‘It is the strangest Yellow, that wallpaper! It made me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.’
A quote from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’
The bright yellow sunflowers spread for miles, as far as the eyes go.
The yellow-colored Sun in the drawings of innocent, small kids.
The yellow-colored cabs break the monotony of the line of black and white cars on the roads.
Surely, when we say the color Yellow, you remember the famous Yellow umbrella that led Ted Mosby to meet his wife in ‘How I Met Your Mother’, the famous sitcom.
Fashion influencers say that yellow is a bold color choice and either it can make you look really good or make your entire fashion style look like a disaster. Just in the fashion world, the color yellow holds dual meaning, in the literary pages too, the color yellow represents much more than what the eye catches.
In literature, imagery and symbolism have been used often to deliver deeper meaning to the readers about the context or the mindset of the characters in the story. Among those different symbols and images created as a literary effect, colors played a strong role in telling about the emotions or the mindsets of the characters in a particular scene.
Various colors began to represent multiple emotions and soon, it became part of our psyche that now, simply the color which comes in front of us evokes the same emotions in us too.
Writers are often notoriously famous for saying two things in a single line and while using colors, they made no exception to it.
The color white symbolizes both peace and death.
Red is the color of anger and love.
Blue denotes intellect and melancholy.
With such contradictions in their meaning, colors became a topic of debate and creative use in literature. While some poets and writers used the colors in a very subtle manner, some writers boldly revolved entire themes of their works around these colors.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is an example of it.
The color Yellow is cheerful, bright, is the main color of most emojis of our social media language. But when Gilman uses the color Yellow, she gives it a completely different meaning and tone.
For Gilman, Yellow is not at all positive. In fact, it denotes illness – physical and mental, captivation and a slow rot spreading over one’s heart and spirit. For a long time, since jaundice and various other epidemics made their entry into human society, the color yellow entered people’s psyche as a symbol of illness, bad health, and poor conditions. The yellowish tone of one’s skin and eyes while suffering from jaundice, the yellow urine, the yellow vomit – all these things made yellow infamous.
But when Gilman used the color ‘Yellow’, she even added mental sickness to the list of things this color was associated with. Written in a time when psychology and mental health were slowly gaining importance in society, this semi-autobiographical novel is a harrowing tale of a woman who is locked up inside her room. She soon becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper of her room and starts hallucinating. She sees an image of a woman in that yellow wallpaper and by the end of the story, she becomes convinced that it is actually her own self in the wallpaper.
Though there are numerous literary analyses of this story and the themes it covers, I wish to talk more about the emphasis on color which was made by Gilman in the story. No doubt her main idea was to talk about women’s suffering in society, their ill-treatment, and negligence towards their personal health. The protagonist in the story is kept locked inside her room, away from her kids and her life, just because she is ill. As the story progresses, she is even chained and locked in the room. All this was being done in the name of helping her but was it truly helping her at all?
By the end of the story, her condition had worsened, her state of mind ruined and her sense of reality completely shattered. So, Gilman by this genius use of color asks society, “Is this how women are supposed to be treated?”
Her story is a mark of shame on the patriarchal society and their ill-treatment of women. She says that women’s health is just a basic human right that she must be granted but the story says that not even the very basic right is available to women. Her use of color might give one the impression that her story will be a reminder like the yellow stain on one’s shirt that never leaves and continues to haunt him/her; the same way, the yellow wallpaper in the story will remind each and every person of society how women were treated once.
Now, if I may take a literary approach myself, I would say that just the way the yellow color stands out of all the colors, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, too, has the strength to stand out among all pieces of literature. It is like a yellow sun that will shine brightly in all pieces of feminist literature and will give a bold and honest view of the state of women in previous centuries.
Alas, even while appreciating the story, I ended up using the same color that Gilman used to create a sense of tension and anxiety in the story. After all, it is true – colors hold a lot of meaning, it just depends on how you view them.
Lastly, I believe the story of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ still holds a lot of meaning hidden in it and the thing that Gilman said in the story will always stay true –
‘There are things in that paper that no one knows but me, or ever will.’