"The Yellow Wall-paper" Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Yellow Wall-paper

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in "The Yellow Wall-paper"


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss

Mental Illness

Mental illness is the prominent theme of the story, with the narrator being treated for what is most likely post-partum depression, or something similar. As the narrator is isolated in order to better cure herself, she is left to her imagination as she stares daily at the wallpaper. She is not being treated by modern methods of medicine, where talking and medications are prescribed; instead, she spirals deeper into her own mind, and her mental illness worsens. The story highlights the afflictions of the mentally ill, particularly during this time period where medicine sought emotional and moral strength as the answer to physical ailments.

The Treatment of Women in Marriage and Medicine

Charlotte Perkins Stetson fiercely disagreed with the treatment of women, especially those suffering from mental illness, by the male-dominated medical field. She highlights this with the narrator, who is isolated from friends and other family, and she isn’t expected to acknowledge her feelings or condition at all. Her husband and other doctors at the time prescribed the “Resting Cure”, developed by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (referenced in the story), which actually serves to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness even more. For women especially, they were made to feel guilty for having an “invisible disease”, and their supposed inferiority to men was highlighted by their inability to cure their minds through willpower alone.

Emotional Expression and Free Thought

One of the cornerstones of modern psychology is the free expression of emotions and thoughts in exploring things that are troubling the patient. The narrator, however, must not even think about her condition, according to her husband, and she is not allowed to express her emotions in a journal, but she does so in secret anyway. It causes the narrator intense guilt, but also a sense of freedom and burden being lifted from her shoulders. By acknowledging her feelings, she may very well have staved off the descent into madness for longer than she would have by following her husband’s orders strictly.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Yellow Wallpaper and Pattern

The yellow wallpaper and the pattern in the upstairs nursery at first is hideous, even odious, to the narrator. The pattern infuriates her. As the weeks and her isolation wear on, however, eventually her obsession with the wallpaper invades her senses and her mind. The wallpaper eventually comes to symbolize the trapped woman inside of the narrator, who is truly ill and in need of help, but being brushed off as weak and nervous by male doctors. Eventually, the wallpaper embodies her mental breakdown when the narrator finally frees the woman behind the wallpaper, and her consciousness intertwines with the imagined woman. In her breakdown, the narrator finds freedom at last.

The Diary

The hidden diary that the narrator is keeping when her husband isn’t looking becomes a source of freedom of thought and expression for the narrator, who has been told not to even think about her condition for fear of taxing her mind and will too much. It is a place where she can express her fears, her guilt, and her resentment at her husband and her doctors for a treatment that is not making her better, but worse. It is also a place where she can express her frustration at her isolation from family and friends.

Light and Dark

The narrator focuses a lot on the differences she sees and experiences in the house during the day and in the moonlight evenings. The nursery itself gets a lot of sunlight from all angles during the day, and it is as the sun moves across the room that the narrator sees the changes in the patterns on the wallpaper. In the moonlight, the pattern becomes like bars, hiding the trapped woman. By day, the woman behind is subdued and quiet, much like the narrator; but by night, she awakens and shakes the bars to escape, much like the inner turmoil and illness of the narrator.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “The Yellow Wall-paper”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “The Yellow Wall-paper” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme


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