The Yellow Wallpaper

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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 be tempted to conclude that she was indeed using the story as a reference to her life. Through reading the story, one is able to 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 the society seems to be unanimous in support of it.

From the surface, the story seems to be addressing the narrator’s sickness but a deeper analysis reveals that it is indeed talking of the condition of the women folk in general. In fact, the society seems to have assigned roles for women, which they are supposed to adhere to.

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In the story, John is used symbolically to represent 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 are 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 is used to represent 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 seems to be specific duties that wives and mothers have to fulfill. These duties seem to have been so oppressive such that the 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)

In fact, the oppression of women seems to have been so great such that John and the narrator’s brother who are 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. In fact, she wishes that she could get well faster just to escape this form of 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 in to 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 on the narrator and this makes us to wonder what kind of an 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 ironical 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. Of all the things, the husband does not even allow her to choose her bedroom from the many rooms but 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 the 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, her wife is like a mystery that he is unable to solve and that is why he keeps he 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 peak when she manages to pull down the yellow wallpaper from the walls where it had hanged for many years. In order 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 to only 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 19th century. During this period, women seem to have been under male domination and the 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 of choosing 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.

Works Cited

Gilman Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper, 1899. Web. April 23, 2011.

Categories: Marriage

Combining inherent chauvinism that allows men in society

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Combining complex symbolism with forthright dramatic irony and stream of consciousness narration, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” invokes the theme of patriarchal repression and gender persecution with profound realism and reader-identification. These latter qualities are all the more technically accomplished given that the story involves the apparent mental deterioration (or derangement) of the narrator, resulting in a a narrative which is both more fragmented and thematically dense than many readers may anticipate.

The theme of male-oppression of women is introduced from the story’s opening lines, which comprise the narrator’s self-reflective “monologue. ” An odd line of reasoning, or peculiar form of rationality guides the opening lines of “The Yellow Wallpaper” initiating the reader into a sense of alienation and disempowerment. The narrator remarks that is highly unusual for an “ordinary” couple such as herself and her husband to “secure ancestral Halls for the summer.

” The intimation is that something quite disturbing and unusual has brought about a dramatic change to the “ordinary” world. Though the narrator imagines the house may be haunted: “I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity,” the reality of the situation soon becomes clear, that the narrator’s predicament is every bit as terrifying as being caught in a haunted house.

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The comment clearly indicates the narrator’s ability (contrary to the opinions of other characters in the story) to distinguish fantasy from reality, indicates that her sense of irony and humor is quite intact, and that she (the narrator) can clearly distinguish not only the specific of her whereabouts and surroundings, but invest them with whimsy and historical color, as well. (Gilman).

The function of the opening scenes of the story is to prepare the reader for a deep identification with the narrator and initiate the reader into a “world turned upside down;” that is, a world where the typical day to day accouterments of self-empowerment and self-gratification have been denied, based solely on the inherent chauvinism that allows men in society to view women as an inferior “other. ” In contrast to the narrator’s colorful and imaginative description of the mansion, her husband John is described as coldly analytical and pragmatic.

“John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. ” (Gilman) Though it would be “romanticism” to believe the mansion haunted, the astute reader is perfectly correct in assuming the mansion a desolate and unhappy place, given the narrator’s almost mawkish longing for a haunted mansion as opposed to the cold, oppressive place of ‘rest” that is the mansion.

The narrator’s solace is in writing, which is forbidden her by her “doctors” who are, respectively, her husband and brother. “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition. ” The narrator after divulging her true feelings about the mansion, confides to her readers, “John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

” (Gilman) So, after only a mere handful of lines in the opening of “The Yellow Wallpaper” have been read, the reader is initiated into a world of alienation, where a brother and husband have kept a woman against her wishes in a cold and desolate mansion for “rest” and the narrator, though suspicious of their acumen and intentions, is powerless to change her situation.

This type of powerlessness forms the root of the thematic impetus for Gilman’s story, with the events of the story enumerating with increasing intensity and hopelessness the de-humization of the narrator by the men who surround her, all performed under the most accomplished and correct social circumstances. “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) The last words in the above quote “what is one to do?

Can be rightly imagined as a cry of desperation; the attentive reader will feel a strong sense of pain and foreboding at the narrator’s cry from the heart. The impact of these words will likely separate readers immediately into two categories; those who will identify so closely with the narrator’s subsequent experiences that they virtually share them, or the reader will be left feeling alienated from the narrator, the story, and will likely be unable to grasp the important thematic assertions made via the symbolism and action of the story.

In some ways, this potential (or even likely) separation of readers into diametrically opposed groups mirrors the gender based social fragmentation with which Gilman is concerned in this story. Such a dynamic extension of the story’s important themes elevates “The Yellow Wallpaper” into superlative articulation and long-lasting profundity. After this point in the story, when the narrator remarks “what is one to do! ” an intense reader-identification is established which will allow the following remarks by the narrator to attain their intended ironic expression.

Categories: Events

The the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband

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The Yellow Wallpaper
Although on the surface The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story about one womans struggles with sanity it is not. In truth, it is a story about the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife. The husband, John, pushes his wifes depression to a point quite close to insanity. The narrator seems to destroy herself through her overactive imagination and her urge to write. When they arrive she seems well in control of her faculties, but by the time they are readying for departure, she has broken down. Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there may be a real problem with his wife. This same attitude is mirrored in her brother, also a physician. While these attitudes, and the actions taken by the two doctors, seem to have certainly contributed to her breakdown, it seems that there is an underlying rebellious spirit in her.

The narrator, speaking out against her husband states, He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me. This demonstrates how John is not treating his wife for anything. He simply doesnt believe there is a problem. This is one of her major motivations for keeping a journal; she thinks it helps her because she is afraid to speak out against her husband. Every time she thinks about writing in the journal, she relates how tired it makes her. Throughout the story, John speaks out against her writing, because he feels that it contributes to her depression but she writes anyway, feeling that she is getting away with something. John treats her as if she were ill not depressed. John being a physician, not a psychologist, prescribes her medication that is for someone who is physically ill, not experiencing psychological distress. The journal becomes an outlet for her true feelings that she believes would get her incarcerated if anyone else heard them. When she writes she states, I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. But I find I get pretty tired when I try. Her husband who believes that her writing is contributing to her illness opposes this idea while not radical.
As the story progresses, we find that she has begun to fixate on her room, and most of all on the wallpaper. She finds the bed is nailed down, the windows have bars, and there are rings and things sticking out of the walls possibly from the days of this being a childrens playroom. She at first hates the room, but grows to like it, Im getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper This is a contradiction, and possibly the first moment of her real mental breakdown. It seems at this point she is not dealing with reality anymore. She begins to see a woman in the wall, which can be interpreted as the projection of her self-image, a woman imprisoned by outside forces. It would seem at this point she is almost withdrawing from real life and entering a world of fantasy. Her husband does not see that her problem is with her imagination, and that she does not have a sense of reality. This is perhaps brought on by a loss of a sense of her identity as a wife and mother. This seems to be exacerbated by her husband through his use of terms like darling, little girl, and little goose. These terms and their resulting effects contributing to the image of a dominant husband causing the mental breakdown of his wife.

The wallpaper seems to ultimately cause her total breakdown. It is described as flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. As the time of her total lapse of sanity, she seemingly will go to any length to tear down the wallpaper. To illustrate, she cannot reach to the ceiling except for by standing on the bed. She wants to move the bed so she can tear the wallpaper off the wall as far as much as possible. When she fails to move the bed she becomes extremely frustrated and bites off a small piece in one corner, hurting her teeth in the process. This demonstrates that she will go to any length to get to the wallpaper. At the same time as wanting to destroy the wallpaper she gets very protective, no person touches this paper but menot alive. Once she writes this journal entry, she has finally shown conclusive signs of insanity. In addition to the pattern, she also fixates on the color of her imprisoning wallpaper. This color soon becomes a fixture of her thinking, I dont want to go outside. I wont, even if Jennie asks me too. For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. By embracing the color of the walls that subjectively imprison her, she has embraced the insanity gripping her.
The insanity that the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, descends into is a result of extreme depression. This depression is falsely diagnosed as simply a mental thing that can be totally controlled by the affected party. John, the husband of the narrator makes this diagnosis and prescribes a treatment that inadvertently drives the narrator to a mental breakdown and insanity. Although many of the restrictions on the narrator are simply in her mind, her husbands behavior and treatments serve to exacerbate the problem instead of curing it as it is intended.

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Categories: Behavior


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