I believe that Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper primarily as an autobiographical piece--her liberal political views on social issues would come later in her non-fiction works, such as Women and Economics (1898), Concerning Children (1900), The Home: Its Work and Influence (1904), and Human Work (1904) and other fiction, such as Herland (1915). Ann Lane says it best:
"The Yellow Wallpaper"...stands apart from the entire body of [Gilman's] extensive fiction. It is, in my opinion, the only genuinely literary piece she ever created and it is also, of all her fiction, the most consciously autobiographical (127).
However, the story itself is ambiguous enough to allow room for extensive interpretations of the subtext; thus, a reader should consider some of the recent literary interpretation of this short masterpiece. Still, some of the criticism detracts from what Gilman intended, even to the point of insulting the integrity of the text.
I suggest, then, that Gilman's primary purpose for writing The Yellow Wallpaper is much more compelling and significant than any subsequent literary interpretation done on the piece. This is not to say that other interpretations are not valid and informative, but that, perhaps, they tend to place too much importance on themes that Gilman would not or could not have considered.
Originally published in The CEA Critic: An Official Journal of The College English Association, 59:3 (Spring/Summer 1997): 44-57.