April 5, 2007
Chief Symbols in The Yellow Wallpaper
Gender roles play a significant part in The Yellow Wallpaper, represented heavily by the physical yellow wallpaper in the bedroom of the summer mansion. This story, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, even begins on the first page and throughout the entire story, the narrator portrays women in the common air of being dominated by men. Especially during this time, women were oppressed not only by their husbands but also by any male figure. For example, on page 28 she says, "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage personally, I disagree with their ideas but what is one supposed to do?" The results of what happens in The Yellow Wallpaper show plainly the results of most male to female oppression. It shows what will inevitably happen if women are oppressed by male figures throughout society. Before, the beliefs were that the woman of the house was expected to sit quietly and do only what the husband saw fit. The wallpaper particularly shows her oppression as well as self-expression through entrapment. Conrad Schumaker says, "that a woman is often seen as representing an imaginative view of things that mostly conflicts, though sometimes complements, the American male's "common sense" approach to reality" (589-590). He says that Gilman answers the lifelong question of what happens to the imagination when it has to face a society that values the useful and practical, rejecting anything else as nonsense (590). Throughout the story, the female narrator acknowledges that the house she is staying in for the summer is a beautiful one, with marvelous surroundings, however she says, " still I will declare that there is something queer about it" (29). She is battling oppression throughout the entire story, which she exhorts through being overly preoccupied and annoyed with the dull, faded yellow wallpaper which covers her bedroom that she must spend most of her time in. She is convinced that this wallpaper is moving, and that there is a woman trapped behind it that creeps around at night trying to find a way out. At the end she finally tears down the wallpaper when she feels that no one is stopping her anymore. Her husband, John, is out of town, and his sister who is also their maid, Jennie, is persuaded that she is no longer needed to be upstairs. This symbolizes her release from her oppression, and she will not even let John in the room anymore after she has freed herself. She says, "And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (40).
Seeing as the narrator remains nameless throughout the entire story shows just how sheltered and tucked away that her life is. In the very first paragraphs of the story she states that John is overly practical and does not believe in faith, superstition, or anything he cannot see or feel, and when the narrator mentions them, he tells her that she is silly and wasting her time trying to figure out things that do not exist. John forbids the narrator to work or even write in her journal, thinking that working will over exert her, and writing is unnecessary. Because John is a doctor and she is convinced that she is sick, she thinks that she must believe everything he says and do everything he commands. He has inevitable eternal control over her actions, feelings, and thoughts. He based this "cure" on the works of Dr. Weir Mitchell, which calls for complete rest, coerced feeding and isolation. The sickness itself is the representation of the oppression she sees coming out in the wallpaper. The fact that she is "realizing" her sickness now is showing how she is beginning to realize just how suffocated and sheltered she is throughout her life. As an enhancement to this, the narrator sees herself as "a comparative burden," as stated on page thirty-one. The narrator does not even speak of John as a husband, but more so a father figure saying, "He is very careful and loving, and hardly...