The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman who presents a theme of repression of women throughout the story. An unnamed married woman narrates that story to give the reader her perspective on what she feels and how she reacts to the things that surround her such as the yellow wallpaper. Initially she feels sick and turns to her husband who happens to be a doctor. He dismisses her illness as “a slight hysterical tendency” and responds by isolating her in a room with daunting yellow wallpaper in a secluded summer house with no human contact besides him and his sister who feels the same way about her illness as he does. The narrator shows a rebel woman having conflicts with the society that rules him. The relationship between the narrator and her husband gives evidence of the conflict in the society between old patriarchal ways and the pressures that resulted against them. These pressures and conflicts in this story are evident through the old-fashioned methods used by John, and the mental anguish expressed by the narrator throughout her struggle. The controls of society and the structure of marriage at the time the story was written were so constricting that it could drive a woman mad. By focusing on the male dominance over the narrator, Gilman shows that a troubled mind, with no outlet, has no defense but to retreat to its inner sanctum.

The husband uses his masculine power as a doctor to control her. The husband can be seen as a father figure who overprotects her and makes decisions for her. This is very characteristic of men in the late nineteenth-century due to their lack of psychological knowledge and views of women as inferior. John states, “called me a blessed little goose” . Although the woman suffers from depression and is prescribed a rest cure. John's views as a doctor forbid any type of activity, even writing, for he feels it will only worsen her already fragile condition. The narrator believes she would feel better if she could write, “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” The woman never had any freedom because John was always there to supervise. An example of this treatment can be seen in the following quote: “I tried to have a real earnest talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wished he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia. But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there”. He just imposes his ways on her and expects her to go along with it. As narrator is confined by John's oppressive treatments, she expresses her feelings through her madness and obsession with the wallpaper.

Being controlled by her husband the woman turns to the only things she can control, her mind. She becomes intrigued with the patterns in the wallpaper in her room, which is more like a cell than a room. She begins to see patterns in the wallpaper; she is obsessed with trying to find what the pattern is about and what meaning it holds. She comes to the conclusion that the wall symbolizes a woman behind a cell. Much similar to what the woman in the wallpaper does, the main character creeps “I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.” In the end, she rips up the wallpaper to help the woman in the wall become free; in reality she is freeing herself from her husband. “I've got out at last, 'said I,' in spite of you and Jane? And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!” The narrator almost relates herself as being one with the woman behind the wallpaper. She changes places with this woman throughout her speech, revealing that internally she believes it is herself who is trapped behind the wallpaper not the woman, which is the image of women at that time experiencing isolation.

Forbidden to write or think, given a set schedule, and treated like a child; the woman becomes unstable. John's prescription of the “rest cure” is not helpful in healing the narrator's mental illness. At this time period, women were told what was right for them even though sometimes they only made situations worse and the society kept women from getting intellectual jobs, and strongly believed in the division between men and women. The narrator obsesses about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to escape. The woman finally escapes from her controlling husband in a final rage of insanity as she peels the wallpaper off and locks her husband out of the room.

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