Submission Smells of Sulfur:
Gender and Illness in The Yellow Wallpaper
During the 19th century, when Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper takes place, men reigned and women had little power over the definition of their roles, particularly middle and upper class women due to the lack of necessity for them to work outside the home. It was their only responsibilities to be modest, God-fearing, respectable women who took care of themselves and did not distract their bodies from the purpose of childbearing. They were to remain in the domestic scene and leave the public work scene to the men. Then, enslaved in their own homes, they were to smile, accept, and enjoy such a life. As one can easily imagine, this was not always the case. Many women's emotions ran astray from this lofty life assignment, and the narrator in Gilman's story is a victim of such emotional noncompliance. She tries very hard to regain control of her emotions and be a good woman after she has a child, but despite her doctor-husband's recommendations and remedies, she cannot shake the "nervous disorder" that inspires her to write and to see visions in the wallpaper of her room. This yellow wallpaper eventually becomes the catalyst for her (possibly inevitable) breakdown and descent into madness throughout the story. A compilation of her gender roles, or lack thereof, and a very likely case of post-partum depression cause her to become sensitive to the social situation of women and leads her to descend into madness when she is unable to induce change to her assigned role.
There are many examples of the narrator's assigned gender role throughout the story. The first one to be introduced is her part in the institution of marriage. When the narrator tells her husband John of her superstitions about the house, he laughs at her. Her response to this is "but one expects that in marriage" (24). Her husband is not expected to listen to her or to take her thoughts seriously because she is...
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