By Robert Rosengarten
For more than a century, readers have interpreted Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a story about hysteria and women’s struggle to achieve freedom. Critics still debate whether the narrator’s madness is the cause or result of the reality she perceives. But there is another way we can pick at the narrator’s brain: the story has never been thoroughly analyzed in terms of synesthesia. Examining “The Yellow Wallpaper” in light of both literal and literary synesthesia creates new avenues to understanding the struggles of women, and the narrator in particular, within a patriarchal society. It also offers a window into the consciousness of an individual who sees beyond what society considers normal.
In the following web pages we will learn about the difference between literal and literary synesthesia, explore evidence for literal synesthesia as a real phenomenon, examine evidence for the narrator’s synesthesia in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” analyze the author’s use of literary synesthesia, and draw connections between Gilman’s literary synesthesia, the narrator’s literal synesthesia, and Gilman’s critique of patriarchy. We will find that Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper as a symbol for oppressive patriarchal language, and employs literary synesthesia to represent women’s resistance against oppression.