The Yellow Wallpaper and Feminism

Topics: Feminism, Gender, Charlotte Perkins Gilman Pages: 6 (2126 words) Published: January 9, 2013
One’s freedom is a privilege that is highly regarded, but in most cases one takes it for granted. Throughout history, men have had this right handed to them, while in contrast, women either had to fight and risk all they had or accept their meek rank in society due to their sex. This disadvantage drives women to lengths they normally would not succumb to feel free of the shortcomings that history has given them. In Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the dominance of a patriarchal society is exposed. The verisimilitude of Gilman’s imagery of the setting lengthily describes the isolation and confinement of the narrator and their effects on her. The house she is staying in is her own prison, and is a symbol of her isolation from society. Her room with the yellow wallpaper is another representation of the narrator’s oppression and her ambition to break free from society’s unattainable standards. Gilman’s message is that if women are acknowledged as fully actualized human beings, then there would be no need for “rest cures” or any other ridiculous measures to supposedly fix any problems of theirs. The undertones of the cult of domesticity are utilized to emphasize how belittled and ignored women are. She demonstrates how the restriction the narrator undergoes causes her to lose her sanity because of measures society deems normal. What is meant to make the narrator better ultimately is what drives her insane, and through this Gilman advocates feminism and a sense of gender equality.

One’s house, no matter if it is temporary or permanent, should always feel like a home when one is surrounded by people one loves. However, in this case the house is an enabler for the narrator’s isolation which leads to her mental demise. The house that the narrator’s husband, John, chooses for their family, for her sake, is, “quite alone” and “three miles from the village” (Gilman 1); as a physical representation of her separation from society, John exerts his male dominance and right as a man of that time period to “correct” his wife who has strayed from what society deems acceptable for a woman to do. No one, not even her husband calls her by name, which displays how disconnected she is from the people around her, but also to take what others impose upon her at face value. The significance expands as the narrator herself has a difficult time coming to terms with defining her identity between what she is told is right and what she feels is right. It is the narrator’s isolation that causes her to go insane, not her so-called sickness. The downstairs room has “roses all over the window” with “pretty old fashioned chintz hangings” (Gilman 1), and represents the possibility of what could be in her marriage, which seems about as farfetched as John actually treating her in a non-patronizing way. Nonetheless, if the narrator were properly nurtured by her husband their marriage would flourish just as the roses do, and be vivacious like the chintz hangings. Roses are symbolic of femininity and John is dismissing the option of staying in the nicer bedroom and his wife’s femininity purely because it does not fulfill his own needs saying that it only had “one window” and not enough space for “two beds” (Gilman 1-2). As physician and her husband, John is supposed to do what is best for his wife, yet, he is putting his own wishes before her own; he is asserting his dominance over her, but also sacrificing her mental stability to do so. The room she prefers is downstairs, and the location symbolizes a more connected vibe with the rest of the family. The downstairs bedroom represents the outside layer of their relationship, to a visiting family member or a friend, that person would view the marriage between the narrator and John as normal, beautiful even. In contrast with the downstairs bedroom, the upstairs room where the narrator is kept displays the reality of their relationship. Keeping her upstairs away from others is John’s...
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