Detail analysis of a paragraph and interpretation;
Two critical perspectives, based on what other have said about the play;
The “Yellow Wallpaper” is a vivid, partly autobiographical tale of clinical depression and the struggle for selfhood, written by an early feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her life was concerned with her troubled and loveless relationships: with her mother, her father, and her daughter. The story is told by means of a journal, which the narrator secretly keeps against the orders of her doctor-husband, who believes this intellectual effort is contributing to his wife-patient's nervous condition. Today in the twentieth century the message of oppression that is transmitted in the book does not contain the impact that it should for women of the world who never experienced the suffocating life that Gilman led from 1860 to 1935. To be able to relate to Gilman's situation and appreciate “The Yellow Wallpaper” for how it exemplifies women's lives is difficult in this age where women have more freedom than ever before. Gilman's original intent in writing the story was to gain personal satisfaction from the knowledge that Dr. S. Weir Mitchell might, after reading the story, change his treatment. But more importantly Gilman says in her article in The Forerunner "It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked" (20).
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator, a new mother already slightly mentally distressed has been brought to a country house for a "rest-cure" by her husband. Confined to a depressing top floor dormitory where the "windows are barred for little children" and deprived of most social contact and occupation by her physician husband who is too blind to realize that the mental issues of her wife are mostly provoked by his attitude towards her. She rarely receive visits, only her cousin Henry and Julia come to see her from time to time and her husband prohibits her to write on her journal but she does it under cover. The woman first finds companionship and later becomes obsess in the yellow wallpaper covering the empty and lonely room's walls. At the beginning, the wallpaper is she only entertainment but it finally becomes her worst enemy. Her mental state is described constantly through the paper that becomes a reflection of the woman's increasingly darkening mental state. She is obsessed about the yellow wallpaper, in which she sees frightful patterns and an imprisoned female figure trying to emerge.
This novel, "The Yellow Wallpaper" has a few characters involved. A couple, the narrator and her husband represent the main two.
A young woman that suffers from a mental depression and is hospitalized represents the narrator, which is the main character. This character is the representation of the writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a pioneer of the feminist movement. This character suffers changes in the book; she starts by being submissive to her husband and ends up by rebelling against the system personalized in John. The narrator, like Gilman, is a rebellious person for her times, the nineteen-century. She is tired of the oppression women suffer and wants things to change in her society. The narrator is also an adventurous person because she continues writing her journal after her husband prohibits her of expressing her feelings, as Gilman by writing such a polemic book. Finally, this character also represents the liberation of women in society by breaking the rules stipulated by her husband.
John, the husband of the narrator, is the personification of the masculine branch of society and a classic man of the nineteenth century. He is a cold person who does not try to listen or to understand his wife or her feelings. As a scientist he only obeys the books he had learned and his doctor position gives him the power of taking decisions involving the good of her wife and family. That power granted by his social status allows him to control and to oppress her wife to the point of being the major responsible of her craziness.
“A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity--but that would be asking too much of fate! Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.... John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage...John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures...”
This passage describes the different points of view of the narrator when she describes the house, with nothing except a feeling, a discomfort using a simple language. Her husband laughs at her opinions on the house and her feelings towards the area. John (the husband) does not approve these feelings or beliefs, because he is not a superstitious person but a scientist and medical doctor that normally believe anything unless it has been documented and proved. John probably sees the house as a place of healing for his wife and a get-a-way for the time being while their house is remodeled. But, the narrator is horrified with the idea of being sentenced to a country rest cure that represents for her a time in jail.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a book that criticizes the rules stipulated by society. Gilman is trying to send a message warning and showing by this book the increasing importance and independence of women. The narrator, Gilman herself is constantly searching for a feeling of liberty and independence because she feels to be independent and free by herself but those feelings are impossible to externalize. The society, in which Gilman lives, oppresses her to the point of becoming crazy because she feels trapped in a box.
Another theme found in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is loneliness of women. The narrator feels abandoned and has a need of company. This need is fulfill by the wallpaper of her room. This search of integrating the society is driving her crazy. As she receive no positive answer, she slowly becomes mad with the idea that whatever she does, the society will never accept her as a person with a brain similar to men's. Gilman considers that talking to the men and trying to be respected by them is like talking to a wall. It does not answer, nor interpret and rarely listen, just like a monologue.
Finally, the last important theme of the book is the social differences. This book shows an enormous difference existing between men and women inside society. While the men, are doctors and are the ones taking responsibilities and decisions by themselves, women must accept their regulations and at first sign of rebellion, they are automatically banned. Her husband prohibits the narrator of writing.
Greg Johnson suggests "The Yellow Wallpaper" contains Gothic themes such as "confinement and rebellion, forbidden desire and 'irrational' fear . . . the distraught heroine, the forbidding mansion, and the powerfully repressive male antagonist" (522). Gilman uses these Gothic elements to unleash the nineteenth-century woman writer from the domestic, social and psychological confinements of patriarchal society. The focus of the story moves continuously inward, describing the narrator's absorption into the Gothic world of chaos and "imaginative freedom," however Gilman controls the heroine by the use of repetition, humor, irony and "allegorical patterns of imagery" (523). Despite all the "demonic forces" that are set against her she decides to rebel by choosing to suffer. Rather than surrendering, Johnson explains the narrator has a rebirth into a new stage of being, as she crawls on the floor of the nursery on all fours, exploring her new world as does a child. "Simply put, this fate is her psychological confinement and torture as a woman desiring creative autonomy in nineteenth century America" (527).
In the article “Convention Coverage or How to Read Your Own Life.” Jean E. Kennard looks at the changed conventions of reading and uses "The Yellow Wallpaper" as an example to describe that change. Kennard suggests "that these changes can all be seen as responses to, changes in, conventions which had become oppressive to the feminist 'interpretive community'" (83). The conventions Kennard refers to are associated with "four basic concepts: patriarchy, madness, space and quest" (78). In "The Yellow Wallpaper," John is an example of husband as patriarch, as his efforts to help his wife are a result of seeing women as less than adult. Moreover, female madness is related to patriarchy in that it is a result of patriarchal oppression. In this case, however, the final triumph of the narrator "is symbolized by the overcoming of John, who is last seen fainting on the floor as his wife creeps over him" (77).
"The Yellow Wallpaper" is basically a critic from Charlotte Perkins Gilman showing her inside battle, she knows that the rules of society are strong and difficult to change. Women were oppressed and had no freedom of speech but she desired to change the situation. As a feminist, she is looking for a better society where women and men are equally considered.
I had this overwhelming desire to free this narrator from her husband and the rest of the males in her life. She wanted company, activity and stimulation. Which any woman of that time or this time should be freely allowed having. Gilman did an outstanding job of illustrating the position that women of that time, and to an extent, of this time as well, hold in their society.
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper'?” The Forerunner
(Oct. 1913): 19-20.
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper” Feminist Press 1996
- Johnson, Greg. "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow
Wallpaper."' Studies in Short Fiction 26 (1989): 521-530.
- Kennard, Jean E. "Convention Coverage or How to Read Your Own Life." New Literary History 13 (Autumn 1981): 69-88.
. Cited in "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper."'