The Uncanny in The Yellow Wall-Paper

In Freud’s The Uncanny we learn that the uncanny is what is both familiar and mysterious, in such a way that it is unsettling. What is uncanny is different to each person. For the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s The Yellow Wall-Paper many things incite the phenomenon of “The Uncanny.” The most obvious is the wall-paper itself, the more she learns its details the more it unsettles her, but there are other things. In the beginning she is wary of her brother and husband and sister-in-law, but only as much as any anxious person would be. As the story continues she becomes consistently more paranoid until she is completely untrusting of those around her.

It’s easy to assume that the narrator is hallucinating throughout the entire story. The solitude and heavy restrictions caused her to go completely mad. She is so alone she creates company for herself by imagining life within the wallpaper. She pictures another woman trapped in the room behind the paper, even more restricted than she herself is. As the story continues the hallucinations become more vivid and she allows them to further overtake her mind. By the end of the story she is so deluded that she becomes the woman in the wallpaper. She is no longer anxious at the end of the story because she’s able to create the feeling of freedom. By creating the character of the woman in the wallpaper and transforming into her as she rips away the paper she creates that feeling of release for herself. Her husband faints at the end realizing he’s blindly accepted his wife is getting better, but all the while his actions and firm hand were driving her crazy.

Because the story is fictional, there is always the possibility that the narrator was either the woman in the wall-paper the entire time, only pretending the people in the house were there for her, or the narrator really did become the character in the wall-paper in a supernatural plot twist. The unreliable narrator creates more mystery. The consistent “uncanny” theme that fits each of these possibilities is the way everything is perceived by John, the narrators husband. He fears his wife is becoming nervous and distant, changing for the worse, but he also believes he can and is making her better. While the reader never gets to directly see his perspective, the narrator paints a relatively clear picture of what he sees. The more he feels that she is getting better the more he is losing her. In each scenario John’s wife isn’t who he thinks she is, he’s not completely oblivious to her “condition,” however he is misreading it.

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