Fighting Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, At the Cadian Ball, and The Storm
In their works, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin show that freedom was not universal in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The three works, "The Yellow Wallpaper," "At the 'Cadian Ball," and "The Storm" expose the oppression of women by society. This works also illustrate that those women who were passive in the face of this oppression risk losing not only their identity, but their sanity as well.
Gilman's female narrator, who either chose not to fight this tradition or was unable to do so, loses her sanity at the hands of an oppressive male-dominated American society. The narrator feels certain that the "rest cure" prescribed by her doctor is not working. She says that the men in her life are wrong to limit her activity. She feels that she could escape her depression if given the chance. "Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good."1 But despite this knowledge, the narrator does not act out against what she believes to be the incorrect ideas of the men who confine her and make her mental illness worse. Her growing insanity is inspired by and represented in the wallpaper of the story's title.
The pattern on the wallpaper represents to the narrator and to the reader the male-dominated society that is depriving the narrator of her freedom. For the narrator, on a personal level, the pattern on the wallpaper represents the actions of her husband, doctor and her husband's sister to keep her locked in the room and idle. While these people are ostensibly attempting to aid the narrator, they are in effect imprisoning her in the room. Gilman represents this symbolically through the use of the woman's image behind the pattern in the wallpaper, which she describes as "bars." The narrator feels that these bars choke off the life of the women trapped behind them. To the narrator this is seen through the image of broken heads lolling as if they were at the end of a hangman's noose. The narrator thinks that if she is choked off long enough, that she too will end up with a "broken neck," like the women in the pattern. As it turns out, she isn't wrong, but her "broken neck" turns out to be a broken mind.
The wallpaper magnifies the problems the narrator is experiencing. The pattern in the wallpaper is not just an innocent pattern for a children's room as it is first introduced to the reader, but rather it has a mind-numbing quality that readily attracts the projections of the unbalanced mind.
The other characters in "The Yellow Wallpaper" actually notice that there is something unusual about the wallpaper. ". . . I've caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once."2 If the wallpaper is a metaphor for the way society suppresses women, then the reactions of John and Jennie...