The Oppression of Women and The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a fictionalized autobiographical account that illustrates the emotional and intellectual deterioration of the female narrator who is also a wife and mother. The woman, who seemingly is suffering from post-partum depression, searches for some sort of peace in her male dominated world. She is given a “rest cure” from her husband/neurologist doctor that requires strict bed rest and an imposed reprieve form any mental stimulation. As a result of her husband’s controlling edicts, the woman develops an obsessive attachment to the intricate details of the wallpaper on her bedroom wall. The woman’s increasingly intense obsession with the wallpaper ultimately leaves the reader with many questions about nineteenth-century male-female relationships, and perhaps even insanity.
Several critics have identified many significant and contrasting themes in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” For example, the contrast of the male-female relationship in the late nineteenth-century, which is an apparent link between the sex roles and seemingly oppressive sexual structures. Another significant theme is the ominous question of what lies behind the meaning of the structure and color of the wallpaper. Does it represent a symbolic realm of imagery, or a linguistic realm focusing on the identity of the spoken and written word?
More sympathetic critics like Gilbert and Gubar read “The Yellow Wallpaper” simply as a narrative of one woman’s efforts t free herself from the structured psychic, and social atmosphere—indeed, a rigidly constructed atmosphere that was very restrictive for a female of this day and time. They envisioned the wallpaper as being an interpretation of the oppressive structures of a male dominated world. Although the woman, at the story’s onset, shows moments of lucidity and coherence, she is ultimately--and tragically--driven to both submission, and utter insanity by the ending. According to Gilbert and Gubar she is “mad” only by society’s standards, and, more importantly, that she is, in fact, moving into “the open spaces of her own authority” (91). This interpretation seems to just touch on the many social issues the narrator experiences. Keeping the narrator anonymous is one of the key themes to show the reader who the woman really is, because of the assumption at the beginning of her status in society and in her marriage to a prominent doctor. Her husband John does not even acknowledge his wife may have any mental problems and all attempts for the woman to tell him fail. For as she in desperation states “John laughs at me about this wallpaper” (Gilman 803). Thus, if the woman can expect to get laughed at in her marriage, it would be impossible for her to actually talk to her husband, much less convince him to change his diagnosis of her, especially because he is “so wise” and a physician (Gilman 806). Indeed, male-dominant opinion becomes even...