Yellow Wallpaper

Yellow Wallpaper
Without question the short story Yellow Wallpaper would definitely be categorized into a male dominant/feminist interpretation. The story is a perfect example of the stereotype, “that a male knows best”.Throughout the story the author does a good job of placing you in the women’s shoes. He makes you feel the control he has over her, mentally as well as physically.
Most males have a tendency to think that they know best. A man will never stop at a gas station to ask directions from a local resident in a town that he has been lost in for two hours because of course he knows his way around far better than the local ever would. He will find his way eventually even if it takes him the entire day. John makes it well known that he knows best. In line 30 he states, “Your exercise depends on your strength, dear, and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time.” Yes John is a physician but he does not know exactly what her illness is therefore; he cannot state what depends on what. He tells her that her exercise depends on her strength yet; she is not allowed to go out of the house. No matter her strength she will not be able exercise.


The way the story is written (not organized/unfocused), gives you a claustrophobic feeling of no way out, just as the character feels. The story is written to make you empathize with the character. The form of writing is related to her psycho condition, it jumps from John being away to how she feels.

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John and the character have a father/daughter relationship. He treats her as if she were a child, (example; line 128, “What is it, little girl?” A husband does usually refer to their wife as little girl. A relationship feeds on each other to make it right; there is no need for protection or defending.The narrator makes you feel as if all women are enclosed and rely on someone to guide them. You get the bored feeling as you are reading the story, that the women gets while she is locked up in the house not able to go anywhere or do anything. In this case he is inferior to her and protects her.In a normal relationship you don’t ask one another what he or she can do or not do, you don’t get permission to do things. If there is a huge decision to make in a relationship it is simply discussed. In the relationship of John and her it is all about him giving her permission to do things. In one of her writings she writes, ” Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.”(Line108) A wife should never have to be let to do something. If she feels like she wants to go visit her cousins then she should just get up and be able to go. You usually only get permission from someone of a higher an authority or level than you. In a relationship one is not at a higher level than another is.
So why does she end up the way she does? In the beginning of the story it almost seems as if there isn’t really anything that wrong with her. John says that with a little rest she will be better in no time. She does not get better though; she only seems to get worse and worse, more psycho and more psycho. The way John treats her only worsens her condition. She eventually believes that she literally placed herself into the situation she
was placed into. She was placed into an old gymnasium for children. She lives all day and all night in a gymnasium that has a color that is ” repellent, almost revolting: a
smouldering unclean yellow”. The color of the room is depressing enough alone, just as she is depressed. She places herself into her own situation as she states herself between line 240 and 245, “I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did!” If you are depressed the worst thing is to be locked up in a nasty, yellow room, with no job, and nobody to talk to. Controlled women are forced to be inactive. She goes insane because of his dominant effect on her and the way she is forced to live.

Yellow wallpaper

Study of “The Yellow Wallpaper”
The Yellow Wallpaper”, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story of a woman, her psychological difficulties and her husband’s so called therapeutic treatment of her aliments during the late 1800s. The story begins with a young woman and her husband traveling to the country for the summer and for the healing powers of being away from writing which just seems to worsen her condition. Upon reading this intense description of an almost prison like prescription for overcoming “temporary nervous depression” the reader is permeated with the idea the men are nothing more than the wardens in the lives of women. “The Yellow Wallpapaper” has focused mainly on the richly documented medico-cultural circumstances surrounding the story. (Wiesenthal 1)Gilman does well throughout the story to show with descriptive phrases just how easily and effectively, the man ‘seemingly’ wields his ‘maleness’ to control the woman. But, with further interpretation and insight I believe Gilman succeeds in nothing more than showing the weakness of women, of the day, as active persons in their own as well as society’s decision making processes instead of the strength of men as women dominating machines.

From the beginning of the story forward the narrator speaks of how her husband and other influential men in her life direct her so that she will recover quickly and I believe this to be the initial sign that the feminist perspective will be presented throughout. The narrator shows how although she has a formed opinion (and probably successful idea for her treatment), she is still swayed by her husband’s direction with the following passage, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus–but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.” Jonathan Crewe writes, “Her supposition that the room in which she is confined has been some kind of schoolroom or gymnasium means that she has correctly divined its function(s) as a scene of disciplinary schooling (she later speaks of suicide as “an admirable exercise”), yet she fails to see in advance—or even fully to recognize—the continuity between these functions of the room and its functions as the prison cell and/or asylum ward to which the recalcitrant pupil is destined.” (Crewe 274) Her husband seems to be the one who can change her thoughts because of his ‘maleness’ or the fact that he is her husband. Nonetheless, a member of the opposing sex is still suppressing her.
With a further look into this passage though, I believe that this again is nothing more than a sign of the inablities of the narrator. I don’t believe her sex to be the cause of her suppression it is her lack of understanding of not only herself, but of how to successfully make others aware of what is best for herself. The narrator also speaks many times in a manner, which suggests that because a man speaks she has no means by which to disagree with him because she is a woman, yet another feminist tact. A perfect example of this is presented in the beginning passages of the story, where the narrator states, “Personally, I disagree with their (her husband’s and brother’s) ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” This last sentence “But what is one to do?” exemplifies wonderfully her oppressed female stature in the society of her life. The proceeding passage is yet another display of the woman’s ineptness with self-esteem. If the woman would just take a moment to assess the fact that she is quite possibly right about her own recovery even though she is a woman the conflict would immediately taken from the sexist realm to a realm of inner-conflict, which is were I believe many of the topics covered in this story belong.
The final passages of the story, at last, successfully manifest a display of power and possible regain of self-governance through the narrator’s finally standing up to her husband by locking him out of the room in which he has imprisoned her supposedly for her benefit. Whereupon, for the first time in the story he must listen to her entreaties to discover where the key is hidden. The proceeding assessment of the final moments of the story could quite possibly be a successful way in which the author intended to say much, after the fact, of how she understood the need for a woman to stand up for her rights even in the face of a man’s believed superiority. This is an astute revelation considering that at that time men were still the magistrates and governors of women’s lives and for the author to make such an observation was in itself unorthodox for the day. This passage serves a two-fold purpose. The ability to lock the door restores the narrator’s power over her environment at the very least, and possibly her inner domains as well. The husband having to pay attention to the wife so that he may once again be with her also displays that she may finally be getting through to her husband, that the manner in which he can help her most is to listen to her and try to understand her.

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“The Yellow Wallpaper” presents a very interesting perspective of how a man can influence a woman’s life from a very feminist point of view, but with a present day interpretation can be given a whole new depth because the many conflicts flow from being woman vs. man to a much more complex struggle of woman vs. herself so that she may successfully win the battle of person vs. society. Gilman successfully portrays a dominated woman in this story, but I believe that is all the narrator is, a dominated woman not a woman dominated by a man. Gilman does portray the man as insensitive and lacking in emotional support, but neither of these qualities imply or affect dominant characteristics. I believe that in the end the woman discovers that she is not being dominated as much as allowing herself loss of control. I totally agree with Jonathan Crewe when he said, “Yet if it remains important to establish that being a woman or being queer is not tantamount to being sick or insane, it is hardly trivial to establish that being so is not tantamount, either, to exhibiting bad form. (Crewe 298) The discovering of where control falls in this story is very interesting when compared with literature in general. Much as the narrator comes to the realization that control over her life is ultimately her responsibility, a reader, who often times is ‘controlled’ by a story, must come to the realization that a work of literature only becomes a personal experience when he/she finally determines his/her interpretation or ‘control’ over the story. “Weather on the wallpaper or in the narrator’s first person text, the “unheard-of contradictions” in “The Yellow Wallpaper” never tell us but do ultimately teach us that madness is, precisely, unheard contra-diction.” (Wiesenthal 13)It is this realization of control or the reader’s interpretation that is the final block that gives the building that is known as a story, depth and meaning to every reader.


Bibliography:

Yellow Wallpaper

Yellow Wallpaper The Yellow Wallpaper – A Descent into Madness In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. The Yellow Wallpaper presents the tragic story of a woman’s descent into depression and madness. Gilman once wrote Women’s subordination will only end when women lead the struggle for their own autonomy, thereby freeing man as well as themselves, because man suffers from the distortions that come from dominance, just as women are scarred by the subjugation imposed upon them (Lane 5). The Yellow Wallpaper brilliantly illustrates this philosophy. The narrator’s declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually destroying her.

The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where she can recover from severe postpartum depression. She loves her baby, but knows she is not able to take care of him. It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous (Gilman 642).

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The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. In this story the opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are barred, holding her in.

(Biedermann 179, 382). From the outset the reader is given a sense of the domineering tendencies of the narrator’s husband, John. The narrator tells us: 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 one reason I do not get well faster (Gilman 640). It is painfully obvious that she feels trapped and unable to express her fears to her husband. You see, he does not believe I am sick. And what can one do? If a physician of high standing and one’s own husband assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression a slight hysterical tendency what is one to do? Her husband is not the only male figure who dominates and oppresses her.

Her brother, also a doctor, says the same thing (Gilman 640-641). Because the story is written in diary format, we feel especially close to this woman. We are in touch with her innermost thoughts. The dominance of her husband, and her reaction to it, is reflected throughout the story. The narrator is continually submissive, bowing to her husband’s wishes, even though she is unhappy and depressed.

Her husband has adopted the idea that she must have complete rest if she is to recover. This is a direct parallel to Gilman’s life, wherein during her illness she was treated by a doctor who introduced her to the rest cure. She was instructed to live a domestic life, only engage in intellectual activities two hours a day, and never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again as long as she lived (Gilman 640). In this story, the narrator’s husband, John, does not want her to work. So I .

. . am absolutely forbidden to work’ until I am well again(Gilman 641). John does not even want her to write. There comes John, and I must put this away he hates to have me write a word(Gilman 642). It is also a direct allusion to Gilman’s personal experience that the narrator is experiencing severe postpartum depression.

Gilman suffered from the same malady after the birth of her own daughter (Gilman 639). It is interesting that the room her husband chooses for them, the room the narrator hates, is the nursery. The narrator describes the nursery as having barred windows and being atrocious (Gilman 641-642). The narrator’s response to the room is a further example of her submissive behavior. I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened onto the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it (Gilman 641).

Although she is practically a prisoner in the room, she is given no voice in choosing or decorating it. She attempts to justify John’s treatment of her. He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule . .

. I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more(Gilman 641). Even though she knows that writing and socializing would help her recover faster, she still allows the male figures in her life to dominate and control her treatment. I sometimes fancy that in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad(Gilman 641). I believe that the narrator’s husband loves her very much. He is tender with her and speaks to her in a loving, sometimes child-like manner.

However, he obviously does not want anyone knowing the extent of his wife’s mental illness, referring to it as a temporary nervous depression a slight hysterical tendency (Gilman 641). I believe this is also a reflection of the way women and mental illness were perceived in the nineteenth century. Women were supposed to let their men take care of them, and mental illness was often swept under the carpet. The husband, John, did not want the stigma of mental illness tied to his family. He says that no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.

(Gilman 645). In reading this story I had to constantly remind myself that society today treats mental illness differently, and that this was written from a nineteenth century perspective. The narrator continues to repress her own needs and allow her husband to dominate. Seeing the wallpaper in the bedroom, she writes: I never saw a worse paper in my life one of those sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin (Gilman 642). It is also interesting to note that the bed in the room is a great immovable bed which is nailed down (Gilman 644).

I wondered if this was a metaphoric reference to her husband’s attitude about her illness. As she looks out the window, she can see the garden. She describes flowers, paths, and arbors. All that she sees outside is beautiful. Just as Gilman uses the room the woman hates as a metaphor for her mental illness, she uses the beautiful garden as a metaphor for the mental health the woman craves.

The narrator’s husband also stifles these thoughts. I always fancy I see people waling in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my good will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try (Gilman 642). The more time she spends in the room, the more obsessed with t …

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