Literary Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The story The Yellow Wallpaper is a literary text which introduces the historical depictions of gender and women in society. The text, authored by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and published in 1892, expresses the themes and issues from the secret journal of a depressed narrator who is a woman (Perkins 647). The story explains the changing positions and the gender relations in a patriarchal society of the twentieth century illustrated by a physician John and his wife. The text introduces the aspect of intellectual stimulation that had led to women enlightenment and awakening following imposed captivity as the weaker and fairer sex (Sustana 1). The text presents a gendered theme whereby the narrator appears powerless and indecisive as illustrated through the husband’s control on what she does and who she sees among others. The paper exposes the narrator’s point of view as well as the significance of the yellow paper in creating society’s image of the woman through the confinement status and the struggle to achieve freedom.

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The historical perspective asserts male dominance, women position in society whereby as characterized by emotional aspects such as hysteria and postpartum depression. Male dominance is expressed through the husband’s and brother’s view on the mental condition of the narrator as well as Jeanie, John’s sister is the designated housekeeper in the secluded cabin (Perkins 647). The aspects of historical fiction in the story explain the developing views of women empowerment and the rise of feminist ideologies in the U.S. However, the story introduces a contradicting expression of freedom as illustrated through the narrator’s insanity.

The story adopts the first person point of narration that is the erratic account of life and events of a depressed woman and mother. The narrator suffers from postpartum depression, and thus the journal accounts take the voice of frustration and desperation given the narrator’s conditions and desires for freedom (Sustana 2). The narrator is under her husband’s control, and thus she is deemed powerless and passive regarding her daily activities, movement and even line of thought. Following the alienation from the world, mental and emotional expression, the narrator falls into insanity which is the only way to freedom.

The story consists of different characters whose interaction differs given the nature of relationships and position in the society. The story introduces gendered views and stereotypes that are vital in defining the interaction of characters. For example, the narrator’s relationship with John is often tense and manipulative given the narrator’s feelings about her condition and her husband’s efforts to trap her and manipulate her state to maintain control. John’s character is described as patronizing and controlling, which is a means of exerting his dominance over the narrator who is discouraged from creating fantasies, writing and any other activity which is mentally stimulating, citing neurotic worries. John also threatens the narrator with a transfer to a real physician who would drive her to a nervous breakdown. This is a means of control and taming her obsession with the outside world (Sustana 2).

The story exposes the conflicting nature of relationships between the narrator and her husband. The narrator describes John as careful and loving though it is a mask of his intentions. The connection is the narrator who is the wife, and her husband is illustrated as distant since John dismisses her emotions. John also infantilizes the narrator in the sense that he treats her as a child. This is proved by calling her “little girl” and the isolation through windows. The narrator quotes that, “windows are barred for little children,” (Perkins 647).

The use of imagery and metaphors is present in this text, and it is used in explaining the themes and social and cultural issues demonstrated in the text. For example, the collapse of the husband at the end of the text portrays the rise of women whereby the wife leans over him. Insanity is regarded as a form of freedom whereby the wife does not subject to the man and thus escape from the misery associated with the male control. The narrator’s use of personification is through yellow wallpaper introduces the gendered views and stereotypes related to women and the need for freedom. The narrator describes the wallpaper as formless, strange and revolting which is an expression of the narrators and female mindset in the male-dominated society. The narrator’s description further explains the wallpapers resemblance to a woman “who is stooping down and creeping behind a cage” (Perkins 650) which illustrates the narrator’s current state, whereby the wallpaper is her while the cage is her husband who silences her and her concerns. Thus, the wallpaper of the creeping woman is the actual representation of society and its role in victimizing women and their efforts in resisting controlling norms.

The text represents the rise of feminist ideologies and interpretations in the U.S. The story is constructed around the power of patriarchy and medicine in expressing the passive nature of women ability. This is illustrated through John’s medical conclusion that his wife should take a rest cure that was a form of isolation from the world and enlightenment. The medical and social stereotyping of women is evident as the main hero is misdiagnosed with hysteria which is a form of intellectual repression for the women. The suppression of women’s intellect is a means of enforcing social conformity, and thus the male voice undermines the power and desire of women. The 19th-century view of women was described by societal isolation whereby women were subject to the domestic sphere, and their roles included nurturing children and home keeping. The narrator explains Jeanie’s position through the following quote, “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfectionist and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which makes me sick!” (Perkins 650). The narrator explains Jeanie resolve and contentment in her social position and roles as a woman.

The rise of women enlightenment had led to awakening which contributed to changed roles, and thus narrator expresses feelings of entrapment in marriage as well as her ability to communicate through writing. The sense of freedom is illustrated through slipping to insanity whereby her husband’s discovery of her condition leads to fainting to unconsciousness. Thus, the confinement of the narrator to the cabin is an oppressive expression of male patriarchy in society and limiting the women to home life. The women enlightenment was a move towards the rise in intelligence and non-domestic talent. The male patriarchy restricted women from economic ventures as well as mental empowerment. This is illustrated by the rest cure for the narrator which limited her ability to task her mind and body. Thus, Gilman’s perspective on the change in gender roles was centered on the social and economic engagement of women which was a source of autonomy and freedom.

The setting of the story depicts the cultural and social explanations behind women education, whereby John and the narrator’s brother are accomplished physicians. Also, the use of education and medicine in undermining women is evident, whereby the narrator is described as hysterical by both men who reveal societal role in stigmatizing people with a mental health condition. For example, the narrator is isolated from the rest of the world and the baby (De Simone 1). Psychological stigma is illustrated through John’s reaction to realizing the narrator’s insanity. Also, the general belief that her condition was insignificant, and the only cure was rest and seclusion portrays the stigma and the lack of intervention for mentally ill patients.

Gilman’s text expresses the offensive nature of yellow journalism which was an emerging aspect of writing in the 19th century and it was characterized by the lack of insight and exaggerated stories. Gilman as a victim of media scandalization relates the narrator’s relationship with the wallpaper. The literary text by Gilman utilizes the realism aspect in exposing the life and nature of women treated in the United States. The use of realistic elements deems this piece of art as a semi-autobiography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman whereby the yellow wallpaper symbolizes women oppression and her protective husband represents the male dominance (Berman 39).

Thus, the text is a literary representation of the existing forms of oppression and misogyny experienced by women in the past and contemporary world. The story illustrates the women suffrage from unequal treatment in society and the cultural expectations. The Yellow Wallpaper explains the struggling narrator with depression and male dominance which leads to ultimate freedom.

 

Works Cited

Berman, Jeffrey. “The Unrestful Cure: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the yellow wallpaper.” 1985, pp. 33-39, www.wright.edu/~david.wilson/eng1100/yellowwallpapercriticism.pdf.

De Simone, Deborah M. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Feminization of Education.” The Women in Literature and Life Assembly, vol. 4, 1995.

Perkins, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892, pp. 646-656, www.nlm.nih.gov/theliteratureofprescription/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf.

Sustana, Catherine. “What Does Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” Mean?” ThoughtCo, 29 Aug. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/analysis-of-the-yellow-wallpaper-2990476.