Monday, February 22, 2010

Hello Yellow

"It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper—the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" got me thinking: What is this random obsession with the color yellow? It's everywhere! Pop culture, National parks, brick roads, and yellow now even serves as a neutral nursery color. So where did it come from? What does it mean? And why not some other color, like blue or red?

Well, as it turns out, yellow has more meanings than you may think. It means happiness and joy (duh), as it is a warm color and is usually associated with sunshine, but it can also mean cowardice and deceit. Most people don't associate the non-threatening color yellow with danger, but it is used on emergency vehicles because of how easily it attracts attention. In Egypt, yellow is actually the color of mourning, yet it means courage in Japan and merchants in India. Googling yellow lyrics yielded 2,110,000 results (in .09 seconds- google never fails to impress), and there are 17 variations of yellow crayons in a standard 64 pack of Crayola crayons! See, all things you never would've thought of.

I forget the point of this journal entry now, but now I'm hungry for Lemon Bars. And cake. And Coldplay. Uh oh.


  1. Yassamine, I'm going to push you a bit. Given all that, why does Gilman make her wallpaper yellow? What effect does that color have in the story?

    It's also interesting that Coldplay's video for "Yellow" isn't yellow at all. It's mostly blue.

  2. With the quote that you supplied it seems to me that yellow is very fitting for the wallpaper and the hate that she developes for it.

    I imagine the wallpaper to be yellowed by time. You know that color white or off-white turns as it collects moisture, dust, and age. I imagine this yellow to be a moldy yellow, and so she describes the smell of it as well. It is actually quite a disgusting shade of a beautiful color

  3. I've heard that yellow is a color that is often associated with schizophrenia, but I don't have a source for that.

    Going off of the question Prof. Fisher asked, Gilman may make the wallpaper in her story yellow in order to provide a sharp contrast, between the calm and bright color yellow and the dark place her character is in.

  4. I agree with Alison about the color of the wallpaper. THe first thing I thought of was something old and moldy too. Actually, it reminded me of when there's a water stain on the ceiling or the wall and it has that really gross yellow/brown color to it. I thought it was really interesting that Gilman makes a distinction between beautiful shades of yellow and bad ones like the color of the wallpaper.

    The idea that she can also smell the color I think makes it more effective. The yellow wallpaper is totally taking over her senses and emphasizes how emotionally overwhelmed Gilman is by the wallpaper.

  5. When I think of the color yellow, the first thing that comes to mind is the sun, which is associated with brightness and happiness. However, this is the opposite of what is going on in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. I adjusted my thoughts on the color yellow and began thinking about illness and yellow things associated with it. The four humors came to mind, one of which is yellow bile. In the past the theory was that the four humors had to be in equilibrium in order for the body to be healthy. It was believed that an excess of yellow and black bile caused depression and aggression. So perhaps, Gilman was trying to emphasis the main character’s illness by using the color yellow.

  6. Going further with what Susan said about making a distinction between 'beautiful' vs. 'bad' shades of yellow... it should be noted how Gilman, as the narrator, openly admits that the color yellow has alternative connotations other than what she herself sees while she's in the room ('...not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things').

    Gilman as 'mental patient' views the yellow wall paper as being disgusting, tantalizing, and nauseating (as listed above with connections to bile or mold). But she in fact knows that there are more beautiful yellow things out there, out beyond the confinement of her room. Similarly, Gilman as the female narrator, unfortunately views her life as a wife and woman to be hopeless and confining, which comments on the confinements society put on the role / importance of a female.

    And then touching on Yassamine mentioning yellow brick roads. The color yellow really does sneak into many different parts of pop culture. In this case, I found a connection to some modernism aspects which we discussed today.

    In Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," he sings,

    So goodbye yellow brick road
    Where the dogs of society howl
    You can't plant me in your penthouse
    I'm going back to my plough

    Back to the howling old owl in the woods
    Hunting the horny back toad
    Oh I've finally decided my future lies
    Beyond the yellow brick road

    In this case, a yellow brick road alludes to the gold ridden path one takes to enter the world of finance and prosperity through capitalism. But sometimes, as John notes, and as we discussed today in class, this road to prosperity takes one down a path of false happiness, raised expectations, etc. One can see this when John says 'So goodbye yellow brick road/Where the dogs of society howl.' Bankers, financiers, one who takes on a job with high paycheck etc are compared to crying animals. John discovers redemption in nature, appreciating his plough. He also cherishes the 'howling old owl,' who cries in a different way than the dog. The owl doesn't cry out due to desperation but rather to keep the natural circle of life going. While the reference to 'the dogs,' is used to enforce dehumanization, the frog is an honest woodland creature, just as honesty and truth are often found through nature's purity.