meaning of the colors green and yellow that play a major role in the story. Do the student writers agree in their reading of the color symbolism in the story?
Like the writing of other earlier women authors, Gilman's story is read by today's readers with a new awareness of traditional gender roles and women's issues. How do the two student papers compare in their estimate of what the story means to today's woman and today's man?

Part III:
Examine your group's first set of responses and look for ways in which your interpretations agreed with and/or disagreed with the sample student essays.
As a group, create one essay that summarizes your group's responses to all of the questions above.

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Solution Preview

In terms of the kind of character she is, most interpretations see her as a representative character. She represents people with mental problems, women trapped in marriages they don't want, women in a society that favors men, etc. I found the summary and the interpretations on Wiki Pedia to be extremely helpful and correct. You can even listen to it being read at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yellow_Wallpaper

Here is the text from the link that I think is most helpful.
Told in first-person perspective?in the form of a series of journal entries?the story details the descent into madness of a woman suffering from what her physician husband John describes as a "temporary nervous depression ? a slight hysterical tendency." The protagonist is given no name, possibly in order to make the story easier to relate to and to give a broader message. John believes it is in the narrator's best interest to go on a rest cure, since he only credits what is observable and scientific. He serves as his wife's physician, therefore treating her like a powerless patient. The story hints that part of the woman's problem is that she recently gave birth to a child, insinuating she may be suffering from what would, in modern times, be called postpartum depression. While on vacation for the summer at a colonial mansion, the narrator senses "something queer about it." The narrator is confined in an upstairs room to recuperate by her well-meaning but dictatorial and oblivious husband, but this treatment only exacerbates her depression.

She devotes many journal entries to obsessively describing the wallpaper ? its "yellow" smell, its "breakneck," scrawling pattern; she also describes the various patches it is missing and the fact that it leaves yellow smears on the skin and clothing of anyone who touches it. (Said yellow smears are found on her clothing, suggesting that all along it was she that was shredding the wallpaper). Obsessing over the hatred she believes radiates from the room, she supposes that it must have once been a nursery, and that the children who lived in it hated the wallpaper as much as she did. She notes a patch of wallpaper has been rubbed off at her shoulder height early in the book, and after lapsing into insanity confirms that she was the one who had done all the damage to the room, although she is oblivious to this fact herself. She describes how the longer one stays in the bedroom, the more the wallpaper appears to mutate and change, especially in the moonlight. With no other stimuli than the wallpaper, the pattern and designs on the wallpaper become increasingly intriguing, and a figure of a woman soon appears in the design. She eventually reaches the conclusion that the figure is trying to escape the bars from the shadows, and that there is a ...