The (Nasty) Yellow Wallpaper

Samantha Burton
Oct 5, 2017 · 5 min read
Illustration via

So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

But what is one to do?

It is very seldom I can let mere days go by without thinking about that PESKY tape recording.

I declare this to nodding female friends and uncomfortable-looking male friends as they squirm in their seat.

Perhaps they, the men, are uncomfortable with my brazen punctuation—(a practiced attempt to reclaim it!) — as the word pops from my lips. A powerful battle cry for a nasty woman. A POW right in the kisser.

PERHAPS they, the men, just want to tip-toe around this topic with a ten-foot pole. I’m annoyed by this (but back-breakingly understanding). And I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. Don’t men, and I mean humans, care most about that which affects them immediately?

Immediacy has its PRIORITIES, and man has his PERSPECTIVES — I grab at ’em without consent. It’s a rule of moderation, a built-in autopilot, a side-effect of living in a man’s world.

“That’s just a drop in the bucket, really,” one resigns with a sigh. “Didn’t you hear what happened TODAY?”

A drop in the bucket! A pop of a Tic-Tac. We dissolve on tongues.

“It was just locker room talk,” the twittering parrots squawk. What’s a nasty little goose to do?

I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus — but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.

So I will let it alone and talk about the house.

So I will let it alone. I’ll talk about the house.

“I’m rather well,” I calmly tell John, adding just a few bothersome bits of political affairs. I’m SURE I’m being a comparative burden, but, I confess, it makes me feel better and less anxious to talk about it.

He pats me on the head. “A little goose is not to worry about such things,” he says. “Don’t give yourself such unnecessary anxiety, dear. Those things work themselves out.”

Personally, I disagree with this idea, and now he makes me think of all the unresolved things that need “worked out”— not nice and simple things, oh no, but nasty ones.

Pesky places to protect.

It makes me tired to remind him, but there’s no rest for the wicked and we are wicked indeed. I shall press on.

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern — it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

“Your body’s a temple,” John says solemnly.

An exception for protection. Such wickedly florid places to be first desecrated, then legislated.

A great many exceptions already shook away such paper-thin promises. But nobody could climb through without brushing up against the ugly, yellowing walls — it strangles us so!

A putrid yellow PAINT that creeps all over the white house. A yellow that misrepresents, misinforms. It feigns security of our selfhood; it hates our actual condition.

It slaps you in the face. It knocks you down. John, trampling from his seat on high, asks “what yellow?”

It is like a bad dream.

It gets into my hair.

It paints me a vessel. It marks me a pesky place, a place up for grabs.

If a body’s a temple, but I’m just a mere vessel, and John and his table full of a great many Johns don’t really protect a body or a vessel, where is the exception — or the protection? It makes me dizzy, these fumes!

So, in spite of herself, she embraced it. Several times, first gently and slowly, then so often that he had to HIDE in the house!

He stopped short, by the door, as millions marched by — an endless sea of yellow!

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right under our pink PESKY hats, so that we had to creep over him every time!


Book nerds trying to create more book nerds.

Samantha Burton

Written by

Gets people excited about books at Cat herder (figuratively and literally) and tiny-bio writing struggler — also, a big fan of em dashes.



Book nerds trying to create more book nerds.

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