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Gender As Portrayed In “The Yellow Wallpaper”

1419 words - 6 pages

Gender Defines It All
Gender roles seem to be as old as time and have undergone constant, but sometime subtle, revisions throughout generations. Gender roles can be defined as the expectations for the behaviors, duties and attitudes of male and female members of a society, by that society. The story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” is a great example of this. There are clear divisions between genders. The story takes place in the late nineteenth century where a rigid distinction between the domestic role of women and the active working role of men exists (“Sparknotes”). The protagonist and female antagonists of the story exemplify the women of their time; trapped in a submissive, controlled, and isolated domestic sphere, where they are treated as fragile and unstable children while the men dominate the public working sphere.
In the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the role of a woman in society is one of domestic duties. Jeenie, the protagonist’s sister-in-law, is a great example of this. The protagonist is forbidden, by her husband, to “work” until she is well again, so Jeenie steps in and assumes her domestic identity of a woman and wife. The protagonist calls her “a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper” and says she “hopes for no better profession” (Gilman 343). Jeenie clearly has no aspirations outside the confines of her domestic role. The protagonist herself worries she is letting her husband, John, down by not fulfilling her domestic duties. She says “it does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way” (Gilman 342). Besides the domestic role, which she is unable to fulfill, the protagonist plays the helpless, fragile, role of a woman where she is deemed incapable of thinking for herself and is reduced to acting more or less like a child. Her husband often refers to her as his “darling” or “little girl” (Gilman 345, 346). Her husband restrains her from any social, physical and mental activity and allows little room for personal input or fulfillment. Longing for a voice and an emotional outlet, she begins writing in a secret journal, which she describes as a relief to her mind, also saying that her husband would think it absurd, but that she must write in it; it is her only outlet for what she feels and thinks (Gilman 340, 345). John exemplifies his role in society by being such a domineering force and keeping his wife constrained both physically and mentally, mentally being the worst for the protagonist.
The men of the story, namely John, the protagonist’s husband, plays the role of the active working, dominating male who is the sole authority of his family and regards himself as intelligent and wise. John exemplifies the working man of his day, working all day and sometimes late into the night. John is a physician who recognizes the compromised state of his wife, but only chalks it up to temporary nervous depression. Playing into his gender role, John takes charge in treating and helping his wife, believing in his superiority and...

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