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The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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The Yellow Wallpaper Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Yellow Wall-paper Include:

”The Yellow Wall-paper”, written by Charlotte Perkins Stetson, explores the attitudes of doctors towards women and mental illness in the late 19th century. Stetson, who herself was treated with the controversial “Rest Cure”, created by Dr. Weir Silas Mitchell, found herself infuriated at her treatment. Women were viewed as weak and perpetually nervous, especially in the medical community, which largely ignored real mental illnesses and struggles such as postpartum depression. Stetson (later Gilman) became a champion for feminism and women moving into careers and roles beyond their homes. In her most memorable work, “The Yellow Wall-paper”, Stetson explores themes novel for their time, including mental illness, the treatment of women in marriage and medicine, and the importance of emotional expression and free thought.

The Yellow Wall-paper Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

"The Yellow Wall-paper" Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example “The Yellow Wall-paper” Plot Diagram

Exposition

The narrator’s husband, John, has rented a house in the country for the summer while his wife recovers from temporary nervous depression shortly after the birth of their child. The narrator’s husband and brother are both physicians, and they seem to be unconcerned with how the narrator feels and insist that she abstain from most activity until she is well again. The narrator, on the other hand, thinks that change and excitement would do her some good.


Conflict

The narrator’s husband chooses a room with hideous yellow wallpaper for their bedroom, and the narrator spends a great deal of time in the room. It is an old nursery, and the wallpaper has a strange and unsettling pattern wherever it hasn’t been peeled off. The narrator begins to focus heavily on the wallpaper each day, hating the color and becoming almost angry at the pattern.


Rising Action

As the days wear on, the narrator continues to write secretively behind John’s back, as John believes writing will make the narrator’s nervousness worse. The narrator feels intense guilt at not being more of a help to John, and for her nervousness getting in the way of their lives. She continues to become more isolated as John continues to stress that it is up to the narrator’s own self-will to get better. She fancies that the pattern on the wallpaper begins to move.


Climax

The narrator continues to study the wallpaper each day, and begins to notice that the pattern changes as the light in the room changes. She begins to see a woman creeping around behind the wallpaper, and the wallpaper begins to assault her senses even when she is not in the room. The narrator doesn’t really sleep anymore, and intently watches the woman in the wall creeping around the room.


Falling Action

The narrator begins to see the creeping woman wandering around in the arbors and the garden. The narrator grows sure that her husband and Jennie are growing suspicious of her behavior. The day before they are supposed to return home, the narrator begins to strip the wallpaper from the walls to set the creeping woman free. She locks herself in the room and throws the key down onto the front path.


Resolution

John comes home and begins to bang on the bedroom door, calling for an axe to break it down. The narrator tells him where the key is, and when he finally opens the door, begins crying out at what he finds. The narrator tells him that she’s gotten out of the wallpaper finally in spite of him, and she has pulled off most of the wallpaper so that he can’t put her back. She creeps around the room and over John’s body after he faints.


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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "The Yellow Wall-paper".


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



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Literary Conflict Student Activity for “The Yellow Wall-paper”


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in “The Yellow Wall-paper”

MAN vs. SELF

The narrator feels incredibly guilty that her illness is such a concern to her husband. John tells her that only she can make herself better, especially by getting lots of rest. She feels like she is failing him because she seems to be getting worse, not better.


MAN vs. MAN

As the narrator’s madness worsens, she begins to see herself as battling Jennie and John, hiding the secret creeping woman from them. She becomes fiercely protective of the wallpaper, and swears that no one else will touch it but her.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

The narrator is going against the norms of conventional medicine at the time by going against John’s orders and diagnosis to rest and not think about her illness. Instead, the narrator thinks about her nervous condition constantly, feels guilty over it, and writes in secret against her husband’s wishes.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.


  1. Identify conflicts in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for “The Yellow Wall-paper”


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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.


“The Yellow Wall-paper” 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.



"The Yellow Wall-paper" 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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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 "Use this Template" from the 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.



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Tracking Character Evolution in "The Yellow Wall-paper


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While the narrator arrives at the summer house already suffering from symptoms of mental illness, her descent into madness is traced in her diary in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Use the activity for Character Evolution with your students to help them keep track of how the narrator evolves throughout the course of the story.

Exposition

Narrator's Traits: A woman; recently gave birth; married to a physician; suffering from “temporary nervous depression”

Explanation:The narrator’s husband has rented the colonial mansion as a summer house so that his wife can rest, get exercise, and not work until her condition improves. The narrator thinks sometimes that less isolation would help her feel better, but her husband won’t hear of it. She writes her feelings in secret.


Conflict/Rising Action

Narrator's Traits: Unreasonably angry; lacking control of emotions; lacks strength; feels like a burden

Explanation: The narrator feels like a burden because her husband John believes that there is no reason for why she should feel so ill or nervous. She cannot bear to be around her new baby, and is becoming increasingly perturbed by the yellow wallpaper in their bedroom.


Climax

Narrator's Traits: Feigns sleep; feels afraid of John; becoming increasingly paranoid

Explanation: The narrator studies the wallpaper daily, and is convinced that there is a woman living behind it. John is gone a lot, but when he is home, he seems to be studying both her and the wallpaper, which is aggravating and frightening to the narrator. She sees Jennie staring at the paper, too, and she is determined to not let anyone but herself figure out the secrets of the pattern.


Falling Action

Narrator's Traits: Excited; eating better; shows improvement; sleeps during the day; stays up at night

Explanation: The narrator is fascinated by the developments in the wallpaper, and it gives her something to look forward to each day. She has renewed energy as she believes she is coming closer to discovering the secrets of the wallpaper, and the freeing of the woman behind it.


Resolution

Narrator's Traits: Energized; manic; angry; victorious

Explanation: The narrator’s descent into madness is complete as she tears off the wallpaper, and she believes that she is now the woman whom she has freed from behind it. She creeps around the room and right over her husband’s body, who has fainted, and she feels delighted at being able to move about the room in the yellow colors.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows the evolution of the narrator throughout the course of “The Yellow Wallpaper”.


  1. Use the Character Evolution Template to get started.
  2. Break the story down into Exposition, Conflict/Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution. What traits does the narrator have?
  3. Illustrate one or more of the traits for each stage of the story.
  4. Identify major events in each part of the story that affected the narrator.



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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for “The Yellow Wall-paper”


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “The Yellow Wall-paper”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.


”The Yellow Wall-paper” Vocabulary

  • phosphates and phosphites
  • congenial
  • piazza
  • chintz
  • lurid
  • querulous
  • fatuity
  • frieze
  • undulating
  • convolutions
  • patent
  • derision

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in “The Yellow Wall-paper” by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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The Rest Cure

Charlotte Perkins Stetson married Charles Walter Stetson in 1884, and after the birth of their daughter Katharine in 1885, Charlotte underwent a bout of postpartum depression. At the time, she was seen by Dr. Weir Silas Mitchell, a prominent neurologist, who prescribed her the “rest cure” for her ailment. During this treatment, Charlotte was not allowed to leave her bed, feed herself, or even turn herself over in bed. The treatment lasted 6-8 weeks, during which Charlotte kept a diary of her misery. While Dr. Mitchell believed that the cure was a battle of morals and will, the cure was almost always assigned to female patients and it put them in a position of total submission to their male doctors, spouses, and family members. During this time period, women were seen as weaker and more fragile, and therefore their minds were also in need of strengthening. Charlotte Perkins Stetson was so incensed by the treatment prescribed to her by Dr. Mitchell that she ended up including him in her short story “The Yellow Wall-paper” and sending him a copy after it was published. Students can read more about “The Rest Cure” and attitudes towards women in medicine at the following resources:



Essential Questions for “The Yellow Wall-paper”

  1. Why is it important to recognize mental illness as a physical ailment?
  2. What are the dangers of not being able to think or express yourself freely?
  3. Why is feminist literature important?
  4. What are some of the ways that mental illnesses can be treated?
  5. Does isolation make a person feel better, or can it make them worse?


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•   (English) The Yellow Wall-paper   •   (Español) El Papel de Pared Amarillo   •   (Français) Le Papier Peint Jaune   •   (Deutsch) Die Gelbe Tapete   •   (Italiana) The Yellow Wall-paper   •   (Nederlands) The Yellow Wall-paper   •   (Português) O Papel de Parede Amarelo   •   (עברית) הצהוב וול- נייר   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الأصفر الجدار ورقة   •   (हिन्दी) पीला वॉल-पेपर   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Желтые Обои   •   (Dansk) The Yellow Wall-papir   •   (Svenska) Den Gula Väggen Papper   •   (Suomi) Yellow Wall-paperi   •   (Norsk) The Yellow Wall-papir   •   (Türkçe) Sarı Duvar Kağıtları   •   (Polski) Żółty Papier Ścienny   •   (Româna) Galben Wall-hârtie   •   (Ceština) The Yellow Wall-paper   •   (Slovenský) Žltý Tapetový Papier   •   (Magyar) A Sárga-fal Papír   •   (Hrvatski) Žuti Zidni Papir   •   (български) Жълтата Хартия за Стена   •   (Lietuvos) Geltona Sienos Popieriaus   •   (Slovenščina) Rumeni Wall-papir   •   (Latvijas) Yellow Wall-papīra   •   (eesti) Kollane Wall-paberit