The Repression of Women in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is an account of a repressed woman in the late eighteen hundreds. This story allows the reader to confront the issues that plagued nineteenth century society in which women suffered because of their mental weaknesses. It is this mental weakness which ultimately leads to her downfall.
The narrator is afflicted with temporary nervous depression. She makes it evident that this affliction is due to her repression by her husband, John. He has total control over her thoughts and feelings, her health, and over her life. He does not take her seriously and laughs at her but, in this society, “one expects that”. (Gilman 1) He controls every aspect of her life. He forces her to stay in a room which she despises, and consequently, drives her insane. Gilman builds up the story to convey her feelings of the repercussions a woman faces in total supervision and domination by a man. She follows her husband’s counsel of total bed rest, but deep within her, she knows this will be her destruction. However, as characteristic of a woman of this time period, she obediently accommodates the demands of the man. This leaves her no choice, but to subject herself to the anguish of being totally alone in a room with ghastly yellow wallpaper.
She stares at the wallpaper all day and all night because of her insomnia, and she ultimately determines that “Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.” (Gilman 11) In time, the image appears clearer to the narrator. The wallpaper becomes more understandable to her, and she finally determines, “...and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars.” (Gilman 13) The woman in the wallpaper is trapped by bars, just as there are bars on the narrator’s windows. This is the first similarity she shares with the lady in the wallpaper. The narrator, with nothing else to do, is left to stare infinitely at a pattern in the wallpaper and forces herself to make meaning of what she sees. Perhaps this is to save her sanity, or perhaps her sanity is too far gone. She determines that the image is a woman trying to free herself from behind bars and begins to relate to the woman in the wallpaper.
She continues to attempt to liberate this woman. The narrator wants to free the woman but the wallpaper holds her back. Similarly, the narrator wants to be free, and her husband holds her back. The woman in the wallpaper has become her sanity. “I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!” (Gilman, 17-18) She wants to harness the woman, just as she wants to harness her...