9 March 2013
The Struggle for Power in "The Yellow Wallpaper," "Daddy," and "Editha"
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s piece, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (written in 1890, published in 1892), is a semi-autobiographical piece that, although believed to be a result of her severe postpartum depression, illustrates the difficulties faced by women during the Women’s Movement. These difficulties are further illustrated by the similarly semi-autobiographical poem, based on Plath’s father and husband, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath (written in 1962, published in 1965). These gender roles are then reversed in “Editha,” (written in 1898, published in 1905) which has been said to be William Dean Howells’s response to the Spanish-American War. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and “Editha” by William Dean Howells all illustrate the conflict in gender roles during the Women’s Movement in 19th and 20th Centuries.
From the beginning, the narrator in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” allows men, especially her husband, John, to be superior to her. As a physician, he orders her to stay in bed and discontinue anything stimulating, such as being imaginative or writing. Though she feels better when she writes, and feels it may be beneficial, she does not speak against John but writes in private: “Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” By asking the end question, she essentially states that she is not her husband’s equal and has no choice but to listen, and is accepting of this. She even follows John’s orders even when he is not present to enforce them: “John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house.” This reaction can be compared to what many people experience today with doctors. Although people usually know what will make themselves feel better, they will most often follow the advice of a doctor instead, simply because physicians are figures of authority. The narrator knows that writing and socializing would help and clearly wants to recover from her illness, but she allows her husband and brother, who is also a respected physician, to control her treatment.
The woman's description of the wallpaper is symbolic of the evolution of her illness. The wallpaper, upon first introduction and description, fully illustrates how the woman regards her illness: “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.” As Paula A. Triechler states in her paper, “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’” “Like all good metaphors, the yellow wallpaper is variously interpreted by readers to represent (among other things) the "pattern" which underlies sexual inequality, the external manifestation of neurasthenia, the narrator's unconscious, the narrator's situation within patriarchy” (3). This portrays not only how the woman feels about herself and her illness, but also the effect of her husband’s orders. The “lame uncertain curves” are likely a reference to her husband’s treatment orders, and “suicide” could very well be the result if followed. The “unheard of contradictions” express the faultiness of John's methods. At one point she describes his contradictions: “he says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me,” yet, he does not allow her to do as she wills.
She describes writing as a relief, but because John has instructed her to stop writing, she lets her imagination run with the lines of the wallpaper. The more she allows her...