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Desperation and Insanity: John’s Wife in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Tessie Hutchinson in the Lottery by Shirley Jackson

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This popular American idiom means many things depending on the circumstances (no pun intended). For the characters in literature written by certain women it means being driven to a breaking point beyond logical thought. Societal pressures weigh heavily on characters like John’s wife in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and Tessie Hutchinson from “The Lottery”. These women allowed the situation they were in to change their behavior, and in some instances, their state of mind.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper” an anonymous woman known only as the wife of John slowly loses her mind while stuck in a nursery room due to her already failing health. The woman becomes fixated on the wallpaper which is “repellant, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow.” She spends weeks or months in this room and slowly her commentary becomes more and more disturbing. At one point she sees a slowly moving, formless figure within the wallpaper pattern. At the end of the story it is unclear, but some theorize that she either hangs herself, or begins peeling off her own skin. All in all, a very disturbing story which is extremely difficult to try and speedread. As I struggled to read this as quickly as possible, the small details became jumbled in my head which created feelings of frustration and confusion from an already difficult text. It wasn’t until our class discussion that I noticed I had skipped over small, relevant details (how could I miss the rope?) and pieces of the story made more sense than before.

It is the small details that make a story like “The Lottery” worthwhile. The small stones which the boys play with in the beginning are revealed to be weapons used in a public execution in the end. This absurd little detail is easily passed over in the monotonous way the story is told. The calm, boring style of writing is what makes the story so disturbing. The author documents events that would normally be extremely graphic in such a way that the reader does not fully understand what is happening until the end of the story. The first time I read the story I predicted a graphic ending, but it wasn’t until the last sentence that I realized the “stereotypical hysterical screaming woman” who I had been barely paying attention to, was actually being executed. While I had expected a dramatic ending, it snuck up on me while I was reading.

These two texts deal with borderline insanity along with broken societal behaviors. The fact that the town in “The Lottery” participates in a public stoning out of tradition shows something fundamentally wrong with the way decisions are made. Anyone in their right mind would see that it is preposterous to stone a random woman in order to usher in a bountiful harvest or lock an ailing woman in the isolation of what very well could have been an old asylum building. Both of these texts grapple with human psychology and make the reader delve into their own understanding of the mind.

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Desperation and Insanity: John’s Wife in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Tessie Hutchinson in the Lottery by Shirley Jackson. (2022, Nov 28). Retrieved from

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