Supression Of Women In The Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman And The Cult Of True Womanhood: 1820 1860 By Barbara Welter

2491 words - 10 pages

In the nineteenth century men and women were subjects of patriarchal societies and as such fit into the particular gender associated roles. Men were considered to be in control and were often professionals. Women, on the other hand, were supposed to be pious and domestic—the “hostage in the home” (Welter 43). Both Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper” and Barbara Welter’s “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860” reflect the suppressed life that American women were forced to live. Gilman’s narrator suffers from the patriarchal construct of her society but in the end shows that the cult of true womanhood can be broken through. While the narrator’s intense imagination would have ...view middle of the document...

The connection between John and God can be made because of John’s profession. His status, as well as the narrator’s brother’s, as high standing physicians (96) make them God like. It is because of John’s diagnosis and his treatment plan that the narrator is subject to her isolation. That is to say that men in this society hold prestigious and active jobs that allow them, and their opinions, to dictate the way the women in their lives live.
Furthermore, John repeatedly puts to rest the idea that the narrator’s illness is a mental disorder. Rather than admitting to the fact that her issue may be something more serious he continuously argues that it is a “temporary nervous depression” (95). He refuses to accept the possibility because if the illness were truly something more than he would not be able to control it. Gilman juxtaposes John’s need for control with the narrator’s submissive powerlessness to illustrate the power men hold over women in society. The narrator does not even know what she is being given, “so I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (96). John is managing not only where she lives but also what she eats and drinks and what she does during the day.
Not only is John domineering of the narrator, he also speaks down to her, as if she is a child. When he awakes in the night and she has gone to investigate the wallpaper he says to her, “what is it, little girl?” (103). John does not even see his wife as a woman, but rather as a young girl. So, in a society where women are supposed to be pious, pure, domestic and submissive, if they do not fulfill those categories then they are nothing but children. John is representative of men in the patriarchal societies that Gilman is writing about to explain the control men have over their submissive wives, and the way they are treated when they do not fit the correct mold of a true woman.
John’s sister Jennie and Mary, the nanny, provide the picture of the ideal true woman, that is, women who have “the attributes of True Womanhood … piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity” (Welter 44). Of Jennie, the narrator tells readers, “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!” (100). Jennie’s lack of hope for a better profession shows the importance of women’s dedication to the home. Jennie is more than happy doing what she is doing in cooking and cleaning, it is more satisfying to her than any other occupation could be. Jennie is the perfect portrayal of the cult of domesticity ready to “dispense comfort and cheer” (Welter 55) within the home. Furthermore, Jennie believes that it is the writing that is making the narrator ill. Jennie’s frame of mind is so succinct that she is unable to think outside of her dictated scope. Gilman, through her narrator, says that there is “a...

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