The story “Yellow Wallpaper” by Gilman

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The novella "Yellow Wallpaper" by Gilman (1892) begins with the narrator wondering why her husband would take her to such a deserted house on vacation. The idea of living in such a house suggests that something is amiss somewhere. This thinking prompts a discussion with her husband about the nature of her disease. The narrator suffers from nervous depression, and despite her ailment and the fact that her husband is a doctor, she is barred from working. According to the husband, this is a treatment for the condition. She believes that engaging job, action, and freedom would be beneficial for her health. The narrator starts writing without the consent of the husband, in the process, the wallpaper in the bedroom captures the narrator's thoughts. She sees herself to be a slave in the house and a trapped woman which she has to liberate from. Dave’s Neckliss by Chesnutt ), is a story of a religious slave whose life changes after being accused of stealing ham. He develops psychological illness and later commits suicides as the solution to attain his freedom. Based on oppression faced by the two characters, this paper seeks to look at the comparativeness of the theme in the two stories.

To begin with, The Yellow Wallpaper is a story that exhibits a major theme of slavery. The narrator, despite the mental illness, is an example of oppression by oneself or by man. In this context, the narrator finds herself suffering psychologically because of the illness. She keeps on imagining the husband’s perception on spending a vacation in an isolated home (Gilman 167). She develops distress as she is denied the freedom to do any form of work. Despite the husband being a medical practitioner, he does not take into consideration the wife’s opinion. He recommends rest as this will ease the narrator’s emotions. This is a type of oppression from a man. The narrator develops uneasiness from the environment she is in her condition and the fact that all decisions are made by the husband. She develops misgivings.

In Dave’s neckliss context, the form of oppression takes a different angle. Slavery and oppression stand out in cultural frames. As the story begins, Julius who was a former slave to John’s vineyard narrates on Dave’s story as they enjoy a meal of ham which was taken by most Christians especially on Sabbath (Chesnutt 721). Dave was a religious slave, who was very hard working. However, his life changed for the worse after being accused of stealing ham. Despite his innocence, Dave was forced to wear putrid ham in which, was so uncomfortable. As a result of the distress, Dave’s mental condition worsened. Mental torture from his wife to be, the community at large played a role in his mental condition. He developed a negative attitude towards himself, self-denial and described himself as a ham (Chesnutt 724). This is an evidence of self-oppression.

Further, due to the community regarding the act of stealing food as unacceptable, the slaves also despised him. Ideally, he is a slave physically and also becomes enslaved mentally. The narrator tells the story in tears and by seeing the sight of ham, imaginations of Dave as a slave and fight to liberation runs across his mind (Chesnutt 725). It is evident that in both stories, both victims suffered mental illness due to lack of freedom. Sometimes the environment around us contributes to factors associated with depression. Further, the mental condition is as a result of distress due to the happenings and environmental pressures, it could be from the community, the family or a problem that has abruptly occurred like in Dave’s Case. However, mental illness patients should be handled as they are to avoid conflicts.

Additionally, oppression may result to complication in the individual’s life. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is subjective to the decisions made by the husband. The circumstances forces her to lock herself up and rest in bed all day(Gilman 170).Due to boredom , the narrator’s mind becomes engrossed in studying the yellow wall paper which seems to have a particular design(Gilman 172).She focuses on the entire surrounding. In that context, the narrator’s mind begins to explore the wall paper and figures out an image. An image of a woman trapped in the wall paper (Gilman 175).Eventually, she feels that she can help free that woman behind the wallpapers pattern. As thoughts cross her mind, she imagines the woman escaping and sees her creeping in the woods in broad daylight (Gilman 177).In the entire period, she keeps on hallucinating about freedom for the woman. She feels she need to escape but cannot.

As she sleeps during the night, she feels that she needs to share her thoughts with the husband but ends up saying things that please him as an assurance that she is fine. The perverseness of the husband about the illness pushes the narrator to the end and her mental condition worsens( Gilman 179).The husband would have given her freedom to do the activities that she knew would heal her from distress but the husband kept on convincing her about resting. This demonstrates the social oppression faced by females in the community. Similarly, in Dave’s story, Dave’s insanity is demonstrated by the form in which he treats himself.Literally, he sees himself as a ham (Chesnutt 727). Dave’s thought creates a visual image of himself putting on a ham chain. The development of insanity of the characters in the two stories, seem to be responsible for trauma.

The victims visualize on anything in the surrounding and cling to it to find consolation. Further, in the latter story, perverseness has developed from individual level to societal level (Chesnutt729). Instead of investigating Dave’s claims, the society ended up punishing him outright, which depicted social injustice. Despite the fact that he was an African-American slave, it did not give the society a right to judge him and to face punishment. This resulted in conflict between Dave and the entire community. Conversely, in order to maintain good healthy both mentally and physically, there is need to accept feelings regardless of the life situations and circumstances at hand.

Both stories have a similarity in the inanimate object used. In The Yellow Wall paper, the narrator's thoughts are captivated behind the wall paper that hangs on the bedroom wall(Gilman 180 ).In Dave’s Neckliss story, the ham necklace is symbolic. In The Yellow Wallpaper story, from the beginning to the end, the narrator's thoughts are fully bound on the wall paper, she spends the entire days figuring out pattern of a woman behind it. It is evident that the narrator is obsessed by the wall paper. The yellow color further depicts that the narrator is in a state of depression, which can pronounce to hysteria. In Dave’s context, a ham necklace put on Dave is referred to as “neckliss" (Chesnutt 730). The neckliss symbolizes the torture and the punishment that Dave is going through. Later in the story, Dave replaces the ham necklace with a necklace made of a stick and a string. This shows that as much as the necklace symbolizes depression, the man is obsessed. The metaphoric blend associated with the ham is that Julius who was a former slave keeps on figuring court Dave’s story by the sight of harm. Secondly, Dave’s trouble began from the alleged accusation of stealing ham. The same ham is used to punish him and symbolizes distress.

In both stories, the ham and the wallpaper are the cure for both cases. Dave is found hanging in a smokehouse (Chesnutt 732). This shows that the climax of distress was committing suicide. This is symbolized by the use of another necklace from the neckliss that Dave put on around his neck. The similarity between the ham and the chain is said to be a noose. Consequently, the hanging body of David is symbolized too, by the image of a ham. Ideally, in the Yellow Wallpaper, when the narrator reached the climax of her state of social bound, the moment of rebellion was due. The narrator stripped off the wallpaper which symbolizes the beginning of freedom (Gilman 181). She takes action to gain the freedom by declaring agency in her life and does not recognize the status quo anymore. This declares the beginning of her freedom journey despite the husband’s nature.


Slavery and oppression in the stories have been analyzed differently. The stories depict the various forms of slavery and oppression that exist in communities in various aspects. Taking into consideration Dave’s story, he was an African –American and the problems which he faced were as a result of racism. The African –Americans were discriminated and treated unequally. This posed them to risks of distress, self-denial, and oppression. Nevertheless, they had to survive despite racism as pot raid by Julius. Similarly, in The Yellow Wallpaper, the story analyses the defined roles of men and women in the society. The woman’s roles were domestic and the man had to make decisions regarding any issue without the woman questioning. The males were found to be oppressing the female in terms of freedom of speech, and decision making. Hence the story illustrates the struggle that women face as they fight for their freedom from restrictions laid down by men.

Work Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. 2017. Print.

Chesnutt, Charles W. "Dave's Neckliss." 1889." Chesnutt, Stories: 721-33. Print.

May 10, 2023



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