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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a 19th century feminist, and was published for the very first in New England Magazine in 1892. This story is based on the narrator’s experience with “rest cure” prescribed for a mental illness and was particularly written as an evaluation of the medical treatment prescription for women suffering from neurasthenia. The story begins with a married woman’s contemplations. The narrator suffers from postpartum depression and her family members - including the husband (John), and her sister-in-law- are hopeful that their rented summerhouse will be a healing place for the ill narrator. As per the prescriptions of the doctor, the sick was subjected to a rest-cure marked by solitude and quiet as well as keeping off such things as writing or reading which would stimulate her mind (Gilman 3).
A fortnight later, the narrator secretly writes, believing this would likely get rid of some of the inbuilt tension. After having had stopped her narration following the coming of her husband, she now carries on with giving an explanation of the gaudy yellow wallpaper. In giving the description of the patterns and colors in the wallpaper, she progresses in unsettling manner. Each passing minute, she is more and more infatuated with the wallpaper and later ends up imagining that there is a woman who has been trapped on the backside of the wallpaper (Gilman 5). She actually frequently identifies new facets on the wallpaper; she is talking of the smell of the woman creeping through the paper throughout the entire house. This obsession goes on until towards the end of the story, she herself merges with the persona of the trapped creeping woman. The story comes to an end when the narrator is creeping around the room edges and at the same time tearing the wallpaper into small pieces in efforts to free the trapped woman. Her mental illness had clearly worsened to complete madness. On opening the door and finding the narrator creeping and seeing the condition in which the room was, John is shocked. While he faints, the narrator carries on with the creeping and crawls over her husband; who lay on the flow in an unconscious state (Gilman 10).
Gilman’s short story- as is evident from the above brief summary of its plot- brings on focus a broad-spectrum apprehension of the role that women played in the 19th century, and in particular, with respect to such arenas as domesticity, maternity and marriage. To begin with, the fact that the narrator was confined to her home and the feelings she had that she was being dominated over and victimized by those within her surrounding (and more especially her husband) indicates that the society had placed a number of domestic limitations upon the women (FrankiesGirl6Yr 1). In further elaboration of this theme, the yellow wallpaper is in itself a symbol of the oppression that women in the society have been subjected to. Through the wallpaper symbolism, the women have been trapped in their roles, both as mothers and wives. The story, in addition, gives an expression of concerns of the mannerisms through which the society of the nineteenth century depresses the women of creativity, making them un-heard. According to the narrator, her efforts to express her feelings through writing are actually muffled by the doctor’s prescription of a rest cure. The creative impulse is actually so strong among the women to the extent that the narrator affords to risk writing in her diary secretively and hides the same from her husband (Thomas 1).
As per the time period’s social norms, the 19th century women were under obligation to fulfill their roles as mothers and wives. They were also expected to derive utility from their existence as nothing beyond being a wife and a mother. There existed a division between the males and women both in the private and public spheres of life. According to this short story, it is clear that women were doomed to spending their entire lives around domestic spheres (FrankiesGirl6Yr 1). An attempt by the women to enter the so branded masculine public realm would earn them such titles as prostitutes as well as be considered as belonging to the lowest level in society.
Despite the fact that the narrator’s husband (John) can be viewed as the story’s domineering scoundrel, he is simply a mirror image of the society. The revelation of this gender disparity in the story highlights the degree to which women had been kept in a childish state, of not only ignorance but also, a state that prevented them from realizing their full development. For instance, John assumes that he is wiser and more mature than his wife (the narrator) and with this notion; he ends up misjudging, patronizing and dominating his wife; all in the name of trying to help her. It is the desire of the narrator to have more in her life than just her husband and children. However, this hardly corresponds to the social expectations of the 19th century society (Thomas 1). According to the society, a woman ought to be “the angel in the house”. The narrator on the contrary distinguishes herself from such a generalized ideology via her being passionate about writing as well as her creativity.
Moreover, it is clear that the men in the society are involved in the determination of the women’s behavior and this has actually affected the women. These men have been able to pull off an ideological prison that besides silencing the women, has subjected them. This is an ideology that has legalized the victimization of women in the society. The women, as the narrator explains as the story unfolds, have been made servants tending the family’s needs. Both submission and religious piety were key elements of this ideology (FrankiesGirl6Yr 1). They were in the real sense means that the men in the society capitalized on to ensure that the female counterparts remain docile and passive. Moreover, this submission gave an implication of dependence on the man- who was the patriarchal head of the family. In the story, this arrogance is demonstrated by the godlike attitude of the medical profession (FrankiesGirl6Yr 1). Dr. Weir Mitchell prescribes a rest cure to the narrator. This prescription is a reflection of the disparaging attitude of the men in the society. The rest actually exposes the narrator to coerced feeding, complete rest and isolation. However, from the same story we get to come across the new woman who is ordinarily developing past the traditionally known roles of a woman as a mother and a wife. Gilman in her story is pushing forward for equality and at the same time encouraging women in the society to pursue other interests that are not necessarily domestic (Gilman 7). Taking the author’s own example, and in further elaboration of how the narrator defies the society’s social expectations, Gilman moved from her first husband and heads to California where she could carry on with her writing(Thomas 1). This action was not at its least taken to be in line with what the society held a respectable woman would have done.