Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wallpaper By Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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For John Modern day feminists’ enjoy looking into the past to find examples of
female oppression. This tactic is employed in the hopes of demonstrating that
oppression of their sex by the evil male populous has been going on for decades.
One such work that is cited by feminists to showcase just how terrible women
were treated in the first part of the twentieth century is Charlotte Perkins
Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Feminists’ are quick to point out that
the main character in this story is driven down the path of insanity by her
uncaring husband. It is of their opinion that John, the main character’s
husband, consistently neglects her by keeping her locked away upstairs. Other
feminists argue that the main character was not actually insane, rather, she was
pushed into a temporary state of delirium as a result of the state of
confinement that her husband subjected her to. These same feminists will say
that John’s consistent misdiagnosis of his wife’s condition smacks of
incompetence. It is their theory that if the main character were a man during
this same period of time, doctors would have treated the condition differently.
In other words, men were not diagnosed with hysteria and bedridden for three
months when they became depressed. As mentioned before, this is what some modern
day feminists think. This is in stark contrast to the interpretation by us
modern day realists. John was a good husband that cared deeply about his
wife’s condition. He is described at the beginning of the story as being “a
physician in high standing” (The Norton Anthology, p. 658). This description
alone offers deep insight into what kind of treatment his wife was receiving. It
is hard to imagine that any woman who is married to an extremely prominent
doctor is going to receive anything less than highest quality of treatment
available. John’s love for his wife is further exemplified by him obtaining a
nanny to watch over the baby until she recovers. He wanted her full, complete
recovery to come about in an expedited manner. He obviously was aware of the
strain caring for a baby puts upon a lady. Oppressive husbands are more akin to
piling all of the burdens of child rearing and house maintenance upon their
wives. Here, we have just the opposite. John did everything within his power to
relieve the everyday stresses of his beloved wife by acquiring the services of a
nanny. His wife was cognizant of this fact, for she plainly states the John
loves her dearly, and hates to have her sick (The Norton Anthology, p. 662). The
next myth that needs to be dispelled is that of John keeping his wife locked
away in the house, thereby causing her to go insane. Feminists would like us to
believe that John locked his wife away in a drab, musty cell, forbidding her to
venture outside. The story paints a starkly different picture. At the beginning
of the story, the character speaks rather fondly of the room, calling it “as
airy and comfortable a room as any one need wish” (The Norton Anthology, p.
660). By her utterances here, one can quite easily ascertain that she is indeed
comfortable in her new surroundings. The character is also of absolute liberty
to explore the rose garden outside at anytime that she wished. This is proven
true by two crucial examples from the story. The first is taken from the
characters own mouth, from when she directly states that she “walks a little
in the garden or down that lovely lane, [and] sit[s] on the porch under the
roses” (The Norton Anthology, p. 662). By her own admission, she is able to
wander outside upon her own free will. The second example that demonstrates the
level of freedom that resides with her is the fact that her husband is away all
day, and even some nights, attending to other patients. If John is not there to
ensure that she is being locked up, how then can one deduce that he is stripping
her of any freedoms? She was at complete liberty to move about as she so
desired, for absolutely nobody was there to stop her from acting upon her own
free will. She stayed inside most of the day primarily because she wished to.
The next controversy explored here is that of whether or not the wife was insane
by nature, or if it was John that pushed her into the realm of madness. Some
feminists may argue that John clearly was responsible for the deteriorating
condition of his dearly beloved. Again, the realists’ interpretation is
extremely different. Nothing that John could have done would have done anything
to prevent the inevitability of his wife’s transformation into an insane
lunatic. She seems to be fine at the beginning of the story. Her thoughts and
words are testimony to that of a person suffering from extreme boredom. As the
story unfolds, her thoughts turn into rather bizarre and nonsensical ramblings
about women trapped behind the yellow wallpaper that decorates the room. At one
points, she writes down that she “thought seriously of burning down the
house” (The Norton Anthology, p.666). That definitely is not the rationale
exhibited by sane individuals. John, meanwhile, consistently reassures her that
she is getting better. He notes her color coming back and her appetite
returning. Physically, she was getting better. John was a doctor, not a
psychologist, therefore, his treatment of her physical ailments were indeed
working. There was nothing that he could have done for her mental deterioration.
If blame is to be administered to any character for the mental breakdown of
John’s wife, then she herself must be held accountable for her own insanity.
It was she, whom by exercising her own free will, decided not to venture outside
anymore. Again, at the beginning of the story, she remarks rather freely about
how she liked to sit on the porch under the roses. As madness strengthens the
hold upon her cerebrum, she loses her interest in going outside. She ventured
outside toward the end of the story, only to remark that she found no appeal in
the outdoors. John’s wife longed for the yellowness of the upstairs room. She
had found a sudden lack of fondness for the greenery that was showcased outside
of the friendly confines of the yellow room. Of course, the most damning piece
of evidence against the theory that John caused his wife’s insanity by keeping
her locked inside the house reveals itself at the end of the story. The female
“heroine” writes for us that she locked herself inside the house and threw
the key onto the footpath. This is extremely problematic if the theory that John
was keeping his wife locked away is to be believed. If he was keeping her locked
up, why did she have access to the key? The mere fact that she had a key
indicates that she was there upon her own free will. The second piece of
evidence displayed that vindicates John comes when she locks herself inside of
the house. If she knew that she was going insane because of the actions of her
husband, and longed to be outside, why then did she lock herself inside? John
was said to be gone all day and, in particular, that night. If she were feeling
as oppressed as some would have us to believe, she would have taken that golden
opportunity to flee the so-called dungeon that her husband had created for her.
It can only be assumed that she enjoyed the prison that she created for herself
since she didn’t flee at any moment of opportunity. In summary, John should be
championed as a role model for all aspiring husbands. He consistently showed
complete devotion and concern for his wife throughout the story. He did
everything within his power to make sure that she would have an expedited
recovery from her ailments. John bent over backwards to ensure that all of his
wife’s needs were taken care of. Leave it to modern day feminists to find harm
in that.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The Norton Anthology
of American Literature, Ed. Nina Baym. Fifth Edition, Volume 2. W.W. Norton
& Company, New York. 1998. P. 657-69.
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