Gender Roles and "The Yellow Wall-Paper"

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper”: A Commentary on Gender Conflict

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is noticeably sympathetic towards the oppressed housewife in “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” We are shown the psychological breakdown of a woman through a first-person narrator, which serves well to the purpose of the story because we see the demise of the narrator firsthand. Through carefully placed details and character interpretation, Gilman shows the true nature of oppressive relationships. Throughout the story, Gilman feeds the reader carefully selected details in order to comment on gender conflicts within the institution of marriage.

As the story begins, two significant males in her life: her husband and brother, deem the narrator nervously depressed and hysterical. “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?” (Gilman, 35) Additionally, something important to note from this quotation is that the narrator immediately feels helpless in the situation. This is why she is susceptible to the type of cruel treatment that she will undergo in the story. This sort of helplessness is a comment on societal norms at the time. This story was first published in 1892 when woman’s rights weren’t honored but it was the popular topic of conversation.

Gilman capitalizes on form in this story in order to lend further insight into the nature of the oppression in this story. The end of the first ‘journal entry’ comes when the narrator explains that she must put her pen away because her husband, John, doesn’t allow her to write. “There comes John, and I must put this away, - he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman, 37) This is a clear example of oppression as he prohibits the only attempt she makes for true self-expression. This can be taken at face value and also as a comment on what...
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