Essay, Research Paper: Yellow Wall Paper By Gilman

Literature: Yellow Wallpaper

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Signs of society’s sexism in The Yellow Wall-Paper The Yellow Wallpaper is a
story, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Although the work is short, it is one of the
most interesting works in existence. Gilman uses literary techniques very well.
The symbolism of The Yellow Wall-Paper, can be seen and employed after some
thought and make sense immediately. The views and ideals of society are often
found in literary works. Whether the author is trying to show the ills of
society of merely telling a story, culture is woven onto the words. The
relationship between the narrator and her husband would be disagreeable to a
modern woman’s relationship. Today, most women crave equality with their
partner. The reader never learns the name of the narrator, perhaps to give the
illusion that she could be any woman. On the very fist page of The Yellow
Wall-Paper, Gilman illustrates the male dominated society and relationship. It
was customary for men to assume that their gender knew what, when, how, and why
to do things. John, the narrator’s husband, is a prominent doctor and both his
and his wife’s words and actions reflect the aforementioned stereotype:
“John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage,” (9). This
statement illustrates the blatant sexism of society at the time. John does not
believe that his wife is sick, while she is really suffering from post-partum
depression. He neglects to listen to his wife in regard to her thoughts,
feelings, and health through this thought pattern. According to him, there is
not anything wrong with his wife except for temporary nerve issues, which should
not be serious. By closing her off from the rest of the world, he is taking her
away from things that important to her mental state; such as her ability to read
and write, her need for human interaction, her need to make her own decisions.
All of these are important to all people. This idea of forced rest and
relaxation to cure temporary nervous problems was very common at the time. Many
doctors prescribed it for their female patients. The narrators husband, brother,
and their colleagues all feel that this is the correct way to fix her problem,
which is practically nonexistent in their eyes. Throughout the beginning of the
story, the narrator tends to buy into the idea that the man is always right and
makes excuses for her feelings and his actions and words: “It is so hard to
talk to John about my case, because he is so wise and because he loves me so,”
(23). In a good relationship, each partner should be able to express one’s own
thoughts and feelings. Honesty in one of the most important characteristics a
relationship should have. In this case, the narrator feels that she can not tell
him how she feels so as not to upset him and make him mad. When the narrator
does attempt to have a discussion with John, she ends up crying and not being
able to express herself. John treats her like a child as men believed that
crying something that women do and is something that shows weakness. Eventually
she begins to become frightened of John and as she goes bad, his normalcy is
seen as queer through in her eyes. For a long time it was customary for the
house to be able to represent a secure place for a woman. Her house was a
woman’s place of residency as well as where women were to do their work and
express themselves. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, the house is not even the
couple’s own. It is a summer rental and the narrator is forced to reside and
spent the majority of her time in a room that is unpleasant to her tastes. This
house reverses the traditional symbol of security for the domestic activities of
a woman. However, it becomes a place for her to release her words onto paper and
eventually to release her grip on reality. The room and many of it’s features
twist the common comforts of a home. The room itself used to be a nursery, which
is ironic since the narrator was sent to the house to recover from post partum
depression. The narrator comments: “The window typically represents a view of
possibilities. However, for the narrator it represents a view of a world that
she can not be a part of. The window is physically barred as she is barred from
the world physically and mentally. The bed is nailed down. The bed should be a
place of comfort for a couple, not a place where one partner is forced into a
life that she does not want to live in that way. As, the title of the work
shows, there is obviously something interesting to the narrator about the
wallpaper. The stripes in the print of the wallpaper represent bars and the
narrator begins to see a figure behind them: “The front pattern does
move—and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it. Sometimes I think there are a
great many women behind, and sometimes only one,” (30). While the woman behind
the bars shakes them, the narrator can not shake the bars that keep her away
from reality. The woman represents the narrator as well as women in general and
the movement for women’s rights. The narrator also can represent any woman and
the struggle that woman went though to get closer to achieving equality.
John’s sister, Jennie, comes to help take care of the narrator. Jennie is the
epitome of a woman who falls into the conventional female role: “She is a
perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession,”
(18). The narrator attempts to keep her writing a secret from Jennie, so that
her one outlet will not be taken away. At some times, it seems as though the
narrator pities Jennie and feels sorry for Jennie’s pathetic views. As the
narrator descends into madness, her views on society change and become more
modern. She is emancipating herself from the docile role that a woman should
play. Gilman uses the narrator and the symbolism in The Yellow Wall-Paper, to
show society’s views on women. The narrator eventually goes against common
culture and becomes a feminist. Men thought the feminist movement was weak and
useless, while comparatively, men like John thought their wives were weak and
useless outside the home. At the story’s conclusion, the narrator was
directing her own footsteps and in reality, women are doing the same.
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