The story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman conveys the literary element of irony. One of the first examples of irony is when the reader’s knowledge contrasts the narrator’s belief. The narrator believes that “the windows are barred for little children” (page 305), but the reader knows that this room was used to house an insane person. Later, we are introduced to verbal irony, when the narrator states, “I am glad my case is not serious!” (page 306), immediately followed with “But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.” Finally, John’s treatment of his wife, the narrator, has the opposite effect, driving her further into insanity.
The narrator’s insanity is evident when she misinterprets the intended use of the room with yellow wallpaper, an example of irony. We know that this room is intended to house an insane person, for “the windows are barred” and “there are rings and things in the walls.
Another example of irony is the continuous contrast of the narrator’s own statements. She states, “I am glad my case is not serious!” (page 306), proceeded by “But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing” and “John does not know how much I really suffer.” Almost immediately again, she agrees with her first statement that her “case is not serious” by saying “Of course it is only nervousness” (page 306).
A deeper irony that is unraveled as the story progresses, is how John’s treatment of his wife actually make her more insane. John says to his wife, “You know the place is doing you good.” But eventually, the narrator becomes so obsessed with the yellow wall paper, that she believes there are “so many of those creeping women” (page 314) behind the wall paper.
The use of irony may serve the purpose of displaying the narrator’s insanity, as well as create a haunting tone. Even the narrator describes the house as “a haunted house” (page 304) and says that “there is something queer about it” (page 304). When the narrator’s husband faints at the end of the story, she seems insanely excited, saying, “right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (page 315)