The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a tale about an unnamed female character and her physician partner, John. The narrator is diagnosed with Neurasthenia, a nervous disorder, and her husband believes that the “rest remedy” medication recommended by the renowned psychiatrist S. Weir Mitchell is the only cure for her illness (Delashmit). To aid the narrator’s recovery, the pair rented out a colonial mansion for the summer. The “rest care” treatment required the patient not to engage in any creative activity which makes the narrator stop her writing hobby and focus on the treatment. Further, John’s sister, Jennie takes up as their housekeeper while Mary the nanny takes care of the baby. Although the husband was in support of this, the narrator disagreed and began to write her journals in secret. During her stay, she despises the yellow wallpaper in her room and time to time requested her husband for a change. However, she later gets exhausted of doing nothing and starts taking an interest in the yellow wallpaper.
The narrator symbolizes aftermath of the oppression of women during the nineteenth century. The yellow wallpaper described as a usually feminine, floral decoration symbolizes the female imprisonment within the domiciliary circle (Gale). The wallpaper turns out to be the text of denomination over the flow of the story through which the narrator practices her artistic imaginations and distinguishes with a feminist double character. The narrator’s environment being curbed within the yellow wallpaper, she starts to analyze and decode the reasoning behind it actively.
The narrator, a young wife, and mother who has been diagnosed with Neurasthenia are subjected to “rest cure” treatment by her husband, John. The “rest cure” treatment involved confinement in the nursery room with entirely no creative activities allowed for the narrator (Gale).The narrator sincerely desired to resume her roles as an ideal mother and wife. However, her greater need to express her creativity hinders that whereby she secretly begins to write her journal, searching consolation from her intense loneliness and idleness.
The narrator later starts to gain comfort in the grisly yellow wallpaper which she analyzes. She identifies the various figures and illustrations displayed on the wallpaper and subsequently begins to see a female character entangled behind the bar-like pattern of the wallpaper (Clift). She then starts to see the trapped woman shake the wallpaper which she perceived as efforts towards escaping the bars. However, the women in the wallpaper never managed to escape. The narrator started to relate herself to the trapped woman, that both of them were victims of imprisonment. She grew the desire to free the imprisoned woman in the wallpaper as she thought that it would significantly impact on her healing.
Over the course of the story, John and Jennie grew more and more suspicious of the narrator’s sudden interest in the wallpaper. Although she had shown tremendous improvement, the reality is that the narrator’s insanity was growing as each day passed (Payne). The narrator finally acted towards achieving her desire when she ripped off half the wallpaper with the aim of freeing the woman. The author demonstrates the narrator’s ultimate success in her task to free the woman in the wallpaper which brought liberation to herself.
In this story, Gilman uses the narrator to critique the position of women in the marriage institution, especially in the nineteenth century (Clift). Further, the author uses the narrator to demonstrate the role of women in the nineteenth century. The system of marriage had subjected women to take care of their husband and children. It didn’t at any point support women’s engagement into creative activity. The narrator has no voice in even the tiniest details in her life; she cannot also decide on her health welfare which as a result she ebbs into her engrossed fantasy, the only dimension she can exercise some control on her own (Johnson).With the ultimate superiority treatment from her husband, the narrator is reduced to behaving like a cranky, grouchy child, unfit to stand up for herself without being perceived as absurd and recreant.
In the nineteenth century, women were damned to spend their entire lives alone in the domestic circle. The narrator’s zeal to practice her writing skills and creativity and desire to have more than her husband and child showed that she was rebellious and was not perceived as an ideal woman as she was expected to be. Gilman herself emulates the narrator’s character as she also left her first husband and moved to California to pursue her writing career which is against the social expectations (Delashmit).
John, the husband to the narrator, is a physician who believes that the “rest cure” treatment is the most effective cure for his wife’s nervous illness. He subjects his wife into nursery confinement and prohibits her from exercising any creative activity during the treatment (Delashmit). John discounts openly at the narrator’s imaginations and desires and is reluctant to understand her true character. Throughout the story, John fails to lend an ear to the narrator’s needs and requests and he completely refuses to treat her as an equal, and on many occasions, he refers to her as “little girl.”
John desires to fix his wife’s diagnosed nervous illness and mold himself an ideal wife as perceived by the nineteenth-century society. He truly loves his wife as he demonstrates a dependency image toward her. However, he fails to fulfill the narrator’s desire to practice her creative writing during her healing period.
Gilman uses John to support the subordination of-of women in marriage. John contributes to the gender division especially in marriage whereby the male gender is granted total superiority over his wife (Payne).He dictates every single move made by his wife by causing her to adhere to the “rest cure” treatment process, prohibits her from practicing any creative activity and leaving his sister Jennie as a spy while away. The general treatment of John toward the narrator supports the sense of domestic circle as a prison. John’s failure to recognize his wife as a writer imprisons the wife from exercising her desire in the story.
The author also uses the narrator and her husband to demonstrate the evils of the “rest care” treatment. Gilman herself is a victim of the “rest care” treatment which she perceives as a cruel and ineffective treatment process that sucks happiness and anxiety from a patient subjected to it. She mentions the source of this misery, S.Wier Mitchell with the hope that this story would inspire the psychologist to apply treatment procedures that consider the needs of the patients (Delashmit). John believed that “rest care” was the best treatment to fix her wife’s condition. However, what the treatment did was to raise the insanity level of the narrator and wipe away all her anxiety and desires.
Further, Gilman links the “rest care” treatment with the narrator’s insanity. The therapy forces the narrator to hide her anxiety and desires behind the nursery room which at the end makes her gain interest in the yellow wallpaper which accelerates her insanity levels (Gale). Gilman believes that self-destruction originates when a mind is subjected into inactivity state.
Woman in the wallpaper
The narrator’s various image reflections on the yellow wallpaper centered on a particular woman, who appears to be trapped in the bar-like pattern on the wallpaper which she seems to shake trying to escape. The woman’s escape moves are active during moonlight which reflects the narrator’s freedom during the night. As time passes, the narrator identifies herself as the woman on the wallpaper and grows a new desire which was to liberate the trapped woman which would help free herself too.
Gilman uses the woman in the wallpaper to demonstrate the presence of female imprisonment within the domestic sphere in the nineteenth century (Delashmit). Just as the woman in the wallpaper inability to leave the room, the narrator is also unable to leave her roles as a wife and a mother as the social norms in her surrounding wouldn’t allow her.
Jennie, the narrator’s sister-in-law, is assigned as the housekeeper during the narrator’s illness. She is an excellent example of an ideal nineteenth-century wife who sees nothing wrong in playing her roles as a woman. Under her brother’s supervision. Jennie acts as a spy who monitors the narrator’s daily moves. Jennie is a great observer who notices the narrators growing interested on the yellow wallpaper, and she doesn’t fail to inform John.
Mary is assigned the role of the baby’s nanny during the narrator’s healing period. She is the least mentioned character is contented with her position which is a demonstration of an ideal wife of the nineteenth century.
The author uses Jennie and Mary to demonstrate an ideal woman in the nineteenth-century society. Both Jennie and Mary are comfortable in the roles they play, and they seem to believe that that’s the role destined for women in the community (Clift). Jennie emphasizes on this by acting as a spy for John as she monitors the narrator’s every move especially when her husband is not around.
In this story, Feminism plays a significant role whereby the author uses the narrator, Jane, and Mary to illustrate how the society viewed women (Clift). Women were only allowed to take care of their husbands and children and were not allowed to express their needs nor drivers. Just like John, the society has given the male gender a superiority complex whereby they get to control their women’s in all their activities (Johnson).The society’s perception is what drove the narrator insane as the primary reason for her treatment was to cure her so that she could be able to play her role as a wife and mother (Johnson). Further, the same society had impacted on John’s attitude towards women engaging in creative activity. Hence, Gilman’s themes were well conveyed by the characters in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Clift, Elayne. Women’s Encounters with the Mental Health Establishment: Escaping the Yellow Wallpaper. .Routledge, 2014.
Delashmit, Margaret, and Charles Long. “Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper. .” The Explicator 50.1 (1991): 32-33.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s” Yellow Wallpaper”. Gale Cengage Learning, 2016.
Johnson, Russell. “Suppression and Escape in” The Yellow Wallpaper”.” (2014).
Payne, Shannon. Monstrous Maladies”: Oppression, Transgression, and Degeneration in The Picture of Dorian Gray and. 2017.