Analysis of the Short Story The Yellow Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Paper is a short story about a woman who is locked up in a room with the intention of resting after giving birth to her daughter. However, she believes that her partner, who seems to be caring at first, is misinterpreting her condition. Gilman interprets the confinement that prevents her from engaging with other people as a violation of her rights, owing to her gender. She thinks and interprets her condition more deeply when in bed. There is a yellow paper on which she sees a woman stuck and connects it to her own situation. This short story has brought light to the issue of women being viewed as lesser human beings when compared to men even though men probably have good intentions with their actions.

Through her work Gilman has achieved in explaining the role of women and their plight in the 19th Century. First, she describes the role of women as advocates of fair treatment in the medical profession. Secondly, her work depicts disapproval of male dominance in the medical profession by women. Thirdly, she shows the enlightenment of women through interpretation of literature whereby the narrator struggles to find the meaning of the wallpaper and finally relates it to her situation. Gilman expresses women as weak and controllable beings who are subjected to everything that men want.

In as much as Gilman has succeeded in exploring the role of women during her time, she is biased. First, she wrongly portrays men as very evil beings whose intentions are to torture and harm women. The husband of the narrator of the story confines her with the aim of helping her recuperate after giving birth to their baby. This shows his compassion and the need to see his wife healthy. Secondly, Gilman demeans the medical profession and shows her ignorance on the need for the health of women. According to her, a woman being told to rest to recover her health is a show of male patriarchy. In essence, resting helps a person to recuperate from depression and failure to do so makes the condition worse. She bases her argument on past experiences as a patient. When she suffered depression, her specialist recommended rest cure whereby she was not permitted to carry out any activity. This to her was wrong of the physician and aims to address him through her short story.

DISCUSSION

Gilman’s short story portrays women as advocators of fair treatment for women in the medical profession. This text is purely based on the past experiences that the author had as a patient. Having been diagnosed with depression, her specialist, Dr. Mitchell, recommends rest cure (Gilman, p.95). He further tells her not to engage in any chore even the ones that seem minimal such as writing. To Gilman, this looks like an invasion of her freedom as a woman. She thinks that of probably if she was male, she could not have been given such restrictions as her form of recovery. Based on her text, the narrator is seemingly unhappy with her condition. Just after giving birth, her husband rents an old mansion and confines her such that the only person she sees is her caregiver, Jennie, and Husband John. To some extent, even though a person is recuperating, they need mental stimulation which majorly comes from interacting with the environment and other people.

The advocacy for fair treatment in the medical profession is illustrated in the way that the narrator interprets her situation. First, the room is ravaged (Gilman, p. 650) and she hates that she is placed in a room that was once used as a nursery. This is symbolism that shows the extent to which the narrator has been degraded. Secondly, the yellow wallpaper does not bring life; it is dull and boring. It depicts that she is stuck in an awful situation. The sight of the woman trapped in that wallpaper makes her sick, and she relates that to her position. Having established that her husband is mistreating her, she wants to get out. The fact that she discovers that she is trapped and wants to get out shows her urge to fight for fair treatment in the context of her health. Similar, this applies to the medical profession as interpreted from the biography of Gilman. Whether a person is being treated well or not depends on their interpretation of the actions taken by the medical practitioner. However, the notion that Gilman tries to fight for fair treatment by addressing her short story to Dr.Mitchell was disregarded by Julies Bates Dock, a historian of literary works. According to Dock, The Yellow Paper does not in any way achieve in doing this (Dock, p. 12). Instead, it is written to show the authors hatred towards male dominance. The text just depicts the ignorance of the author towards good health.

Gilman’s work depicts the disapproval and rejection of male dominance in the medical profession. Her story was set in the 19th Century. During her time, women were not as learned as men. Most of them were not allowed to work to earn a living. They had to live under men’s authority, and even though they felt trapped in the demands of their men, they did not have a way out. Their lives rotated about domestic activities which to some extent did not bring them any satisfaction. This situation also extended to the medical sector of the society at that time. In this story, the theme of women subordination in marriage has been brought out. The narrator is someone who seems trapped in a marriage that is costing her freedom. Being her husband, of course, a male, John thinks that he can do anything he wishes to his wife just to have her recover. He takes her to an old mansion and employees his sister to take care of her. He visits her from time to time but does not allow her to get outside the room or see somebody else.

In light of these, it is clear that her husband is subjecting his male superiority to his wife. The narrator also talks about his husband as an impatient person and one who scoffs at her if she tries to object what she says (Gilman, p. 649). This is a man that the narrator fears so much. Being a female, she does not have the power to suggest other ways that would help recuperate in a better way. She is not even allowed to write. If men did not control the medical profession, she would seek other forms of treatment. Moreover, her husband who is a physician could have given her some freedom and not confined her in a place that she could not interact with other people. Gilman’s analysis of male dominance is supported by Martha J. Cutter (Cutter, p.111). She argues that during the 19th century women virtues were based on how pure and submissive they were in fulfilling their domestic duties. She also claims that if women were educated, they would have defended themselves from the effects of male dominance. She supports Gilman’s work and gives her credit for voicing out her concerns regarding male control in the context of medical provision.

Most importantly, Gilman shows the enlightenment of women in spite of the male control and dominance in that society. This is demonstrated by the manner in which Gilman literary interprets the situation of the narrator. At the time Gilman wrote her short story, women were majorly engaged in domestic activities. Most of them were not educated, and this meant that they could not comprehend situations that complicated their lives. In her story, the narrator is trapped in a room whereby there is a yellow wallpaper. Usually, yellow is a very bright color. However, during the confinement period, the narrator describes it as hideous, unreliable and infuriating. She also writes that the pattern tortures her. Additionally, the color was staining all her clothes. Occasionally, she saw her husband and caregiver touch the wallpaper in weird ways, and when she asked, Jennie seemed disturbed (Gilman, p. 653). All her attention is now drawn to the wall paper. As she stares at it, she sees a woman trapped. She gets the perception that all these situations are related to her case. She is confined to a room, and the bars are solid for her even to try escaping.

Even though she is sick, she thinks that the beauty outside the room would help her recover her health. In real life, if such events happened to a person, they would question their sanity. With regards to this, the fact that the narrator can interpret the situation shows the enlightenment of women in a patriarchal society. The use of such a scenario by Gilman also depicts her strength in creating a comprehensive literal interpretation to explain the plight of women. This analysis is supported by the feminist criticism as written by Susan Lanser. In her, she recognizes Gilman as a feminist who actively tries to depict women as though who can use literature to fight male dominance in several aspects of their lives (Lanser, p. 415). Using and interpreting works of literature is not an easy task. Therefore those who can relate it to a particular phenomenon in the society are intelligent people as in the case of Gilman.

In as much as Gilman has succeeded in expounding on the role and plight of women in the 19th Century, she is biased. She fails to acknowledge the different factors that led to women being treated in ways that portrayed male control. First, she describes men as beings who extend their harmfulness to women. The theme of male dominance in the medical profession context has been brought about. However, it has been done in a way that discredits men’s efforts to ensure that their women are healthy and in perfect conditions to raise their kids. Being a physician, her husband understands the depression that comes along with delivery of a baby. This was an act of care and consideration for his wife’s health. Gilman therefore, should not have used it to depict how women are treated are mistreated in the medical field. In the current society, men who take care of women after delivering children are a source of admiration. Therefore, it does not make sense for Gilman to depict men in the manner that she did.

Even though feminists like Cutter (p.111) support her work, there is need to consider all the factors that lead to how women are treated. Acts of compassion should not be viewed in unpleasant ways. It is worrying that Gilman focused on the negative aspects of the narrator’s situation. She should have regarded the man as an icon for doing the best he could to promote his wife’s health. However, this counterargument is wrong. Confining a person and restricting them to what they consider good for their health does not in any way depict compassion. Care should be provided without restrictions. The narrator should have been allowed to go outside and enjoy the beauty as well as writing.

Secondly, through her text, Gilman demeans the medical profession. During her time and even now, health concerns have been prevalent. Physicians have played essential roles in ensuring such issues are addressed and that the population is healthy. In her text, she interprets medical intervention by a male as an invasion of women’s freedom. In this short story, the husband of the narrator confined his wife into that room with the sole aim of helping her recover her health. It is a well thought out strategy of explaining her woes to DR. Mitchell who recommended her to rest to recover from depression. However, medical practitioners operate under a strict code of ethics. They are obliged to provide quality care to patients. As such by women being told to rest as a form of the recovery process, the physician does not have any ill intentions. It is therefore clear that Gilman was ignorant of women’s health. However, this counterargument does not justify Gilman was biased. Even though rest is essential, the physician should engage women on what they think will work for them. Writing, for instance, is not a very tedious task. In fact, some people find it as an excellent way to express their worries and not succumb to their health condition.

CONCLUSION

Intriguingly, Gilman has captured the role and plight of women in the 19th Century. She explains male dominance in the context of the medical field. Gilman brings out certain aspects such as women as advocators of fair treatment in this area, her disapproval of male control and the ability of women to relate literature with societal concerns. She uses symbolism such as the yellow wallpaper and brings out the themes of male dominance and women subordination in the marriage institution. However, she presents herself as a biased person by focusing on the negative aspects of men and demeaning the medical profession. Therefore, this story has been faced with both positive and negative criticism. For instance, Julies Dock disregards her work saying that it does not help in addressing unfair treatment in the medical field. However, feminists like Lanser and Cutter praise Gilman for using literature to present the plight of women.

Works cited

Cutter, Martha J. Unruly tongue: identity and voice in American women’s writing, 1850-1930. United States: US, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1999.

Dock, Julie Bates, ed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s the yellow wall-paper and the history of its publication and reception: a critical edition and documentary casebook. United States: US, Penn State Press, 2010.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wall-paper. United Kingdom: UK, Penguin, 2010.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: an autobiography. Madison: WI, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1935.

Lanser, Susan S. Feminist Criticism,” The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the Politics of Colour in America. United States: US, Feminist Press 15.3 (1989): 415-441.

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