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The Yellow Wallpaper

2463 words - 10 pages

Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1892 gothic and horror short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” traces the mental decline of a woman while undergoing a “rest cure”. This captivating story illustrates the stifling plight of the protagonist in a patriarchal society. Her husband, John, a physician, has taken the narrator, a new mother, to a rented country home for the summer in order for her to recover from postpartum psychosis. He isolates her in an upstairs nursery, a room with barred windows, a nailed down bed, and odious yellow wallpaper, and forbids her to write, in accordance with the philosophy of the “rest cure”. Although the constraints placed on the protagonist proved to be repressive, it leads her to an intriguingly dangerous obsession with “the yellow wallpaper” that causes her to triumph over societal oppression and constraints within her marriage, giving her a heroic identity. The writer conveys all this through her ingenious usage of the image of “the yellow wallpaper”, which functions as a part of the setting, an object correlation to the narrator’s physical and mental repression, and lastly as a symbol of her life.
According to one critic “The subjection of women originated in prehistoric times when the males first monopolized all social activity and women were confined to motherhood and domestic duties” (Degler 178). During the nineteenth century these societal traditions were still imposed on women. Quawas confirms this statement when she states “In the nineteenth century, women, as agent of moral influence, [are] expected to maintain the domestic sphere as a cheerful, pure haven for their husbands to return to [home] each evening” (A New Woman’s Journey into Insanity). Because of these expectancies the protagonist is a powerless victim of a conventional marriage during an era where women are subservient and the men play the domineering roles in society. Moreover the males are the holder of the elite positions in society and members of the working class outside the home: “… physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing really the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do? My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing” (326). It is clear indication the men not only play commanding roles, but they are the ones with credibility and their opinions cannot be challenged.
In addition the narrator is vividly impulsive and gives into flights of fantasy and imagination. While the narrator’s character takes on a powerless and passive role, her husband exhibits a dominating and controlling role within their marriage. Again the writer further emphasizes the role the narrator portrays within her marriage when she states “I sometimes fancy in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus – but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it...

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