The Yellow Wallpaper, a Descen

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"The Yellow Wallpaper", A Descent Into Madness
In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman presents the tragic story of a woman’s descent into depression and madness because of this oppression. The narrator’s declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually destroying her. The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where she can recover from sever postpartum depression. According to Jennifer Fleissner, "naturalist characters like the narrator of Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper" is shown obsessed with the details of an entrapping interiority. In such an example we see naturalism’s clearest alteration of previous understandings of gender: its refiguration of domestic spaces, and hence, domestic identity according to the narrative of repetitive work and compulsion that had once served to distinguish public life from a sentimentary understood home" [Fleissner 59]. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a fictionalized account of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own postpartum depression. Gilman was a social critic and feminist who wrote prolifically about the necessity of social and sexual equality, particularly about women’s need for economic independence. According to critic Valarie Gill, "Gilman attached the nineteenth century’s configuration of private space as woman’s domain and its attendant generalizations about femininity. Gilman seeks to blur the distinction between private and public life. Gilman unflaggingly urged her audience to consider their logic in assigning women to the home. The composition of home life altered radically between the beginning and final decades of the nineteenth century" (17). The narrator loves her baby, but knows she is not able to take care of him. "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a deer baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me nervous" (Gilman 359). The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. Yet, in this story the opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are barred, holding her prisoner. It is painfully obvious that she feels trapped and unable to express her fears to her husband. "You see, he does not believe I am sick. And what can one do? 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?" Her husband is not the only male figure who dominates and oppresses her. Her brother, also a doctor, "Says the same thing" (Gilman 357). Fleissner says, "Naturalists feminists like Gilman saw the production of gender subjects as the chief effect and purpose of homes. Homes represented the last vestige of an earlier revolutionary moment in which excessive ‘sex-modification’ prevailed; by contrast, modernity would usher in a new ‘gynandrocratic’ era in which the sexes would move evolutionarily closer together" (72) Because the story is written in diary format, we feel especially close to this woman. We are in touch with her innermost thoughts. The dominance of her husband, and her reaction to it, is reflected throughout the story. The narrator is continually submissive, bowing to her husband’s wishes, even though she is unhappy and...
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