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Charlotte Perkins Gilman used the form of her short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' to refer to topics such as women's inequality at the time. ‘ The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of a young woman who becomes insane as a result of a male-run medical institution and an oppressive system in her family. Gilman told a story that warned readers of the implications of assigning tasks to a predetermined gender in a male-dominated culture. Males play the role of husband and critical thinker in such a society, while women play the role of a dutiful wife without the authority of the individual. This paper analyses the oppression of women as presented in Gilman’s short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.
Gilman’s story depicted a marriage in which the narrator and her husband were doomed with the assigned roles. It focused on the narrator’s nervous condition that originated from being misunderstood and misdiagnosed by her husband throughout her life. It was very ironical for the narrator’s husband who was a doctor to fail to understand her psyche and initiate her treatment by confining her in a colonial room to rest. As a physician, the narrator’s husband, John ought to have let his wife rest in a secure place rather than putting her in an abandoned colonial hall. The narrator said, “If a physician of high understanding, 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 14) In the short story, Gilman portrayed men as authoritative and controlling figures who do not understand and appreciate the feelings of women. Men viewed women as powerless figures in the society. For instance, John was eager to help his wife with her depression, but his actions indicated that he wanted to control her using his position as a doctor. John’s wife said, “…I am forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Gilman 13). It implies that John deprived the narrator her fundamental rights such as writing and working.
Women of all classes were politically powerless in the 19th century and docile to their men. The society’s political inequality forced women to conform to the dependence of men who tried to dictate them. The characteristic of the narrator’s husband depicts a character of a typical man in the 19th century-who was factual, rational, educated and respected. John recognised the narrator’s mental disorder but decided to control her as a physician. John and his brother who were all doctors forbade the unnamed narrator from working until she recovered fully. The narrator thought otherwise and said, "Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good" (Gilman 9) Moreover, John took over the housework from his wife even though he consistently planned a free time for her. She felt ungrateful to her husband’s effort in helping her because she was the one who should be supporting him. John also controlled where and when his wife should be moving around.
The protagonist in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ showed how women were isolated from most societal programs. The health condition of the narrator made her be stopped from participating in the social events. She had a different thought from people’s feelings. The narrator said, "Congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good" (Gilman 11). It implies that the unnamed narrator stood for other people with mental disorders because keeping such people from entertainment may worsen their conditions. Feminine oppressions in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ also came because of personal weaknesses. The weaknesses barred the protagonist from making a proper communication that lessened her chances of expressing her inner emotional needs. In the society, men do take advantage over women when they cry while expressing themselves. It means that women are weak and should be under men’s control. For instance, the narrator claimed, "I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished" (Gilman). It shows that the narrator was overwhelmed with emotions that made John realised that she was in need of his control.
In conclusion, Charlotte Perkins Gilman discussed the female oppression of the 19th century in the story, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. Gilman depicted the undoubtedly difficult situations that the women faced in the society. The writer also presented the effects of oppression and female’s subordination to men. The protagonist character in the story was very submissive to her husband who used her trait to oppress her. Gilman also presented a concern of how men neglected the roles of women in the society. Men mistreated their wives and denied them chances of leadership in the society. From the short story of ‘the Yellow Wallpaper’, women could have been given equal opportunity to lead and participate in decision-making just like men. The actions of John’s wife towards him indicated that the female gender could have played a significant role in the societal development if they were given an opportunity.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wall-paper. Penguin UK, 2015.
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