Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a creative woman whose talents are
suppressed by her dominant husband. His efforts to oppress her in order to keep
her within society's norms of what a wife is supposed to act like, only lead to
her mental destruction. He is more concerned with societal norms than the mental
health of his wife. In trying to become independent and overcome her own
suppressed thoughts, and her husbands false diagnosis of her; she loses her
sanity. One way the story illustrates his dominance is by the way he, a
well-know and established doctor who should know better than to diagnose a
family member, diagnoses her as having a temporary nervousness condition and
what he prescribes for her illness, which is bed rest. Without asking her, he
takes her to their summer home to recover from an illness that he doesn’t
believe she has. He tells her there is “no reason” why she feels the way she
does; she should get rid of those “silly fantasies.” In saying this to her,
he is treating her like a child who doesn’t really know how she feels, thus
making her doubt herself. When she tries to tell him what she needs, she is
completely shut out and ignored. “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I
had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst
thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me
feel bad.” This statement has a two-fold meaning, in the first part of the
sentence he reveals part of his insecurity problem. He is not interested in
getting her help because he doesn’t want her illness to be resolved with the
right support. But in treating her with just bed rest, he is forcing her to
dwell on her problems, which is just the opposite of what he wanted. In the
second part of the sentence, it seems as though the woman doesn’t want to
believe what her husband is telling her thus setting the stage for her
rebellion. All her husband wants her to do is rest and sleep: he even suppresses
her creative talent by not allowing her to write. She is in constant fear of
being caught by her husband; “I must put this away, -he hates to have me write
a word.” It seems as though John is being more of a father than a husband and
because of this, she feels that she should be a “good girl” and appreciate
what he is doing for her even though she knows that his diagnosis is killing
her. “He takes all care from me, and I feel so basely ungrateful not to value
it more…He took me in his arms and called me blessed little goose…” This
is a clear indication of someone trying to run another person’s life. By him
not allowing her to write he is causing her depression to worsen. If she had
been “allowed” to come and go as she pleased, her depression may have
lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little
it would relieve, the press of ideas and rest me.” Her husband is suppressing
the one major outlet that will help her get better in her seclusion,
“writing.” By absolutely forbidding her to work until she is well again he
is imprisoning her and causing her depression. John has made her a prisoner not
only in their home but also in their marriage. Her opinions are not taken into
consideration she’s not even allowed to take care of her child. He imprisoned
her in a room with bars on the windows and a “great immovable bed:” that is
“nailed down.” She has no say in the location or decoration of the room, “
I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted…But John would not hear of it. She
can’t even have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and
companionship about my work…but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my
pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” The
description of the room symbolizes what he’s doing to her. The room is striped
of all beauty and creativity. It is a conservative, conformative, sterile
atmosphere, everything that he wants her to be. Everything that might help her
is deliberately kept from her. He has isolated her and is continuing to force
his therapy on her without regards to her well being and his intentions may be
good, but all that he’s prescribed for her is choking the life out of her.
There is clear evidence in the text to support the theory that if he would have
listened to her instead of trying to impose society’s views on her and
treating her like an inferior child, she might have recovered. He is more
concerned with how society would view him if his wife broke free and pursued her
career as a writer, which was unheard of in those days. It seems as if he
detested her work and was holding her back from her full potential. When she
became comfortable with the room, she begins to tell John about the things
she’s been thinking (wrong move). He became terrified of the ideas she was
having and pleaded with her to convince her that she must control all of her
ambitions and act sanely. It seems as though the doctor is insecure and by
treating her this way he wants to restore some of his security about himself. He
is implying that she must think of herself as getting better both in mind and
body, for the sake of other people, rather than herself. This would not be
taking place if she were a man, but because she’s not, she doesn’t know
what’s best for her; and this leads to her rebellion and an all-out attempt to
prove him wrong. Everything that the doctor told her not to do, from writing to
going out, she does. Rebellion is a source of self-protection, for her sanity,
and by writing and disobeying him, she is guarding her sanity. She does this by
writing when there is nobody around to see her and by trying to move the bed. In
trying to break free she shows some of her creativity by creating the woman that
she wants to be and placing her behind the yellow wallpaper, which symbolizes
her husband and society. “She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind
that pattern and what it is doing.” She refuses to leave until she finds out
what the woman is doing under the wallpaper. This may be the narrator’s
attempt to understand her own self and better understand what she wants to do
before leaving her comfort zone. She obviously wants to walk out of the room a
changed woman and is using this woman she created as her strength and test tool
to accomplish this. She wants the woman to be free because in actuality, the
woman she created is her sanity. But she doesn’t want to let her go because
she wants to be like her once she’s free. She tries to condone her actions
because she knows that what she wants to do won’t be excepted by her husband
or society. So she enjoys being out and doing what she likes to do, but at night
her husband will be around and she cannot creep around her husband. The final
scene is when she develops the courage to confront her oppressor without regards
to his wisdom or the fact that he’s a doctor. “What is the matter?” he
cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing!” She figured since she pulled
off most of the wallpaper, she’s freed herself from the submissive thinking
that her husband likes. He fainted because he wasn’t prepared for her
diagnosing of herself. He was suppose to be the healer and she turned out to
heal herself with little effort from him. The roles switched and he couldn’t
understand why his therapy didn’t work. Her creeping over him symbolized
victory from the struggle of the male dominance in society. It also symbolized
her victory because she was a product of a society that puts women in the lowest
category, but she freed her soul and now she can run freely. To conclude, from
the beginning, the narrator showed a sign of hopelessness but always questioned
what her husband thought was best for her. What her husband wanted for her was
the exact opposite of what she wanted. He wanted her to conform, to accept the
environment she was placed in, and to not look for outside influences to help
strengthen her, which was an indication of his insecurity. She accepted the
environment that she was placed in but begin to slowly change it into what she
wanted. Even though her husband really believed that he was helping her, he was
actually hurting her. He was stuck in society’s thinking that woman wanted to
be taken care of and thought that, that’s what he was doing. He could not
understand why she began to react violently and angrily to the environment in
which she was placed. Only by confronting her fears of what society and her
husband would think about her, did she allow herself to become free. Once she
achieved her independence, she realized that she didn’t need to rely on anyone
else but herself for her survival. By refusing to be submissive, she traded her
sanity for independence.
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