Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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Women in Society and the Oppression of Women in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Women in society face numerous challenges that affect their psychological and mental development. Over the years women have been viewed as a minority group only subjected to domestic duties whereas the men are offered leadership positions and more privileges when it comes to employment. Most writers, however, have tried to portray and create a mental image of the societal situation through stories and narratives. One of the stories is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ which highlights the oppression of women in the society ( 269). The story presents a narration of the gradual descent of the woman into madness under patriarchy. The author dates the story back in the 1890s using extended metaphors, symbolism, realistic expression, and characters. The story is narrated in the first person perspective — the styles aid in creating a vivid description of the role of women in the male-dominated society. This document focuses on the ‘Narrator’ as the protagonist of the ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The Paradox and Power Shift in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Charlotte Perkins presents a story that ends in a paradox. The story shows how the narrator loses control of the outside world and begins to understand her inner personality. The narrator in this story faces oppression from things which seem harmless like objects, relationships, and situations in her life. The end of the story shows tables turning on John the husband, who faints and the narrator steps over him triumphantly ( 275). The author presents a change in which the narrator now has power over the man and no longer feels weak.

The Narrator's Identity and Alienation in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ the narrator is presented as the protagonist who is an emotionally ill woman. However, the author does not directly introduce the narrator. It is obvious that the narration is made by a woman who is married to a character known as John. The author presents the name of other characters but does not mention the name or identity of the narrator for a reason. This portrays the fact that with the narrator’s marriage to John, within the society and herself she feels that she is worthless, unimportant. She feels alienated and thus cannot be named like the rest of the characters for she is not in the same human category as them. The author presents the narrator as a paradox. As she torments about her position as a woman, she loses touch with the rest of the society. She comes to a deeper understanding of her place in a male-dominated society ( 285).

The Symbolism of the "Yellow Wallpaper" and Women's Confinement

The narrator faces situations, objects, and relationships which seem natural and innocent but are oppressive and bizarre. In a real sense, the ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ acts as the narrator’s way of showcasing the extent at which the external situations are directly affecting her inner impulses. As the novel begins, we are introduced to an imaginative and highly expressive lady. The narrator remembers being terrified of imaginary monsters, and this frustrates her since she now lives in a haunted house. The husband forbids her from creating her imaginations which were part of the ‘cure’ ( 295). She begins to question her position as a human being due to the ill-treatment by her husband. In an attempt to ignore her growing frustrations she develops neutral objectives of the wallpaper and the house. The narrator then pictures herself as the woman trapped in the wallpaper since she is only subjected to perform domestic duties as that is the role women in the society occupy.

The Oppressive Nature of Marriage and Women's Full Potential

Perkins in the Yellow Wallpaper brings out the topic of marriage in a contemporary society where women have less power over men. In the story of the Yellow Wallpaper, John dismisses his wife’s well-thought opinions by belittling her creating impulses (Perkins, Charlotte, pg.8). The vivid description by Perkins of the marriage between the narrator and her husband clearly shows how society views marriage as a male-dominated affair. Marriage needs to have equal participation from both a man and women. The story shows how society views marriage through the scientific theory that explains the women’s innate inferiority that limits their freedom. In the story of the Yellow Wallpaper, the man is seen to have pleasure in dominance over the female. John, the narrator's husband, creates restrictions that control the wife’s behavior conduct. The men enjoy the idea of having authority over the woman. The idea oppresses the woman making her feel inferior.

Women's Intellectual Limitations in Marriage and Society's Expectations

According to the author, the wife seems like she is not exercising her full freedom of intellectual stimulation in marriage. The narrator has a limitation in her imaginative and creative skills as a member of the community. Society limits women's participation in community development due to male chauvinism. The narrator feels that men control all aspects of women physical, psychological, and intellectual which can give her authority over men. In the story of the Yellow Wallpaper, the male perspective tends to differ with that of the wife when it comes to marriage. John believes at the moment whereas the woman is imaginative. The husband controls the woman every action. According to the author, the man has a superior position that gives him the mandate to restrict where the wife will sleep, who she will visit together with monitoring how he spends time at home ( 265). The perspective tends to differ with the woman’s view of marriage. The woman feels that they are not exercising their full potential in fulfilling their duties as women in the community and at home.

The Symbolic Representation of Women's Confinement in the "Yellow Wallpaper"

Charlotte thus uses symbolism to showcase the physical and psychological confinement of women in the society during the 19th century. The ‘yellow wallpaper’ represents the narrator's only way of self-expression. The author characterizes the wallpaper pattern as ‘complex, pointless, only visible in certain lights, dull enough to confuse the eye.' Gilman further states that the wallpaper has ‘lame uncertain curves’ showing the impaired thinking of society towards women.

The Horror of Women's Confinement in the Nursery Walls

Perkins in this novel creates a situation for the reader in which one creates a mental picture of the narrator in the horror of the nursery walls with yellow wallpaper coverings (Perkins, Charlotte pg. 4). The wallpaper which has an incomprehensible pattern in this context symbolizes the social expectations which limit women’s freedom. The narrator begins to formulate another design of the creeping women which stands for victimization by social norms.

The Negative Treatment of Women and the Struggle for Womanhood

In conclusion, the negative treatment of women in the society limits development and results in psychological effects on women from the authoritative nature. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the author shows the narrator’s struggle to fight for her understanding of womanhood. In contemporary society, women face discrimination despite the numerous reforms that focus on ensuring gender equality in the society.

Work Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "Why I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper?."Advances in psychiatric treatment 17.4 (2011): 265-265.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland and selected stories. Penguin, 2014.

November 24, 2023




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