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Patriarchal Oppression in the Yellow Wallpaper

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of "The Yellow Wallpaper" was a fantastic feminist writer. The story itself is a harrowing story of feminine strength and fragility. There are so many ways to analyze it, yet all of them seem to reach the same conclusion; women are oppressed be a patriarchal society.
The Character in the story goes through treatment for "temporary nervous depression" and "a slight hysterical tendency." The treatment at the time for this so-called disorder was utter and complete bed rest. Gilman, having gone through this treatment herself after the birth of her child, has an amazing grasp on what something that inhibiting can do to the mind. While this treatment was believed to be the miracle cure for such ailments throughout the medical community, most of the victims of the treatment felt quite differently, and in many situations, oppressed. Gilman uses this story to make a feminist statement about the inability of the patriarchal medical profession at the time to properly treat what was probably post-mortem depression.
Eventually the treatment begins to drive the woman mad. Early on in the story she states, "there is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies…" There are a few disturbing messages in the quotation. The most obvious issue here is that she is beginning to see things, to have hallucinations. Even more disturbing is how John, her husband and her doctor, just dismisses her and tell her not to give into it. However, from the woman;s description of her illness it doesn't seem to be something she is giving into, but rather it seems like a cold, something you come down with whether you want to or not.
As the story progresses she just continues to get worse. Her symptoms appear to be from worsening depression; however, husband John only counters with a guilt trip. She says, "He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well." Not only does John misdiagnose and mistreat her illness he makes her feel guilty if she cannot get better, which she seems unable to do due to John's faulty medical advise. At this point in the story she has also began seeing a woman behind the wallpaper. "There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will," and "And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit," are statements made by the woman. That she sees a woman creeping about and hiding in the paper could possibly suggest that she feels she is forced to creep about and hide with her writing. The yellow wallpaper could be to the woman she hallucinates what John and his bed-rest treatment are to her, something constricting and harmful.
The woman's condition worsens still and on the last night of their stay at that house she rips the paper off the walls in an attempt to help the trapped woman. That night she only gets halfway done and decides to finish during the next day. She waits until she is alone and locks the door to her room and throws the key out the window on to a path below. "I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!" If the woman in the wallpaper is a parallel of the woman in the room, as I believe it is, then this suggests that she feels trapped by her treatment and does not wish to be trapped alone, or simply that she wants to begrudge the woman in the wallpaper escape as she feels her husband has done to her with her treatment. Briefly after the previous statement she states, "I don't like to look out of the windows even- there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did." Here she has clearly reached the brink of insanity and crossed it.
Throughout the daytime ordeal of ripping off the wallpaper the woman remarks that she has secured herself with her rope. When John finally makes it into the locked room he faints and the woman says, "I've got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back." Perhaps this insinuates that she has hung herself, "tied" herself with rope to escape. Most men would probably faint upon walking into a room where their wife had hung herself. However, if this were the case then the story would have had to come from beyond the grave. John may have fainted at the hysterical sight of his wife having tied herself to something and creeping about the room in a circle as well. Both of these endings seem equally probable and make more or less the same statement. In order to escape the inadequate treatment of the patriarchal medical profession she had to either kill herself or go completely insane. That is definitely male oppression, and Gilman's putting such a story out in the open at the time it was published was an amazing feminist feat.

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