“The Yellow Wallpaper”: Gender Roles
During the time period in which Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, discrimination towards women was widely evident throughout most of the world. It was especially obvious in nineteenth-century America due to historical evidence not relevant to this topic, but this was the time period that Gilman grew up in; therefore, it is easy to see why a female writer would chose to write about such a thing. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a three month tale about a woman who is suffering from some form of postpartum depression that reveals insight into gender subordination by the usage of symbolism, tone, and imagery, showing how the conventional nineteenth-century marriage ensured that women remain second-class citizens.
The main symbol in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, obviously, is the yellow wallpaper in the narrator’s bedroom. At the beginning of the story she, the narrator, is distraught and disgusted by the pattern and color of the wallpaper. She asks her husband, John, to leave the house, or at least change rooms, multiple times. As the story progresses, however, her disgust changes to infatuation with the wallpaper. The change seems evident when she begins to think about her child living in the room. She states, “What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn’t have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds” (Gilman 245). It seems at first that the wallpaper is a symbol for her mental distress, but after this particular incident with her making an excuse to stay in the room, the symbolism changes. Later on in the story, the narrator personifies the wallpaper’s outer pattern as bars and the inner pattern as a woman, or sometimes women, trying to break out. This picturing of the wallpaper evolves the symbolism of it from her mental distress to symbolizing the wallpaper as a woman, arguably the narrator herself, trying to break out of the gender subordination that her husband, John, “lovingly” holds her under.
The major part of the tone in “The Yellow Wallpaper” that applies to gender roles comes from the way John speaks to the narrator. John converses with her in a way that shows that he thinks of her as lesser than himself. When the narrator approaches the wall one night he awakens to state, “What is it little girl? … Don’t go walking about like that – you’ll get cold” (Gilman 245). Then when she tries to explain he says, “Bless her little heart” (245). He talks to her as if she were a child. John is an extremely controlling husband that does not take into account anything the narrator tries to tell him and thinks that he is the only one that knows...