Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper”: the Use of Symbolism to Express the Psychological, Sexual, and Creative Oppression Experienced by Women in the Twentieth Century

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Amber Gonzalez
12/6/11
English 2213
Melissa Whitney
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”: The Use of Symbolism to Express The Psychological, Sexual, and Creative Oppression Experienced by Women In The Twentieth Century
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the late 1800’s while being treating by the very trusted Weir Mitchell. During this time women were commonly admitted into the care of doctors by their husbands without their given consent. At this time there was very little research concerning Post- Partum Depression. According to the A.D.A.M Medical Encyclopedia, Post-Partum is moderate to extreme depression women may experience after giving birth. The symptoms include fearfulness, restlessness, and anxiety- all of which are displayed by Jane in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Gilman was advised by Dr. Mitchell to stop writing and rest, only partaking in “household” activities. She was not to visit with friends or go outside much. Contesting to these rules, Gilman ended treatment with Mitchell and wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” with the hopes of shedding much needed light on the ineffectiveness of his strategies. The mental condition of many women often worsened due the general population’s lack of consideration involving a woman’s outspoken opinion involving the betterment of her own health. Carol Kessler writes in “Consider Her Ways: The Cultural Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Pragmatopian Stories, 1908-1913,” “The utopian fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman takes on as its "cultural work" the demonstration that women are not confined to one traditional mode of being--wife/motherhood--but can fill as varied social roles as can male counterparts” (126). Kessler is stating Gilman’s writing is not only a statement against the mental health practices concerning women, but also includes other issues that were dominated by a patriarchal society. Denise D. Knight suggests in her essay “I Am Getting Angry Enough to do Something Desperate,” that Jane’s behavior at the end is “an expression of the tremendous rage she feels toward her husband, John” (78). This statement is evidence suggesting that women were well aware of the need for a change involving these matters. Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper to symbolize the psychological, sexual and creative oppression women experienced during Gilman’s contemporary times. Jane’s “condition” is revealed to the reader at the beginning of the story. Jane has just arrived at the “vacation” home and is writing secretly since John forbids it. She writes of John, “You see, he does not believe I am sick!” (Gilman 173). This quote indicates to the audience that Jane’s voice is of no importance next to John’s. Jane continues to voice her opinion about her illness and what she believes could cure her. John blatantly ignores any suggestions she may have concerning her own health, appearing heartless and cold. This is very clear when Jane initially voices dislike for the room with the yellow wallpaper, in which she is assigned to stay. Jane writes, “I don’t like our room one bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza …but John would not hear of it!” (Gilman 174). Gilman allows the audience a glimpse at the symbolism of the wallpaper at this point. Jane mentions her dislike of the room with the yellow wallpaper as soon as she is introduced to it. Upon bringing this discomfort to John’s attention she is sufficed with a promise to replace it. However, John later breaks his promise with the reasoning that they will only be there three months. The creeping feeling Jane experiences concerning the wallpaper symbolizes the mental instability she feels looming over her. John convinces Jane there is nothing wrong with the room and refuses to move her even though she requests he do so. When Jane persists she writes of his response to her, “But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself”...
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