In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity. Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there might really be something wrong with his wife.
This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician. While this attitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to prove them wrong. As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never learn — tells of her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe I am sick!
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And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?” (Gilman 193). These two men — both doctors — seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her condition than just stress and a slight nervous condition.
Even when summer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept that she may have a real problem. Throughout the story, there are examples of the dominant-submissive relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health.
She is forbidden to work, “So I . . . am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 193). She is not even supposed to write: “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman 194). She has no say in the location or decor of the room she is virtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted . . . But John would not hear of it.” (Gilman 193).
She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. . . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 196). Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline. “I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. . .” (Gilman 197). It seems that her husband is oblivious to her declining condition since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of the story — at which time he fainted.
John could have obtained council from someone less personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was away at work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 195). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the house. “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 196).
He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother. Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell on her problem.
Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner. Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased her depression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” (Gilman 195). It seems that just being able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “. . . I must say what I feel and Roberts 4 think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.” (Gilman 198).
Meanwhile, her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong. “John is a physician, and perhaps . . . perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 193). It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someone coming.
This is obvious throughout the story. It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behavior, she wants to drive her husband away. “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 195). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks him out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.” (Gilman 203). I see no reason for this other than to force him to see that he was wrong, and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to drive him away.
In The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator becomes more depressed throughout the story due to the recommendation of isolation that was prescribed to her. In this short story, the narrator is detained in a lonesome, drab, room in an attempt to be freed of a nervous disorder. The narrator s husband, a physician, follows this belief and forces his wife into a treatment of solitude.
Rather than heal the narrator of her psychological disorder, the treatment only adds to the effects driving her in a severe depression. Under the orders of her husband, the narrator has moved to a house far away in the country. Here she is locked in an upstairs room. This, to me, does not serve as an inspiration for someone in her condition but as an element of repression.
The narrator is affected not only by the physical restraints, such as the windows barred and the door locked but also by being exposed to the yellow wallpaper in the room. The wallpaper is dreadful looking and gives off only negative creativity: the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the wall. All through the story, the wallpaper acts as an antagonist, causing her to become annoyed and disturbed.
The narrator describes the wallpaper as having no pattern or organization. This causes the narrator much distress since she is always looking at it. During her isolation, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper: I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow the pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion. The narrator did not believe isolation would cure her disorder. Social contact and outside stimulation were what she desired: I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and more stimulus, but John says the worse thing I can do is think about my condition.
She was cut off from society and forbidden to see her baby. It is not natural to be confined to little social contact for large amounts of time. To live without outside contact would be living against nature sway for man. To satisfy her social need, she invents a person she thinks she sees inside the wallpaper: I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.
The image of the woman is obviously a sign of the effects caused by prolonged isolation. Her hallucination becomes so vivid that she becomes involved with her character. The narrator began to free the woman from the wallpaper s pattern. Doing this in a frantic manner she starts ripping the wallpaper to shreds: I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off a yard of that paper.
The negative qualities of the so-called rehabilitation regiment caused her to go insane. Towards the end of the story, the narrator is delirious and constantly creeping around the room. When her husband goes to check on her, he finds her wife in a deranged state, creeping through the pieces of wallpaper, and faints: Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall so that I had to creep over him every time!
This treatment was issued without good intentions but does not bring about positive results. Gilman tries to show that according to her husband, the narrator continually brings great depression among herself. She also tries to show that lack of social exposure, physical restraints, and the ugly wallpaper caused this treatment, isolation, to be ineffective and harmful.
I think, in this case, it made the narrator s illness worsens. In today s society, medical and psychological advice may have the same effect. Medical technology and practice have grown since the time of this short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. This is not to say that physicians today are infallible. Maybe even some of today s treatments are The Yellow Wallpaper of the future.
Charlotte Gilman was a renowned feminist author who published most of her work in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Her works, of which “The Yellow Wallpaper” is most famous, reflect her feminist views. Gilman used her writings as a way of expressing these views to the public. At the time “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written, the attitude in colonial America towards feminists was not one of tolerance or acceptance. In the mid-1880s, Gilman suffered a nervous breakdown and eventually was referred to a specialist in neurological disorders.
The doctor’s diagnosis was such: Gilman was perfectly healthy. The doctor ordered Gilman to domesticate her life and to immediately stop her writings. Gilman went by the doctor’s orders and nearly went mad. Now although “Yellow Wallpaper” is a fictional story, it becomes clear that the story was significantly influenced by Gilman’s life experiences. Gilman seems to be exploring the depths of mental illness through her writing.
Evidence of Gilman’s life experiences can be seen all throughout the story. The main character in the story, a slightly neurotic woman, is married to a prominent physician. This husband refuses to believe anything is wrong with his wife’s health simply because her physical health is intact. Thus, he prescribes for his wife nothing more than relaxation and cessation of her writings.
This character clearly correlates to the doctor who “treated” Gilman for her nervous breakdown. The description of the room and the wallpaper is clearly crucial to the story as a whole. The room itself is described as large and airy, with windows facing a “delicious garden.” The wallpaper does not fit the room at all. It is a repulsive, pale yellow color. The description of the wallpaper seems to function metaphorically.
The wallpaper becomes much more detailed and much more of a fixture in the main characters’ life as the story progresses. The wallpaper essentially takes on a life of its own. This progression seems to represent mental illness itself. As the mental illness progresses, it becomes much more whole and enveloping.
Gilman attempts to represent the depth of mental illness through the wallpaper. For example, the woman in the story comes to the conclusion that there is a woman in the wallpaper behind the pattern. This is something that only can come from complete mental fixation. All in all, the story contains numerous elements of Gilman’s life.
The time period in which this story was written also plays a role. In the late 1800s, feminism was not a popular view. The stereotypical views of women as homemakers and men as breadwinners prevailed over society in colonial America. For instance, the woman in the story was only prescribed rest for her illness, by her own husband. The husband felt that nothing was wrong with his wife at all. In addition, the idea of mental illness was not readily accepted at this time period, so they went undiagnosed.
Both of these limitations affected Gilman in her life. As a whole, Gilman set out to express her feminist views and expose mental illness to the general public. Both of these goals were not considered socially acceptable at the time this story was written. However, that fact alone makes “The Yellow Wallpaper” such a significant piece of literature.
In The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Gilman, there are many symbols within the text that one can construe a myriad of ways. One of the most prominent and perhaps the most important symbol is the titled yellow wallpaper. To the main character, Jane, the wallpaper is at first a nuisance, then an obsession, and finally
salvation. The material of the paper itself represents Jane s everyday life. The illogical pattern that decorates it, reflects the absence of logic in her mind. The very color of the paper depicts the illness that yellows her sight and imprisons her within an unpredictable life.
The wallpaper is at first a great annoyance to Jane; she claims that it is confusing and contradicting. Because her disease confuses her mind and contradicts her logic, the paper parallels her mental state at this point. Desperately attempting to unravel the
mystery she imagines in the wallpaper, she becomes obsessed with deciphering its meaning. As her illness progresses, she begins to hallucinate and finally concludes that there is a woman trapped within that pointless pattern. Jane knows that she is the only one who can see the woman and, therefore, the woman s only chance of freedom.
Slowly detaching from reality, Jane becomes the woman within the paper not only because of her obsession with it but because of its parallel to her own life. In her final step toward insanity, she tears the paper off the walls to release the woman and herself. When her husband finds her, with the wallpaper and her sanity about her feet, she forcefully exclaims, I ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can t put me back.
She completely disconnects from Jane and disconnected simply becomes a free woman. She destroys her sanity along with the wallpaper, and like the wallpaper, her sanity cannot be restored. Her detachment from sanity frees her from obligations, logical thoughts, and normal life restraints. And through the progression from mild lunacy to complete insanity, she finally finds her salvation.
Example #5 – Yellow Wallpaper Madness: the Violent Process of Feminization
The Victorian rest cure, a diagnosis set forth to upper class, white, Victorian women who were believed to be suffering from “hysteria”, or “trauma related to an unsuccessful role adjustment” sought to instill in them a “childlike submission to masculine authority” (Ammons 35). Charlotte Perkins Gilman, herself a victim of the Victorian rest cure, utilizes within “The Yellow Wallpaper” her own experiences to exemplify the violence of achieving the Victorian ideal of femininity and the sacrifices necessary for a woman to avow her right to self-determination.
Gilman’s narrator, violently forced into absolute solitude, silence, and submission, must face the quagmire before her — loyalty to her husband and societal perceptions of woman, or loyalty to her imagination, her intellect, and the piece of herself that she has objectified and projected into the wallpaper and that pleads for independence. Undoubtedly, loyalties lie to self. Thus, “The Yellow Wallpaper” depicts a woman affirming her right to her own authority while breaking free from the “violent process of feminization” (Ammons 35) that masculine authority has forced her to submit to.
The rest cure that ravages Gilman’s narrator centers around the ‘compassionate’ care of a male specialist that forces his patient “to turn herself into a helpless, docile, overgrown infant — that is, a feminine adult” (Ammons 35). John, the narrator’s husband, and physician plays the role of the ‘compassionate’ male expert. He hides his true purpose of molding his wife into the ideal of Victorian femininity beneath layers of care and kindliness — not allowing her “stir without special direction” (Gilman 647).
His treatment of her is explicitly paternal, if not austerely dominating — he laughs when she questions him, he calls her “little girl” and “blessed little goose”, he doesn’t allow her a downstairs room as she requests, and joke-threatens to stick her in the cellar when she persists. The nursery that John confines the narrator symbolizes her domination and at the same time her burgeoning authority over her own self.
The nursery is “a big airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge, for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things on the walls” (Gilman 647). The room provides little or no privacy and serves more or less as a jail where the hooks in the walls, the bars in the windows, and the “great immovable bed” serve to enslave and bully the inmate to return to an infantile state of rationale.
The nailed-down bed becomes the literal source of the narrator’s domination. The bed dictates from the center of the room, it is the site where most of her time is spent and the “site for a woman not only of birthing, dying, and sleeping but also, and probably most important for this story, of sexual intercourse and therefore a potent reminder in late nineteenth-century America of male sexual privilege and dominance, including violence” (Ammons 37).
The bed symbolizes the dominance over the narrator’s body and the attempt to dominate her mind, transforming her “into nothing but the body, a mass of pure passive, ostensibly desexualized flesh without self-control” (Ammons 36). Despite the forces pulling at the already fragmented mind of Gilman’s narrator, she does retain some definition of herself and begins to establish her own authority when she continues to write despite the “heavy opposition” from John and her brother — both physicians or “the new priest, the new male authority, of a new scientific era” (Ammons 36).
Writing is viewed as “a dangerous move because it threatens the system of control constructed to contain women” (Ammons 38). Helene Cixous stated that “Woman must put herself into the text — as into the world and into history — by her own movement” (Ammons 38). The narrator asserts herself into the text, the world, and history when she defies the containment of the room for the sake of her own imaginative power, which in turn becomes her own sexual and intellectual power as she ” ‘speaks’… by writing her body on the walls” (Ammons 35) that attempt to contain her.
The room, therefore, not only enslaves the narrator to masculine thinking, it also, paradoxically, enlightens her to the wrongs she is enduring and introduces her to the idea of self-will. The wallpaper instigates this rebellion. She first regards it with disdain. The wallpaper is “dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” (Gilman 647).
The narrator’s search for an ordered pattern in the wallpaper denotes a juxtaposed irony against her search for an ordered pattern in her life — both are meaningless, both are grotesque. But as time passes the narrator discerns, in the moonlight ironically, the meaning that exists beneath the aesthetic horror and soon realizes the potential within the wallpaper and herself.
Under the moon, the paper “becomes bars” and the distinct figure of a woman behind them becomes “as plain as can be” (Gilman 652). The narrator’s empathetic fascination with her fellow inmate creates a purpose for her otherwise hollow life. She now has “something to expect, to look forward to, to watch” (Gilman 653). The entrapped woman becomes a model for her fellow prisoner.
At night the figure “crawls around fast” and “takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard” while “all the time trying to climb through” (Gilman 654). In the daytime, she creeps “in that long shaded lane” and in “those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden” (Gilman 654).
This “creeping” symbolizes liberation from the requisite bed rest that John expects of his baby-wife and although the narrator locks the door when she creeps by daylight, she is still shaking the bars of her own prison and continuing to reintegrate and build upon her own personality which masculine totalitarianism had managed to fragment.
The narrator’s empowerment swings the inward struggle of loyalties and she finds it easier to resist “the shifting but seemingly inescapable patriarchal definition of motherhood as a prison, flesh as destiny, and voice as silence” (Ammons 42).
A mutual understanding of the derision for confinement develops between the narrator and the figure. The narrator, having grown from the docile infant to the active toddler, schemes to help free the woman from her jail and consequently free herself from her own prison. The last day arrives and as night falls the woman ” began to crawl and shake the pattern” and the narrator immediately “got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper” (Gilman 655).
When the paper is no more, when the bars are no more, the narrator finally reaches sexual and textual authority. She has become a new woman in a new world. The woman behind the paper was the missing piece of the puzzle that would bring all the fragments together to form one individual claiming her right to self-determination. The narrator no longer objectifies this piece of herself that society, John, and the other fragments of her mind had forced behind the bars, but rather she embraces it, becomes it, wholly. She has defied male logic and dominance by reintegrating her fragmented mind and at the same time recording it in the written word.
“She gets ‘in’ the paper, and its violence, formerly directed at her, becomes her articulated fury and agony” (Ammons 38). She will not be held down — when the bed will not move “I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner — but it hurt my teeth”, when she wants to be left alone she throws “the key down into the front path”, and when John demands an explanation for her actions she refers to him as “young man” and “that man”, establishing her dominance in the relationship (Gilman 656).
The shock that consequentially comes from this shift in position causes John to faint and forces the narrator to “creep over him every time” (Gilman 657) she circles the room. The “little girl” has transformed into an independent thinker that moves wherever and whenever she desires and will not be held down by man — she will crawl over him if necessary.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” depicts the violence and horror that Victorian women were subjected to in order to achieve ‘perfection’ (in the Victorian sense of the word). The foundation of this type of theory involves sacrificing all independent thinking and will and becoming only factories of reproduction. Charlotte Perkins Gilman defies this theory and the science that justifies the actions of it by presenting a woman with no choice in what she does, what she thinks, and seemingly what she feels and the effects that this dehumanization can do.
In order to affirm her own authority and break free from this violent process, the narrator must go mad. Mad in the sense of a revolt against reason (Victorian reason in this case) and mad in a sense of anger. She proves that all women facing the same situation as the narrator will submit to this madness “before they will submit to the lives of infantile dependence prescribed as ideal by Victorian America” (Ammons 39).
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” first appeared in 1892 and became a notary piece of literature for it’s historical and influential context. Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a first-hand account of the oppression faced toward females and the mentally ill, who were both shunned in society in the late 1890s.
It is the story of an unnamed woman confined by her doctor-husband to an attic nursery with barred windows and a bolted down the bed. Forbidden to write, the narrator-protagonist becomes obsessed with the room’s wallpaper, which she finds first hideous and then fascinating; on it, she eventually deciphers an imprisoned woman whom she attempts to liberate by peeling the paper off the wall.
The room that confines Gilman’s narrator, is “a cruel, ingenious cage.” It is in this room that the wallpaper reduces an artistic and articulate woman to an animal, stripped entirely of her sanity and humanity. Through Gilman’s symbolism, the reader can interpret that the paper symbolizes her current situation that she faces with society and her husband.
Both restrain and monitor much like the wallpaper and lead the narrator to subsequent mental demise. By placing her in this room, John, the narrator’s husband, becomes the main antagonist and a direct reason why she ends up the way she does. He makes gestures at restraining her by locking up the surrounding of the house and speaks to her demeaning as “dear” or ” little goose” (1152).
The influence her husband has on the narrator is dominant as he hardly lets her ” stir without special direction” and in turn makes her “very tired” (1151). After these actions, she starts to imagine the wallpaper as having eyes that are watching her unceasingly and a woman that surfaces at night. It was under the scrutiny of the “two bulbous eyes” in the yellow wallpaper, the narrator passes through stages from concern to paranoia and, finally, to madness.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that explains the sad story of a woman suffering from acute postpartum depression. Written during the dying years of the 19th century, The Yellow Wallpaper is characteristic of the mental and emotional treatment that women were subjected to during this period. Indeed, Gilman uses this short story as her “reaction” to this sort of treatment.
Given the weight that Gilman gives The Yellow Wallpaper and considering her own life, one would conclude that she was indeed using the story as a reference to her life. Through reading the story, one can see a clear desire for the women in this period to entangle themselves from domination. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, there is a clear theme of domination of women, and society seems to be unanimous in support of it.
From the surface, the story seems to be addressing the narrator’s sickness, but a more in-depth analysis reveals that it is indeed talking about the condition of the womenfolk in general. The society seems to have assigned roles for women, which they are supposed to adhere to.
In the story, John symbolically represents the male folk while the narrator represents the women. Throughout the story, the narrator, together with the rest of the women trapped in the wallpaper, is desperately trying to break loose from the function that the society has assigned for them.
Although these women are trying as hard as they can, their courage always seems to fail them, especially at night when their husbands and the rest of the family are at home. However, their courage finally gives way, and this is why John, who represents men, faints upon realizing that his wife has finally broken free from his control.
Although this observation is debatable, there is clear evidence from the story to prove this point. Right from the start, there seem to be specific duties that wives and mothers have to fulfill. These duties seem to have been so oppressive that women tend to get depressed after giving birth to their first child. This depression leads them to take the rest cure during which time they are supposed to do nothing but to eat and remain in seclusion.
The rest is so extreme such that one is even forbidden from writing anything since this would be tantamount to overworking their brains, something that would hinder their recovery. This is despite the fact that the narrator knows that “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” (Gilman)
The oppression of women seems to have been so great that John and the narrator’s brother, both physicians, believe that the narrator is not sick despite her thinking otherwise. This happens despite the fact that they both love the narrator dearly.
What is surprising is that despite this form of medication, the narrator does not seem to get any better. She wishes that she could get well faster just to escape this form of the regimen. It is obvious that the narrator views the treatment as an unnecessary interruption in her life that should not have occurred in the first place.
Despite this, she is aware of the repercussions that could possibly follow her refusal to adhere to the terms of the medication. Instead of looking into the reasons why her recovery is slow, John believes that her wife is to blame something that seems to scare the narrator a great deal.
This is seen when she says, “If I don’t pick up faster, he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” (Gilman) Although we are not told what kind of a place Weir Mitchell was, there is no doubt that it was a place that instilled fear in the narrator, and this makes us wonder what kind of a husband would want to take his wife in such a place. In fact, Gilman seems to have put this statement for effect just to show us the extreme end that these men were willing to go to keep their women under control.
Although the couple rents a colonial mansion for the wife to recuperate, it is ironic how she is not allowed any say in the matter. Throughout the story, John seems to know what is best for his wife, and he does not accept her output in the matter. The husband does not even allow her to choose her bedroom from the many rooms. Instead, he forces her to occupy the room with the ugly wallpaper.
The narrator wants to do so many things but as it was characteristic in that period, the marriage institution that she is committed to compromises her freedom and happiness. In addition to the bedroom containing the ugly wallpaper, the room has no windows, and even the bed is bolted to prevent her from moving it to any other position. This is a clear sign of control and domination by the husband.
By analyzing the lives of the women behind the wallpaper, it is obvious that they are trying to look for their freedom. On her part, the narrator is looking for freedom from her husband and the rest cure that she has been subjected to. Throughout the story, the narrator tries hard to free women from the gender bias that had seeped in society. However, this is not easy because, just like the wallpaper, these societal changes had become “ridged and yellow with age.” (Gilman)
Despite John’s domination, the narrator slowly begins to take control of her life. Although she had loathed the yellow wallpaper at first, she begins gaining some mental strength just by watching it. As her mind begins to churn, she forces herself to think, and this is something that her husband does not like. Deep down her heart, she knows that her husband does not necessarily know everything, but she does not say anything for fear of reprisals. Although John has told her not to bother herself with anything, she begins analyzing the wallpaper, and that is when she notices the figure of women trying to free themselves.
For once, the narrator feels that she knows something that her husband or any other person, for that matter, does not have an idea about. This is presented when she says, “there are things in that paper that nobody knows but me.” For once, the narrator is elated since she feels that she possesses first-hand knowledge that is not yet evident to her husband.
For once in her life, she seems to have concluded that she has a functional mind that is entirely hers and one that she can use as she wills. Even to John, his wife is like a mystery that he is unable to solve. That is why he keeps her locked in the bedroom just to keep her under control. However, what he fails to realize is that by doing so, he is actually helping her to solve her own mystery.
As the story nears climax, John seems bewildered, and he even seems to be noticing a change of attitude on the narrator. In fact, he commends her for putting an effort to get better, but she knows that she is getting well for other reasons. Although he does not admit it, John has realized that the wallpaper is a representation of his wife, and that is why he reprimands her wherever he catches her staring at it. Just with a day to go before they leave the house, the narrator masters her courage and tears down the wallpaper.
The narrator’s feelings of freedom come to peak when she manages to pull down the yellow wallpaper from the walls where it had hanged. To accomplish this, she uses much will power and patience, but she finally manages to get the work done. She is convinced that John would reprimand her for tearing down the wallpaper, but for once, she is not bothered. To her, taking control of anything even if it is the “odious wallpaper” is better than just sitting and doing nothing.
Indeed, tearing down the wallpaper seems only to be the first step toward her freedom. To her, she seems to have concluded that her life was in her own hands and not on Johns or any other male for that matter. Within a short time, she seems to have developed mentally as a woman. The narrator’s final victory comes when John arrives home and realizes what she has done.
To begin with, he is shocked when he realizes that she has locked the door, something that she had never done before. However, the climax arrives when he enters the room and realizes that she has torn down the wallpaper. There is no doubt in John’s mind that his wife has finally developed mentally and regained the freedom that he had for so long denied her. In fact, the shock is so much for John such that he faints.
The proof that the narrator has gained mental control comes shortly after when she says that “now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall so that I had to creep over him every time.” (Gilman) At this point, she is not perturbed by what he thinks, and his fainting does not even surprise her. To her, tearing the wallpaper out of the walls is a sign of showing that she is willing to take matters into her own hands, and this is what scares the husband and makes him faint.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a clear representation of life in the 19thcentury. During this period, women seem to have been under male domination, and society seems to have accepted this fact. Throughout the story, the narrator seems to be fighting to get a voice of her own.
However, her husband decides that he knows what is best for her, and he does not even give her the freedom to choose what she wants. Instead, he embarks on making all the decisions for her even on matters that directly affect her well-being. At the end of the story, the narrator regains control of her life, and this scares her husband to a point where he even faints.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, there are many unmistakable forms of imprisonment against which the unnamed narrator must struggle. Some of these forms are intangible, such as the patriarchal society of the time that restricts women’s freedom of movement and their creativity.
Others, while less broad, are just as hard to overcome: the way she is treated by her caretakers, the home, and the bedroom in which she is forced to “rest,” and even the restrictions placed on her in the name of healing. As was common at the time this story was written, the narrator’s husband, John, uses his role as the husband to assert control over his wife, as she is trapped by the confines of being a woman.
Because of this, John can be seen as the antagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Although he, as a physician, claims his treatment of rest and confinement will cure her, it is he who stands most in the way of the narrator’s recovery. The narrator senses this herself, “…perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick!” and eventually must find ways to deceive him so that she can carry on with her writing, as she is “…absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again” But if John does not believe that his wife is actually sick, can he really be trying very hard to cure her?
Instead, he is using his “cure” to placate his wife, treating her like a child who is unable to understand her own emotions. By prescribing a retreat at a quiet country mansion, John also succeeds in cutting his wife off from the rest of the world where her strange behavior might raise questions about her husband’s competence as a physician. The house itself is set off from the world, so as to minimize contact with anyone from the outside.
“The yellow wallpaper” was published in 1892 as part of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work. Its prominence is great because of its theme which sought to liberate women who at the time were dominated by their male counterparts. In the 1800’s women never enjoyed the privileges they do in the contemporary world but were greatly dominated by the patriarchal society.
By the late 1800s, women had slowly and determinedly started to fight for their position, this was through literature and seeking positions that were previously looked at as a man’s privilege. It is their purposeful strive that has led to the current gains enjoyed by the modern woman. She starts to take account of things around her but slowly becomes obsessed with a wallpaper painting in her room.
To her, the wallpaper is yellow in color and everything else about it is also yellow including the smell (Gilman 8). It has scrawling patterns and parts of it have faded, she reasons the faded parts are due to her continuous brushing on the wallpaper. This is because she has noticed most of her clothes are stained with the yellow color around the shoulder line. Regarding the room, she believes it was once a nursery, due to the barred windows and thinks that it stopped being one because the children hated the place as much as she did.
As days progress she notices that the wallpaper continues to fade, she also notices that the wallpaper produces different shades dependent on the illumination. Constant analysis of the wallpaper shows thrilling patterns and designs and she finally makes out a figure within those patterns (Gilma 9). The figure depicts a crawling woman; she is seeking refuge from her current prison characterized by bars and shadows.
At this point her obsession with the painting has completely taken over; this coupled with the concern and need to free the woman leads her to strip the wallpaper. She is aware that she has to do this in secret because if her husband realizes this, she may be given another diagnosis and the sister will not leave.
Example #10 – Symbolism in the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s literary work ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is often considered as an important early work of American feminist literature which illustrates common social and physiological attitudes towards women during the 19th century. A number of analysis have been done on this literary text and various interpretations have been suggested.
In this essay, I want to adopt a new critical approach by arguing and examining how symbols of the text describe and emphasize the persecution of women during the period of time significantly. While effects of numerous symbols have indeed been argued from the text to show such fact, interpretations of some of the predominated ones have been controversial.
I have chosen three of those, i.e., the wallpaper itself, the color yellow, and the two windows, which serve as important elements in bringing out the theme of women’s suffrage during the 19th century effectively and efficiently as my main scope of discussion.
I will begin with the analysis of the wallpaper itself. Undoubtedly, it is the most obvious symbol in this story which also acts as a major element of the text. In general, the wallpaper represents the protagonist’s mindset. Further symbolic effects can be observed by its effect in signifying how women generally were perceived during the 19th century. These can be further argued in physical and mental aspects.
Physically, the wallpaper is a kind of physical entrapment to the protagonist. Due to the mandatory rest-cure treatment reinforced by her husband, she was locked in a room in which the wallpaper apparently blocked her access to the outside world. This argument is supported by the line “I never saw a worse paper in my life” which suggested her hatred of the wallpaper and to the physical restriction brought by.
With the progression of the story, she had a feeling that she could not get better in that room as the wallpaper was to a certain extent distracting her rest. Except for the wallpaper, indeed she could do nothing in the room so she had no way but to constantly stare at the wallpaper to ‘study’ the detailed pattern of it unwillingly. Another clue can be further argued is that the physical changes of the wallpaper could be seen as directly related to the main character’s sanity.
When the character of the wallpaper changed or progressed, the main character had a similar change. The contradictory patterns, angles, and curves could effectively reflect the protagonist’s emotions. Besides, the wallpaper can also be argued as a kind of psychological entrapment for the protagonist. Towards the end of the text, when her sickness came to the worst, she tears down the wallpaper to release the ‘woman’ behind the paper.
It is symbolic as it does not truly reveal that what she saw was not only imaginative but indeed the ‘her’ behind the wallpaper was also herself. Her emotion was indeed trapped by the entire social atmosphere as symbolized by the wallpaper. She had no way but to adapt to it. Indeed, what we can see is that the wallpaper was leading her to create her own madness rather than other factors.
As she says in the story, “There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will”. John was also found unable to understand what was happening as he was always working and never dared to take off her wife and her feeling, which further implied their relationship and how the intentionally ‘good’ man-centered rest-cure brought another tragedy.
The detailed selection of the color ‘yellow’ also brings another major symbolic effect. Long in history, the color yellow is regarded as the color of sickness and weakness, which to a certain extent correlates with the madness that the protagonist suffers. It also tells us how hard women had to face oppression and struggle in their everyday lives. More descriptions about the color were made by the protagonist “The color is hideous enough and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing”.
Acting as a symbolic metaphor suggesting how women are restricted, adjectives describing the color indeed say indirectly how the inequality of women brought by men can be “hideous”. What men did on women can also be “unreliable”. Other adjectives like “infuriating” and “torturing” can also be seen as reflecting the feeling of women in the 19th century, especially given the tight relationship between the color and the wallpaper.
The reasons why such descriptions were made are directly related to her being forbidden to do anything by the atmosphere. As such kind of stance was rare during the 19th century, the use of symbols can alleviate the apparentness of her opinion but at the same time spread the feminist message to the public. The yellow color also worked well with the other two sub-symbols, sunlight, and moonlight, showing the conflicts between men and women. In the text, it can be seen that sunlight indeed represents actions made by John, e.g., his dominating schedule and the male-dominated nature of the family.
Each and every morning, John only prescribed drugs for the protagonist without any other extra cares. Instead, he went for his daily routines, in turn causing the protagonist to follow each and every schedule which was set by John. This was also when the significance of ‘yellow’ plays not well given the sunlight. But at night, the balance shifts. Women in turn can achieve a more equal status with their husbands at night when the ‘daylight’ routines were not followed.
While John was sleeping, he was incapable to monitor each and every action of the protagonist and this was when the protagonist acquired a real sense of freedom. This is further emphasized by the protagonist’s flexible subconscious free roams like during dreams. The captioned moments are all brought by moonlight which serves as a traditional symbol of femininity. This is also when the protagonist understands more about the women trapped in the wallpaper given the apparent ‘yellow’ color.
During daytime as portrayed by sunlight, the protagonist cannot see the figure under excessive sunlight in her room causing her overwhelming by its pattern. At night, she was able to grab the woman’s plight and understand her imprisonment and confinement brought by society.
Apart from the captioned symbols, the barred windows also serve as symbols of the confinement of women further suggesting the social perception of women’s roles. Windows has long been representing a view of possibilities in different literary texts but in this text, it however became a gateway for her to access the world. Through the windows all possibilities were revealed, but as she said “I don’t like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.”
She understands that even chances were given; she has no way but to ignore them. Besides, her self personality has to be given up in order to be accepted by the community. Her reluctance to see the other women as they indeed resembled the protagonist’s life which she was unwilling to follow. Another line “Most women do not creep by daylight,” further suggested women’s need to hide behind men as portrayed by the symbol “shadows”.
They may be seriously discriminated against if they voiced out the opinions directly. The window’s symbolic meaning here is different as windows are not gateways but blocks as the society will not allow her to cross the bars of the windows to gain freedom. Even though she may be able to escape, the society may not accept her and she may still be asked to hide. This implies how society was like during the 19th century. Further lines are suggested to be related to the symbol windows.
From the windows, she said, “I can see the garden, that mysterious deep-shaded arbor, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.” The “garden” that she saw from the windows can be considered as symbolizing society but her description of it as “mysterious” shows that women could never understand the world. Descriptions like “lovely view of the bay” and a “private wharf belonging to the estate” are also significant as the bay can refer to the undeveloped women’s capabilities.
The “private estate” further implies the parts of society which are restricted to women. Moreover, the description of “people walking in the numerous paths and arbors” tells us how women portray men, and in turn realizing that those tasks are capable of them too. But as “John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least”, this became the bar of the windows that restricted women doing the roles of men. She could do many things but just because of the ‘bars’ of the windows, everything was unfairly restricted.
From the captioned symbols, it can be suggested that Gilman made use of such symbols to show how women were severely restricted during the 19th century. The symbols are directly related to each other with the strong significance of each. The writer indeed suggested a few main ideas including the equality of women and men in society and her call for a stop to the male-dominated society. Entirely, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” can be proved as a feminist text opposing society during the 19th century.
Example #11 – interesting ideas
I studied this essay in my American Lit class this year as a sophomore at college. Here are the notes from my lectures/research:
- Early work of American feminist literature.
- Illustrates attitudes in the 19th century of women’s physical and mental health
- She can’t work and is locked up to recover from her “temporary depression and hysteria”, a common diagnosis for women at the time.
- The windows of the room are barred, and there is a gate across the top of the stairs, allowing her husband to control her access to the rest of the house.
- The confinement is counterproductive and actually causes some of her symptoms
- In the end, she imagines there are women creeping around behind the patterns of the wallpaper, and comes to believe that she is one of them.
- The husband acts as a physician, not a husband.
- The story hints that part of the woman’s problem is that she recently gave birth to a child, insinuating she may be suffering from what would, in modern times, be called postpartum psychosis.
- Turns out that all the damage done to the room that she observes was caused by her in her hysterical episodes.
- She rips away the wallpaper; trying to free the “woman” she suspects is “Creeping” there.
- Gilman started suffering from neurasthenia after giving birth to her daughter and was prescribed a similar rest cure that emphasized rest and curbed creativity (a prescription she eventually abandoned once she realized the toll it was playing on her mentally. Her story potentially saved other women from the same fate.
Feminism and the yellow wallpaper:
- Wallpaper, usually feminine, floral decoration, is a symbol of female imprisonment within the domestic sphere. The wallpaper increasingly becomes a text of sorts through which the narrator exercises her literary imagination and identifies with a feminist double figure.
- When John curbs her creativity and writing, the narrator takes it upon herself to make some sense of the wallpaper. She reverses her initial feeling of being watched by the wallpaper and starts actively studying and decoding its meaning, finding a woman trying to break free. Over time, she identifies completely with this woman – with the bars in her own room – and believes she is also trapped within the wallpaper. When she tears down the wallpaper she believes that she has broken out of the wallpaper within which John has imprisoned her.
- The wallpaper’s yellow color has many possible associations – with jaundiced sickness and with the rigid oppression of masculine sunlight (see Sunlight as oppressive, moonlight as liberating, below). By tearing it down, the narrator emerges from the wallpaper and asserts her own identity, albeit a somewhat confused, insane one. Though she must crawl around the room, as the woman in the wallpaper crawls around, this “creeping” is the first stage in a feminist uprising; though the early feminists had to hide in the shadows, they paved the way for later generations to walk with heads held high.
Female imprisonment in the domestic sphere:
- John’s domineering ways have imprisoned the narrator into a domestic prison. Just as the woman in the wallpaper is imprisoned within a symbol of the feminine domestic sphere, in which women are expected only to clean the house and take care of the children, the narrator is trapped within her prison-like room and mansion. The exterior of the mansion is described as a series of closed-off sections, while the room she rests in, with its numerous barred windows and immovable bed, was probably formerly used to house an insane inhabitant. The narrator’s sense of being watched by the wallpaper suggests the idea of the room as a surveillance-friendly prison cell.
- John frequently refers to her with the diminutive “‘little'” and rarely takes her anxieties seriously. Instead, he always provides his own diagnosis, never allowing her to work off her sickness by writing. Overall, he infantilizes her, treating her as a helpless daughter rather than as an independent wife. The narrator feels even worse and more like a burden without the identities of wife and mother; the nanny, Mary, and John’s housekeeper sister, Jennie, replace her in these regards.
Sunlight as oppressive, moonlight as liberating:
Although the yellow color of the wallpaper has associations with illness and minorities, its most developed motif is with sunlight and moonlight. Sunlight is associated with John’s ordered, dominating schedule; he prescribes something for the narrator for every waking hour while he goes about his daily rounds. The narrator, however, prefers to sleep in the daytime.
At night, men’s day jobs on the outside are more irrelevant and the balance between the sexes is evened somewhat at home. More importantly, the flexible subconscious roams free at night, as in during dreams. It is always by moonlight, a traditional symbol of femininity, that the narrator understands more about the figure Trappe.
The Yellow Wallpaper is one of my favorite stories. I think your arguments are really interesting. Another argument (not sure whether it is about strangeness but maybe it helps you with your essay) is the fact that the main character believes the drawings and the woman on the wallpaper are more vivid at night. And it is during the night when she’s forced to spend time with her husband (since he sleeps next to her); during the day she’s more likely to be on her own in the room. She never mentions this issue, but I think it’s easy to point out while reading the story.
Why read the yellow wallpaper?
I have to write a persuasive essay about the yellow wallpaper. I have to persuade people into reading it and I need at least three reasons why. So far I have Women’s Oppression and Importance of Self Expression. Can anyone give me more ideas? Thanks!
Answer. I think the Yellow Wallpaper is an excellent story because it can be read so subjectively. I totally agree with your themes on Women’s Oppression and Self-Expression. I think I third reason could be that the reader is left on her own to make a judgment call about the main character — can’t remember her name off the top of my head. The first time I read the story, I was of the opinion something supernatural was happening in the room…especially with the description of the chewed up furniture and the rings, as is someone had once been held captive there. Maybe that was the intention of the room?
The second time I read it, I completely blamed the husband for mistreating his wife, misunderstanding her fears, and falsely accusing her of being insane. The third time I read it, I was convinced that the wife was already losing her grip on reality, and confining her or not would make no difference..as evidenced when she got to leave the house for a little while to go to the friend or sisters house (can’t quite remember where), and she didn’t really improve. You probably have your own interpretation, and that makes it a story you can go back to again and again.
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