The story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is written as a secret diary of a woman who describes how she spent her summer in an estate. She starts by describing the romantic aspect of the area they are living in, which reminds her of her condition. The narrator, John’s wife is suffering from postpartum depression but John diagnosis it as slight hysterical tendency stating that nothing was really wrong with her. During nervous problem, the narrator takes ‘phosphites’ or ‘phosphates’, and their rented house is in an area where she will have enough air and exercise (Gillman, 1).
Initially, the narrator explains the way her husband is loving and a respected physician. Nonetheless, through her writings, it is evident that John does not support the wife to do what she loves, which is writing. She is locked as a way to illustrate care and love, but according to her, this is more harmful than good to her. Due to this, the narrator sits in the yellow room she hates, where instead of the rest helping, it makes her condition to worsen. It is evident that her thinking is disordered by the way she keeps staring at the yellow wallpaper.
Staring at the wall paper provides another view of a woman trying to break free. The critical aspect of the narrator can be an illustration of the struggle she undergoes and her attempts to break free. The view of the woman gives the narrator a task to release the woman in the yellow paper, where in her attempt, she ends up tearing the paper. The husband enters in time to find the narrator creeping and she later faints.
The Theme of Women Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper
In most part of history, men have dominated, enchained and mistreated women, where woman faced inequality based on their gender (Berenji, 222). The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates the oppressive nature of women in a male dominated society (Davison, p47). The oppression is not only localized to the home settings, but also affects their health status. During the 19th century, Berenji (224) explains that majority of women suffered from postpartum depression and most of the time the condition was misdiagnosed as a sickness for the womb (Treichler 61). The author of the narrative illustrates the plight of women in a male dominated society which greatly affected their health and were trapped in the way of life as prisoners.
During this era as illustrated by the narrator, men made the decisions for women. What was best for a woman according to her, was not appropriate if the husband disapproved it. For example, the narrator feels as if she was allowed to make her own decision, she would do what she loves most, writing to make her feel better. The women in the 19th century was living in a time their roles were under household, to take care of children (Battisti and Sidia, 189). It is thus evident from the narrator’s eyes that the oppressive attitude of males towards the women greatly affect their health and made medical issues misdiagnosed and hard to manage.
The aspect of gender oppression in this story is seen by how the woman is confined both by her illness and her gender. The narrator struggles to move outside the domestic sphere as she wishes her husband would not confine her but allow her to do what she loves, writing and caring for his son. Nonetheless, her husband John and other men in her life views this as a symptom for the condition she suffers from. The narrator illustrates her confinement by stating that she is confined in a former nursery and after her recovery she will be confined in that of her son.
The character of the narrator illustrates the plight of women during the 19th century where according to Golden (27), the place for women was as housekeepers, caretakers, wives and mothers. This role in the narrative is that of Jennie, who is the narrator’s sister in law who cares for the household and children while the husband has a professional and enjoys life and freedom. The narrator is a representation of a woman with desire to work outside her home, but she cannot due to the resistance both form the family and the society at large.
The narrator is prevented by her husband to be a mother and also to be a career woman which rendered her to critically think about the yellow wallpaper. Symbolically, the yellow wallpaper illustrates the self-actualization process of the woman where she evaluates and recognizes who she is and seeks, and fights for freedom (Suess, 93). Due to this, the narrator breaks all the walls or the bonds tying her to gender oppression including her marriage. This is metaphorically represented by the narrator tearing the wall paper to free the woman (Hume, 477). At the end of the story, the narrator frees the woman indicating that she is free from the oppression and societal expectation. The narrative provides that although women got to where they are in 21st century, it was only attained by fighting against all bonds.
Battisti, Chiara, and Sidia Fiorato. “Women’s Legal Identity in the Context of Gothic Effacement: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria or The Wrongs of Woman and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.” (2012): 183-205.
Berenji, Fahimeh Q. “Time and Gender in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper and Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour.” Journal of History Culture and Art Research 2.2 (2013): 221-234.
Davison, Carol Margaret. “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” Women’s Studies 33.1 (2004): 47-75.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wallpaper. Project Gutenberg, 1999.
Golden, Catherine J. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The yellow wall-paper: a sourcebook and critical edition. Routledge, 2013.
Hume, Beverly A. “Gilman’s” interminable grotesque”: The Narrator of” The Yellow Wallpaper”.” Studies in Short Fiction28.4 (1991): 477.
Suess, Barbara A. “The Writing s on the Wall: Symbolic Orders in The Yellow Wallpaper.” Women’s Studies 32.1 (2003): 79-97.
Treichler, Paula A. “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in” The Yellow Wallpaper”.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 3.1/2 (1984): 61-77.
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