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I’m trying to decide which preposition to use to complete a statement about Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”. I am describing how a hysterical woman sees things in her wallpaper. Over time these things become the image of a woman. To introduce the situation, I have written the following:

She was hallucinating [preposition] the wallpaper.

Oxford Dictionaries gives a usage example wherein hallucinate is used transitively with no preposition:

I don’t care if they’re hallucinating purple snakes.

This to me sounds like people are seeing purple snakes that are not there. I'm looking for the best way to say that a woman is looking at real wallpaper and seeing it move.

An ngram search produces a lot of hits for hallucinate about, but those also largely represent that a person sees something that isn’t present. For example,

His last days were spent strapped down in a hospital bed hallucinating about snakes and people who wanted to hurt him. [emphasis added]

Is there a correct preposition to use with hallucinate to mean that a person sees something unreal happening inside something real? Or is this improper usage of the word?

Two prepositions I considered are:

  • hallucinate over (similar to suffer anxiety over)
  • hallucinate on (similar to trippin’ on)
share|improve this question
There's the well-known expression 'cracking over the wallpaper', of course. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 19 '13 at 22:55
I've never heard it. "Crack" as in "break down"? – tylerharms Jan 20 '13 at 17:23
thefix.com/content/drinking-license-uk-booze9779 may contain a more well-known expression. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '13 at 12:32
up vote 5 down vote accepted

You certainly can follow hallucinating with a preposition, but I don't think any well describes the relationship between the hallucinations and the wallpaper in that story.

She was hallucinating a woman in the wallpaper.

She was having hallucinations, projected on to the wallpaper.

The wallpaper became the focus of her hallucinations.

I would all be happy with.

She saw hallucinations in the wallpaper.

I would also be happy with.

I'm inclined to the first, but that's partly because I think the fact that the hallucination was of a woman is itself significant in my reading of that story. You may disagree, or it may be irrelevant to your piece.

share|improve this answer
Eventually she sees a woman in the wallpaper, and I would say that she hallucinates a woman in the wallpaper then, but early on she doesn't see anything in particular. I want to introduce that she is seeing things in the wallpaper, things that will eventually form into something clear. – tylerharms Jan 19 '13 at 16:08
True, it's a while since I've read it. Any of the above, or also "The wallpaper became the focus of hallucinations", (dropping the her) might be more appropriate to introducing the hallucinations. On the other hand, it's not clear at that point that we are reading a psychological horror, so the reader may suspect that there is indeed something strange about the wallpaper and the story is a supernatural horror. Again though, that could be completely irrelevant to what your piece. – Jon Hanna Jan 19 '13 at 16:13

An alternative would be to say:

"She hallucinated moving images in the patterns or designs of the wallpaper."


"She hallucinated snakes and other moving images in the wallpaper's pattern or design."

share|improve this answer
Or just "hallucinated movement in the wallpaper." – Lucas Jan 20 '13 at 3:25

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