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Was the Ending of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ Satisfying?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there are many interpretations of the aspects of this short story – its ending has, over the century or so, created polarized critiques. I personally felt that it wasn’t satisfying. The author seemed to favor using the creep factor than giving an actual denouement to the plot.

In order for a plot ending to be satisfying there must be a change from at the end from where it began. It’s a simple 3C formula: Character + Conflict = Change. Conflict may either be internal or external and in this story, there’s an identifiable internal and external plot. The internal plot is the mental struggle of the female protagonist (who’s name we have yet to settle on). Yes, this had a definitive change as she went from having mild post-partum depression to major mental breakdown. However, as for the external plot, there is no presumable change. What happens after John faints? He probably wakes up and goes back to trying to treat his wife through the rest cure, as he was clearly stuck in his ways since he carried on treating his wife in the same method despite no progressive change (other than an arguable gain in weight) and certain signs of deterioration such as her obsession with the wallpaper that she was ripping gradually.

At the end of the day, she went off the rails and started creeping around the room in circles, crawling over her husband to do so. Though many find this to be a shift in power as she is now symbolically on top, she’s merely given her husband further incentive to keep her locked up and away from society. What do we give her, a round of applause for shocking her husband unconscious? It doesn’t change her situation at all, and after having come to care for the character it’s dissatisfying not to see her truly overpower her husband. Not to say, it necessarily needed to be a happy ending, even John sending her to an asylum at the end would have caused a satisfying change and only increased sympathy for the character. The woman crawling around is the obvious climax to the story and a well-rendered plot point but it would’ve squared up the story to have had a following denouement.

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