Social Criticism in The Yellow-Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Traditionally, men have held the power in society. Women have been treated as a second class of citizens with neither the legal rights nor the respect of their male counterparts. Culture has contributed to these gender roles by conditioning women to accept their subordinate status while encouraging young men to lead and control. Feminist criticism contends that literature either supports society’s patriarchal structure or provides social criticism in order to change this hierarchy. “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, depicts one women’s struggle against the traditional female role into which society attempts to force her and the societal reaction to this act.
From the beginning of this work, the woman is shown to have gone mad. We are given no insight into the past, and we do not know why she has been driven to the brink of insanity. The “beautiful…English place” that the woman sees in her minds eye is the way men have traditionally wanted women to see their role in society. As the woman says, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road…It makes me think of English places…for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.” This lovely English countryside picture that this woman paints to the reader is a shallow view at the real likeness of her prison. The reality of things is that this lovely place is her small living space, and in it she is to function as every other good housewife should. The description of her cell, versus the reality of it, is a very good example of the restriction women had in those days. They were free to see things as they wanted, but there was no real chance at a woman changing her roles and place in society. This is mostly attributed to the small amount of freedom women had, and therefore they could not bring about a drastic change, because men were happy with the position women filled.
This creates a despair, of hopelessness and of downheartedness. The woman, on multiple occasions, wrote down, “And what can one do?” This lets the reader know that women as a whole were very oppressed in this time. They had a role, and had to stick to it. In fact, their roles were so minor that at one point, she writes, “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” In this, one may begin to realize that men had such a high ranking over women, that the small amount of freedom a woman had was basically dictated still by her husband.
Men often times did not know much about their wife, or care to sit down and talk with her. They did not take great care to know how she was doing, or why she was feeling the way she was. The woman says, “John does not...