An Essay on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Women have always struggled for equal rights with men. The feminist movement commenced several centuries ago and lasts till our days. With the course of time women managed to prove that can be as good as men almost in all spheres of life. Due to all the efforts and social activity women altered the preconceive opinion towards themselves and achieved significant results. However, it was just several centuries ago that women were in absolutely different situation. In the nineteenth century women were considered to be born only for marriage but they did not have any choice even in that sphere. Most marriages were contracted regarding financial perspectives of the future family. Sometimes marriages were just a good bargain of two heads of family, and if men had the opportunity to choose, women had to be mute. Besides, they were deprived of any rights, they had to submit to men and if they dared to resist, it was considered inconceivable.

In her book, “The yellow wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman showed the woman that was a typical representative of female society in that time. The author presents great and vital problems of human relationship, particularly between a husband and a wife, by the example of a woman who lives under the whole control of her husband. The main character, the narrator, wants to be free in her desires. However, she is always oppressed by her husband John. She should be passive and unemotional, because for her husband it is very convenient when only his decisions are taken into account. Being the woman’s doctor, it is easier for John to control his wife. Rest cure and no active work seems the best treatment for her. Still, it depresses the narrator. She begins to hide her thoughts from her husband. She starts writing a secret journal to express her inner world, as no one around her is actually interested in it. The woman realizes her position and the fact that she can do nothing. “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?” (Gilman, 6)

However, the journal does not help the woman to get rid of oppressive thoughts about her unhappy life and indifferent husband. Therefore, her condition becomes worse, now she is more passive, more reserved, but the husband takes her passivity as the due effect of treatment. The former child nursery, where his wife spends her time, becomes a prison for her. Yellow wallpaper and bars on windows aggravate the situation. It is the wallpaper that becomes the object of her insanity, yellow wallpaper that surrounds the narrator becomes a part of her life. The reader watches how the woman gradually goes mad; it makes a strong and painful impression. When the narrator starts to see another woman in the wallpaper, readers realize that this woman is now absolutely insane. “There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.”(Gilman, 10)

With time the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper, she sleeps less and her only thought is the woman in the wallpaper. Then the author of the story shows the horror of the whole woman’s life by bitter irony that is heard in the narrator’s words: “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be.” (Gilman, 21) The fact that now, being insane, poor woman feels happier, strikes and terrifies.

In the end of the story, the narrator decides to free the woman in the wallpaper and peels it off. In such a way she tries to free herself and to escape from her prison. Having torn off the wallpaper, she identifies herself with the woman in the wallpaper and at the same time sees other trapped women outside, creeping around. “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 wall-paper as I did?” (Gilman, 25)

Thus, the author highlights that such case of madness is not the only one. All women, being under the overall control of their husbands, unable to change the situation, suffer silently and undergo depression. The impossibility of self-development for women is the main theme of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work. It is necessary to note that the main character does not have a name, as it is a general image of all oppressed by the society women. Meanwhile the story is told from the first person, therefore we can better feel the sufferings of the woman and besides read the thoughts of the author herself, that is of Charlotte Gilman. The message of the story is the necessity to change the status of women in that epoch and as the author said “it was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy”.(Golden, 108)

Works Cited

  • Gilman Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. BookSurge Classics. 2002.
  • Golden C. The Yellow Wallpaper: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition. 1 edition. Routledge. 2004. 95 – 156.

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