The Subjugation Of Women In The Yellow Wallpaper

2572 words - 10 pages

The Subjugation of Women in The Yellow Wall Paper              

 
In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. The Yellow Wallpaper presents the tragic story of a woman's descent into depression and madness. Gilman once wrote "Women's subordination will only end when women lead the struggle for their own autonomy, thereby freeing man as well as themselves, because man suffers from the distortions that come from dominance, just as women are scarred by the subjugation imposed upon them" (Lane 5). The Yellow Wallpaper brilliantly illustrates this philosophy. The narrator's declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually destroying her.

The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where she can recover from severe postpartum depression. She loves her baby, but knows she is not able to take care of him. "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous" (Gilman 642). The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. In this story the opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are barred, holding her in. (Biedermann 179, 382). From the outset the reader is given a sense of the domineering tendencies of the narrator's husband, John. The narrator tells us: "John is a physician, and perhaps - (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) - perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster" (Gilman 640). It is painfully obvious that she feels trapped and unable to express her fears to her husband. "You see, he does not believe I am sick. And what can one do? 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?" Her husband is not the only male figure who dominates and oppresses her. Her brother, also a doctor, "says the same thing" (Gilman 640-641). Because the story is written in diary format, we feel especially close to this woman. We are in touch with her innermost thoughts. The dominance of her husband, and her reaction to it, is reflected throughout the story. The narrator is continually submissive, bowing to her husband's wishes, even though she is unhappy and depressed. Her husband has adopted the idea that she must have complete rest if she is to...

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