The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman is sad story of the repression that women face in the days of late 1800’s as well as being representative of the turmoils that women face today.

Gilman writes “The Yellow Wallpaper” from her own personal experiences of having to face the overwhelming fact that this is a male dominated society and sometimes women suffer because of it. The narrator, being female, is suffering from a “temporary depression”. She states right from the beginning that “John is a physician, and perhaps–(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)– perhaps that is the one reason I do not get well faster.” The narrator sets up the story to convey a certain opinion of the repercussions a woman faces in the care of a man.

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She obviously loves her husband and trusts him but has some underlying feeling that maybe his prescription of total bed rest is not working for her. The story mentions that she has an older brother who is also a physician and concurs with her husbands theory, thus leaving her no choice but to subject herself to this torment of being totally alone in this room with the yellow wallpaper. She stares at this wallpaper for hours on end and thinks she sees a woman behind the paper. “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.” She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind that pattern and what it is doing. “I don’t want to leave now until I have found it out”. The narrator with absolutely nothing else to do is reduced to staring endlessly at a pattern in a wallpaper, thus creating some image that she feels is necessary to find out.

Perhaps to save her own sanity? Once the narrator determines that the image is in fact a woman struggling to become free, she somehow aligns herself with the woman. In the story she mentions that she often sees the woman creeping outside. “I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden…

. I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.

I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.” This shows the narrator seeing herself in the woman and when she sees the woman creeping outside, she sees herself. When she creeps outside she locks the door. She is afraid her husband will take away the only comfort she had know since she was subjected to this “rest cure”. She continues to pursue this obsessive project of getting the woman out. The narrator wants the woman to be free of the paper but does not want to let her go. The woman is her sanity; “I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.

I’ve got a rope up her that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!” After peeling all the paper within her reach in hopes of getting the woman out, she states, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn’t do it.

Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.” The narrator appears to have no knowledge that this very obsession might be misconstrued as well. As if everything is fine in her world as long as she gets this woman out. She goes on to say, “I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is so hard!” It seems she has released the woman and it is indeed herself.

As if she enjoys being out and doing as she likes but at night her husband will be around and she mustn’t creep around her husband. He might find her mad. But at last she finds the courage to confront her oppressor and stand up for herself.

“‘What is the matter?’ he cried. ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time! Jane is undoubtedly, (in my opinion) the narrator herself. She not only fought the struggle of her male dominance of a society but also of herself. She had been a product of a society that puts woman in the lowest segment, but she triumphs over her husband as well as herself in freeing her soul.

Now she creeps openly. In order to read and understand this story, we must consider many things. First the time frame in which the story was written, and that society’s attitude of the story content at that time. Written in 1892, a woman suffering from depression was not clearly understood and was treated with isolation.

This would clearly drive any person mad. The narrator made attempts to bring to her husband’s attention what she felt was a better way of making her better but he refused to listen and ignored her wishes to involve herself in more activity. The movie does an incredible job illustrating the narrator as completely insane from day one. It didn’t allow the reader or in this case the audience to decide for themselves. When we make clips of the movie we do indeed imprison the woman because you have no way of knowing what has happened before or what is to come. We imprison her more because we make judgments of a thirty second clip that could possibly affect our bias for the movie or the story itself before we have a chance as an individual to read the story or watch the movie. As a female in 2001 reading this story, 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 to have. 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. This story should hold a place in every woman’s heart who is struggling to find her place.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper The Effect of Major Symbolic Elements Women in literature are often portrayed in a position that is dominated by men, especially in the nineteenth century, women were repressed and controlled by their husbands as well as other male influences. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator is oppressed and represents the major theme of the effect of oppression of women in society. This effect is created by the use of complex symbols such as the window, the house, and the wall-paper which all promote her oppression as well as her self expression. One distinctive part of the house that symbolizes not only her potential but also her trapped feeling is the window.

In literature, traditionally this would symbolize a prospect of possibilities, but now it becomes a view to a world she may not want to take part in.Through it she sees all that she could be and everything that she could have. But she says near the end, I dont like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. She knows that she has to hide and lie low; that she would have to creep in order to be accepted in society and she does not want to see all the other women who have to do the same because she realizes they are a reflection of herself.

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She expresses how women have to move without being seen in society. The window does not represent a gateway for her.She can not enter what she can see outside of the window, literally, because John will not let her, (there are bars holding her in), but also because that world will not belong to her, she will be oppressed like all other women. She will be controlled, and be forced to suffocate her self-expression.

The only prospect of possibilities that this window shows are all negative. It shows a world in where she will be oppressed and forced to creep like all the other women. It is common to find the symbol of the house as representing a secure place for a woman’s transformation and her release of self expression.However, in this story, the house is not her own and she does not want to be in it. She declares that it is haunted, and that there is something queer about it.

Although she recognizes the beauty of the house and what surrounds it, she constantly goes back to her feeling that there is something strange about the house. Her impression is like a forewarning for the transformation that takes place within her while she is there. In this way the house still is the cocoon for her major change that will take place.The house does not take the form of the conventional symbol of security for day to day activities of a woman, but it does allow for and contain her transformation. The house also facilitates her release, accommodating her, her writing, and her thoughts. These two activities evolve because of the fact that she is kept in the house. The house symbolizes her confinement, where she will be transformed and changed due to her near imprisonment in the house. Impacting her metamorphosis even more than the house itself, is the room she is in and the characteristics of that room.

The most important characteristic being the yellow wall-paper, which also plays a double role: it has the ability to trap her in with its complexity of pattern that leads her to no satisfying end and bars that hold in and separate the woman in the wall-paper from her. However, the wallpaper also sets her free.She describes the wall-paper as being repellent, revolting, a smoldering unclean yellow. She is stuck in this room and her only escape is the wall-paper. She is so confined, because her husband has taken such control over her activities, that she is forced to sit and watch this paper. She also says in her first reference to it that, I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long. The patterns of the paper absorb her as she tries to follow them to an end.This is the beginning of her transformation.

She allows herself to be completely drawn in to her fantasies and not being afraid of what is happening to her. She tell her husband of what is occurring and how she sees a figure in the wallpaper. He tells her to resist them, but she does not. Her comprehension of the changes that are occurring and her efforts to cultivate them and see the changes through to an end, illustrate a bravery that is not often recognized in women.After all of this she finally realizes that the image in the wall-paper is not another woman as she originally thought; but it is of herself as well as all women in general and hence the woman behind the wallpaper represent all the women trapped and oppressed by society. The story has significant meaning to it. The story candidly shows what society can do to women, or better, what society can to do any person or group that is oppressed. The effects on the mind pattern and thought process and their transformations are shown.

The window, the house, and the wallpaper all complement this important lesson.The window normally would represent the endless opportunities available in life. However, here it represented the view of a world full of injustices to women and a sort of imprisonment. It is absurd to call a place home unless it is the place in which their is security and shelter. But the home the narrator lives in represents the place where she will transform and express her self even though she is only there due to her confinement.

All of these symbols show how she is oppressed and how this all affects her thought process and mind pattern.The complex symbols used in The Yellow Wall-Paper create Gilman’s portrayal of the oppression of women in the nineteenth century. Gilmans twist on traditional symbols that usually provide a sense of security and safety adds to this woman’s own oppression and contribute to the trapped feeling. Gilman pushes this to the limit by taking those characteristics closely associated with women and uses them against the narrator, to assist in her oppression. These symbols all effect the theme and complement the meaning of the story, both which deal with the unjust oppression of women. English Essays.

The Yellow Wallpaper

American Gothic literature of the late nineteenth century can generally be characterized by its interest in Psychology. Rather than incorporate the supernatural or science fiction, which is the foci in other Gothic works at the time, authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and Charlotte Perkins Gilman use this mental condition of their protagonist in order to achieve the expected Gothic reaction. Specifically, in Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper”, the protagonist, a white, middle class housewife diagnosed with depression, sinks into insanity right before the readers eyes; her psychology unfolds and produces that horrific reaction appropriate for the American Gothic. This, however, in not the only product of Gilman’s work. Through literary style, unusual characterization, and a haunting (and knowledgeable) account of madness, Gilman makes her intended statement effectively: nineteenth century women were not only repressed, but practically driven to inhumanity by the men who overprotected and underestimated them. Both traditional Gothic elements and productive special position are laced throughout Gilman’s short story.

To first look at a piece of fiction, one must examine it’s technical aspects, that is, the literary style with which it is written. In the Gothic tradition, “the Yellow Wallpaper” is written using a unique narrative technique. The narrator is also the protagonist, whose actions and thoughts the reader learns about through her journal.

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This tool brings the narrator to life and gives the reader a sense of trust in the main character, Jane. In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes the setting, the other characters, and her feelings. Because she is in a position of weakness, the reader sympathasizes with her melancholy and shares her resentment for her physician husband, John, who “does not believe that she is sick!” (Gilman 249). Telling the story in first person also exemplifies Gilman’s feminist ideology: by giving the central of the story telling to the female protagonist, she joins other prolific Victorian writers.

In the tradition of Charlotte Brante and Jane Auster, Gilman places a woman at the core of the story. Therby thumbing her nose at the majority that more often chase men as literal focal points. Another literary choice that hinges the meaning to the story is Gilman’s diction; she weanes normalcy and lunacy together so well that they blend to produce a realistic account of insanity. When the reader meets Jane, she is personable and she feels sympathy towards her plight.

Her husband seems the irrational one, as he cannot she her plainly stated need for “congenial work, with excitement and charge”(249). But, soon, the reader notices the harshness and violence of Jane’s thoughts that mix with calm, feminine words: “the floor is scratched and gonged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bedlooks as if it had been through the wars. But I don’t mind it a bit” (253). Another notable example is the use of the word creep’.

At the finale, Jane sees creeping women out the window, she sees the woman in the wallpaper creeping, and finally, when Jane faints, “she had to creep over him every time!” (263). the repetition of the word to her adds swirling and incoherent thoughts, as well as links Jane to the woman whom she eventually becomes. Gilman certainly uses the word creepily. By choosing the short story as her medium of expression, Gilman increases the Gothic effect: the reader is drawn in quickly, tossed about in the woman’s spiraling lunacy, and left hanging on a strange and (un) interpretable finale. Were this tale told in another style, it would be dsumpened by the inability to feature short and personal phrases that could only represent one’s thought patterns: “personally, I disagree with their ideasbut, what is one to do?” (249). Also, because “the Yellow Wallpaper” must be read as a social statement and not simply as a Gothic tale, “a significant part of Gilman’s strategy, then, in writing short fiction was to demonstrate viable alternatives to long-ingrained an oppressive social habits” (Knight 25).

One may presume that critic Denise Knight speaks here about the novel form. Clearly, Gilman chooses to hit the reader hard and fast, sending her message in an abbreviated and yet, powerful package.Another aspect of “the Yellow Wallpaper” that lends to it’s overall Gothic impression and feminist assertion is a characterization, that is, the regression of the main character’s personality.

She begins as an obedient, but sad, housewife, and slowly devalues to a rebel (at least in her own mind) and finally, to a pseudo-animal. The reader meets a timid woman who gives hints of her repressed anger, although she follows her medical orders and allows herself to be treated as a child: “John laughs at me, of course, but expects that in marriageso I take phosphates or phosphates-whichever it is, and tonic, and journeys, and air and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to work’ until I am well again” (Gilman 249). In the second phase or regression, the woman becomes excited and hides her knowledge that another woman lives in the wallpaper: “life is very much more exciting now than it used to beI had no intention of telling him her improvement was because of the wall-paper” (258). This sneaky attitude is new to her, as she has not thus far, deceived John. Finally, the woman’s rationality totally fails, and she tears the wallpaper apart saying, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out the window would be an admirable excuse, but the bars are too strong to even try” (262). Jane rationalizes suicide, which is frightening enough, when she seems to be completely overtakes by another personality; she becomes the woman she sees behind the pattern in the wallpaper: “I’ve got out at lastin spite of you and Jane” (263).Gilman’s extreme treatment of the three personalities in the character leaps over any furnished cliche; the three phases of Jane’s regression symbolize a mural for women.

“the Yellow Wallpaper” strives not only to evoke sympathy for the woman of the nineteenth century who were coddled and at the same time, mistreated, but to show the “sort of triumph in the narrator’s understanding of her situation, andher heroism that resides in her perceptivity and in her resistance. To a significant degree that resistance takes the form of anger” (Hedges 228), and the character is indeed angry. It is noteworthy that her insanity manifests itself in a violent form. Gilman also shocks the reader when the insane Jane makes light of her outrageous behavior by taunting, “it is no use, young man, you can’t open the door!” (Gilman 262). The moral is clear: before this poor character realizes the detriment of her treatment’ by her doctor husband, it is too late. To forbid a woman to use her own mind and make her own decisions is to, fundamentally, destroy her sanity. To read the short story as one of success does not seem to take into account Jane’s dehumanization.

According to Elaine Hedges, this is the “narrative of a woman’s efforts to free herself from the confining social and psychic structures of her world,” but unfortunately, her efforts are futile. (Hedges 223).The decent into madness is a failure to outwit or win the male dominance in the woman’s (and in all women’s) nineteenth century environment. Jane’s transition to dementia should not be considered ” a creative act and a successful defiance,” as Gilman’s language clearly depicts her heroine as an animal: “I tried to hit it and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner- but it hurt my mouth” (Hedges 223, Gilman 262). Her creeping also lends greatly to the animalistic imagery. The protagonist’s depravity is extreme: “the repugnant body to which the narrator is reduced becomes a figure for the repressions imposed on women” (Hedges 230). In it’s Gothic horror, however, “the Yellow Wallpaper” leaves one detail up for interpretation: because John faints when he encounters the crazed Jane, Gilman presents the reader with a no-win situation. Jane has lost her wits and her identity as a woman (and a person), but John has not maintained his traditional Victorian male control.

The author’s moral expands here for all people, not only women: freedom is freedom, regardless of sex. Repression, in the end, affects just as harshly, the repressor.Apart from it’s literary style, and characterization, the most effective element of Gilman’ short story is her unnervingly realistic account of madness. The portrayal of Jane’s insanity works well for three reasons: first, it conforms to the popular American Gothic tradition. Second, it is an easily recognizable metaphor for Victorian women, and third, “the Yellow Wallpaper” is largely autobiographical. Nineteenth century Gothic literature in the United States was interested in psychology, and Gilman’s story is an apt example of the psychological horror story. By placing the reader so close to the narrator, Gilman has both beginning to believe there is actually a women in the wallpaper, and Jane’s madness comes alive: “I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why-privately- I’ve seen her!” (Gilman 262). Insanity is an intriguing subject, and because it is not imaginary (like the supernatural or science fiction), it makes of a more horrific Gothic experience.

Also, in this case, the insanity functions in two ways: “madness manifested as progressive incipient insanity and madness manifested as extreme and repressed anger at female bondage become dichotomous components of the protagonist’s condition” (Knight 16).The tool of an extreme psychological condition only loosely masks the metaphor (and moral) of “the Yellow Wallpaper”. Reading this story easily incites independence and puts repression into harsh, yet understandable terms. Gilman once justified her reasoning behind writing “the Yellow Wallpaper” : ” It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate- so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered” (Gilman). Whether the short story was intended as a longer feminist ideal or as a catalyst for immediate action, “the Yellow Wallpaper” certainly opens one’s eyes to the dire circumstances under which it was conceived. Gilman’s success in literature is compled with a personal triumph: “But the best result is this- many years later I was that the great specialist that had treated Gilman had admitted to friends of his that he had since altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading “the Yellow Wallpaper” (Gilman).The final reason why Gilman so effectively paints a portrait of the mentally disturbed Jane is because the story is based on a portion of the author’s life. During a bout of a post-partum depression, Gilman suffered as, “the treatment her doctor prescribed required Charlotte to love as domestic as possible, to have the baby with her at all times, and to never touch a pen, a paintbrush, or a pencil for the remainder of her life” (Knight 15).

This is almost identical to Jane’s orders. “the Yellow Wallpaper” also serves as a platform through which Gilman voices her innate independence: “Charlotte was exceedingly wary of relinquishing her own identity and being forced into an obseqniores role. Again and againsheexpressed her fear of subjugation” (Knight 12).

Although it is a simple interpretation of the story, the autobiographical component is important because it accurately records a woman’s suffering and Victorian treatment’, and because Gilman uses her own experience as a metaphor for the repression she felt, even outside of sickness.”the Yellow Wallpaper”, although packed with legitimate feminist commentary, is an extremely effective Gothic tale: “like her contemporaries, Gilman wanted her literature to produce an effect upon the reader” (Knight 23). Through her choices in narrative style, form, and diction, a progressive (or regressive) character, and a true-to-life version of an insanity story, Gilman brings to the reader both effects of “the Yellow Wallpaper”: a strong reaction and a special moral: “this is story about a nineteenth century white, middle-class woman, but it addresses “woman’s “situation in so far as a group must contend with male power in medicine, marriage, and indeed most, if not all, of culture” (Hedges 231).

Works CitedGilman, Charlotte Perkins. “the Yellow Wallpaper”The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales. Chris Baldrick, ed.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.

“Why I Wrote “the Yellow Wallpaper”. Online http://www.cwrl. 24 July 2000Hedges, Elaine R.

“Out at last? “the Yellow Wallpaper” after Two Decades of Feminist Criticism”.Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman.Joanne B. Rarpinski, ed. New York: G.K.

Hall and Co,. 1992Knight, Denise D. “the Yellow Wallpaper” and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Newark, New Jersey: University of Delaware Press, 1994Masse, Michelle. In the Name of Love-Women, Masochism, and the Gothic.Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1992


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