Imprisonment of Women Exposed in The Yellow Wallpaper
When asked the question of why she chose to write 'The Yellow Wallpaper', Charlotte Perkins Gilman claimed that experiences in her own life dealing with a nervous condition, then termed 'melancholia', had prompted her to write the short story as a means to try and save other people from a similar fate. Although she may have suffered from a similar condition to the narrator of her illuminating short story, Gilman's story cannot be coined merely a tale of insanity. Insanity is the vehicle for Gilman's larger comment on the atrocities of social conformity. The main character of "The Yellow Wallpaper" comes to recognize the inhumanity in society's treatment of women, and in her awakening to this, visualizes her torment in the faded yellow wallpaper that hangs in her chambers, her jail. The unnamed narrator of the tale is purposefully left unnamed; the narrator could be any wife, any mother, any woman. Gilman transforms the hysterical, insane female of early 19th century literature into genius.
The first striking image that readers of "The Yellow Wallpaper" are presented with is not that of a room, it is not of the house, but of the character of John, the husband. John is described as a man of a "practical and extreme" nature (246). His presence throughout the tale provides for the narrator's motive. John refuses to accept her wife's condition; he does not believe that there is anything truly wrong with her.
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? (246)
The narrator is possessed by her husband. She is kept in a cage; in her torrid yellow prison with barred windows, barred walls. Her husband spends more and more time in town, seemingly ignoring the concerns and condition of his wife; as if by ignoring it, it does not exist. The home as a place of comfort does not exist for the narrator; companionship with her husband is lost. Her only real conversations occur on paper, as no one else speaks to her of anything other than her condition. She is stripped of her role as a wife, robbed of her role as a mother, and is reduced to an object of her husband's.
John has placed his wife in a prison. The disturbing stained and yellowed wallpaper is used, faded and repulsive. The color is one that is unwelcoming, uncomfortable, and uneasy; its color mirrors the narrator's relationship with her husband, and ultimately, with herself. The narrator is uncomfortable and anxious in the barred sulfur colored room where she is fussed over by her husband. John preens his wife, his possession, making the narrator draw further and further away from him. She realizes that her husband lacks the understanding that she craves. This is emphasized as John refuses to accept his wife's condition; "John does not know how much I really...