American Literature II 2120
25 March 2013
Women and 19-Century Domesticity in “The Yellow Wallpaper”
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a short story about a new mother attempting to overcome her diagnosis of depression by being cooped up in a room without normal human interaction as prescribed by a top-rated male psychologist. The gender role expected of the nineteeth century woman was not ideal to the main character. The story goes on to critique the treatment plan set forth by her husband and psychologist. This in turn critiques the entire belief system in the nineteeth century that women should not be working outside the home. Gilman reveals in “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’?” that the story parallels one of her own, with exaggeration (Gilman “Why I Wrote” 804). Through research and an analytical reading, I will demonstrate how Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” contradicts the gender roles that were placed on American women in the nineteenth century. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman defies gender roles in the nineteenth century, by using the main character to show women need a creative outlet, to work, and not conform to the idealistic type of woman in the nineteenth century. She also shows this story is not specifically about one family by using generic names such as John and Mary (Ford 309). The use of these unspecific names suggests that Gilman is using the story to encompass all women and not just the main character of the story that is undergoing these persecutions (Ford 309). Throughout the story, the main character is trapped in a room with horrid yellow wallpaper. that her husband said he would change it out when they first rented the house, but now has no intention to. He believes that living with something she isn’t fond of will do her some good in recovery (Gilman “Yellow” 794). At first the yellow wallpaper has little meaning other than the fact that the main character hates it and almost refuses to live with it. As the story goes on, it shows a fuller meaning. The main character finds a woman trapped behind the design in the wallpaper. Throughout the story, the main character is trying to hide the fact that she wants to work and be out in public, not trapped in this ominous, horribly wallpapered room. This suggests a metaphor for the woman she finds trapped behind the intricate design of the wallpaper. As the story goes on, the main character begins to peel the wallpaper off of the walls in order to free the woman from her “jail.” This along with the context of the story shows that the main character is trying to break free not only of the room, but of the harmful situation her husband and the doctor have put her in. She is forbidden to do any type of intellectual activity according to the doctor’s prescriptions (Gilman “Yellow” 792). By taking away her right to work, the main character is thrust into the gender role of a nineteenth century woman. She was not the kind of woman who would live a domestic life. She needed a work to provide a creative outlet. She was breaking out of the gender mold. The perfect wife who stays home, takes care of the kids, cooks, and cleans, this is not her. She knows work will make her better. Through these actions and writings Gilman is trying to show all women of the nineteenth century that it can do a woman good to get out into the work force. Every person is different but most people in general need a way to relieve tension in their lives. The doctors prescribed to the main character to utterly erase the thought of this outlet in her life and thought that it would make her better. Any attempt seen to do any type of intellectual work on the main character’s part was discouraged audibly. The main character’s creative outlet throughout the story is getting her thoughts down on paper. Her treatment strictly forbids her to work, therefore she certainly isn’t able to write down “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to...
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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’?” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th Ed. 5 Vols. Nina Baym, et al. New York: Norton, 2012. 804.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. Vol. C. New York & London: Norton, 2012. 792-803.
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