The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The short narrative has over the years been hailed as the one of the most significant early feminist literatures. The narrative illustrates the attitudes that existed throughout the 19th century regarding the physical and the mental health of women. The story is presented in a first person and is written by a woman who is confined by her husband (John) in an upstairs bedroom that the latter has rented for the duration of the summer. John restricts the author to work, which includes reading and writing. As such, the author has to hide the journal from John, as is certain that she has been suffering from what he refers to as a ‘temporary nervous depression’ (Gilman 648). It is notable that this condition was common among the women during that period. The windows to the room where the author is detained are barred and there is a door through the top of the stairs that allows John to restrict her movement. It is apparent that the narrative is written during the time when the women were being subjected to oppression by their male counterparts and the society as a whole. To analyze the narrative one can take several perspectives.
First the story can be analyzed through the perspectives of the discourse by considering the male perception. The author takes a very resilient opinion against the males. Males are perceived as perceiving women first as children instead of individuals who can make their own decisions and live by them. This is evident when the narrator poses, “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?” (648). The narrator shows the masculine perspective of the standing of women in the society through dialogue. This is apparent from the narrator’s explanation that regardless of what she says John does not believe her. As a typical 19th century male, John endeavors to transform his wife into a conformist by imposing his beliefs on her and expecting her to follow the same without any resistance (Thrailkill 525). For instance, John believes that there is nothing wrong with his wife and expects the wife to believe the same regardless of the wife’s physical and mental state. Further, John refers to his wife as a “blessed little goose” portraying her as a child and speaking to her in a manner that applies when an adult is speaking to a child. Through dialogue, Gilman manages to portray how women were oppressed through male perspectives during her time.
Another perspective that one can analyze the standing of women in the 19th century society is the women’s perspective. The narrative illustrates two considerably different perspectives of women. The first women perspective is the conformist attitude that women embrace. The conformist attitude is enhanced by their belief that they must be submissive to the men. This apparent when the narrator states that she meant to be of help and comfort to John and that she is a comparative burden already (649). She feels that she has become a burden to John because she continues to complain about the yellow wallpaper despite John indicating that he was not going to get rid of it. The second women perspective is that of defiance. This is seen in the dialogue as the narrator is able to overcome her challenges. She states that she has “got out at last” and that neither John nor Jane would be able to pull her back (656). This is evident that the narrator had previously felt trapped and she was now capable of making her own decisions and acting for her own sake. The narrator eventually becomes a strong woman and the heroine of the story. Gilman is also able to show the both perspectives of women through dialogue.
The narrator uses symbolism in the narrative. Some of the symbols that are prevalent throughout the story include the yellow wallpaper, the sun, and the moon. The yellow wallpaper represents detention. This is obvious especially when the narrator states that the yellow paper seem to shake the pattern “as if she wanted to get out” (652). This symbolism is also triggered when the narrator requests to have the wallpaper removed but John repeatedly refuses to grant her request. Through the narrator’s realization that the yellow wallpaper is unfairly treated, she is able to reflect on her own predicament and is determined to escape her life that is similar to an imprisoned life.
The sun symbolizes the male dominion over the females while the moon symbolizes the compassion and intuition among females. These symbols shows that although, like the sun, males domineer over the women during the daytime, the moon which appears at night seem to provide the women with some kind of reprieve from the men’s domination.
In a nutshell, the narrative illustrates Gilman’s strong conviction about the women suffrage during the 19th century. In the story, Gilman demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, gender does not play any role regarding the abilities of individuals. The Yellow Wall-paper is very insightful narrative that provides information regarding the past women struggles. It also exemplifies optimism among the womenfolk that has aided in portraying the real respectable woman with equal rights and freedoms as their male counterparts.
Carnley, Peter. The Yellow Wallpaper and other sermons. Melbourne: HarperCollins Publishers,
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Rediscoveries: American Short Stories by
Women, 1832 - 1916. Ed. Barbara H. Solomon. New York: Mentor, 1995, pp. 480-496.
Thrailkill, Jane F. "Doctoring "The Yellow Wallpaper". ELH 69 (2): 2002, pp. 525–566.