A Feminist In Action In The Yellow Wallpaper

1806 words - 7 pages

 
"The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, depicts a woman in isolation, struggling to cope with mental illness, which has been diagnosed by her husband, a physician.   Going beyond this surface level, the reader sees the narrator as a developing feminist, struggling with the societal values of the time.  As a woman writer in the late nineteenth century, Gilman herself felt the adverse effects of the male-centric society, and consequently, placed many allusions to her own personal struggles as a feminist in her writing.  Throughout the story, the narrator undergoes a psychological journey that correlates with the advancement of her mental condition.  The restrictions which society places on her as a woman have a worsening effect on her until illness progresses into hysteria.  The narrator makes comments and observations that demonstrate her will to overcome the oppression of the male dominant society.  The conflict between her views and those of the society can be seen in the way she interacts physically, mentally, and emotionally with the three most prominent aspects of her life:  her husband, John, the yellow wallpaper in her room, and her illness, "temporary nervous depression."  In the end, her illness becomes a method of coping with the injustices forced upon her as a woman.  As the reader delves into the narrative, a progression can be seen from the normality the narrator displays early in the passage, to the insanity she demonstrates near the conclusion.

As the story begins, the narrator's compliance with her role as a submissive woman is easily seen.  She states, "John laughs at me, but one expects that in marriage" (Gilman 577).  These words clearly illustrate the male's position of power in a marriage that is not only accepted, but rather expected at this time period.  Unlike the women of today, a nineteenth century woman would never have thought to question the authority of her husband.  This attitude that the narrator possesses is demonstrated throughout the story by her refusal to confront her husband.  Although she frequently disagrees with his prescription for treating her illness, she never openly questions his skills as a physician.  She writes in her journal, "Personally I disagree with [his] ideas...but what is one to do?" (Gilman 577).  This quotation epitomizes the inability of women in previous centuries to express their thoughts and feelings. 

The inability of the narrator to communicate her wishes and feelings is a recurring theme in the story.  The lack of expression that the woman displays plays a key role in the worsening of her illness.  The narrator tells her husband that she feels uneasy in the house, but his response is that her uneasiness is the result of a draught, and he will shut the window.  In another instance, the narrator expresses her dissatisfaction with the yellow wallpaper, and all her husband can respond is, " You know the place is doing you good..." (Gilman 579).  This response...

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