The Yellow Wallpaper, By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

1531 words - 6 pages

During the time when Gilman was growing up, women had defined domestic roles and their husbands were the dominating force. In turn, there were women who gained a voice and defied the oppressive male community; one of those voices being Gilman’s. Locked away in a mental and physical prison of her husband’s machination, the protagonist of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is the embodiment of the struggles faced by women seeking freedom from the restraints placed upon them by men. The narrator remains nameless throughout the story in order to depict the wife as a figurative representation of women in society; women were treated lesser than that of males. In the story, this nameless woman is the wife of a “physician of high standing” (Gilman, 1), and has a “[brother who is also a physician] of high standing” (1). The wife is oppressed in a big, airy nursery by her oppressive, but well-meaning husband because she is suffering from a “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency” (1). She was actually suffering from what is known today as postpartum depression. Throughout the story, the wife is not treated as an equal. Her opinions and physical activity is constantly oppressed and dismissed by the husband. The story portrays John’s dominance over his wife. As well, her deteriorating sanity is evidence that the male discourse is not superior and, therefore, enforces feminist pedagogy. In addition, the environment in which the wife is oppressed represents the dominance forced upon her by her husband. The feminist literary lens addresses the imprisonment of women, and the imbalance of power between the two genders.

During the whole of the story, John portrays his male dominant characteristics by treating the wife as an inferior. John constantly makes choices for his wife. “[She didn’t] like [her] room a bit [and] wanted one downstairs…but John would not hear of it” (2), demonstrates John’s power in decision making, because he is male and a “physician of high standing” (1). In this story, the word “physician” is used a great deal, symbolizing the authority granted to him because he carries the ‘all-so-mighty’ physician’s license. Due to the years of schooling and a male dominated occupation, he is the judge and decision maker. Furthermore, being the physician of high standing, John attempts to treat the wife through “phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and [is] absolutely forbidden to “work” until [she] is well again” (1). Of course, he is not a wronged husband for attempting to nurse his wife with that treatment; but he is wrong for being ignorant of his wife’s situation. John does not understand how serious and destructive his wife’s condition is and dismisses it accordingly as “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency” (1). What he thinks is hysteria, is actually something more serious than that, which is now dubbed ‘postpartum depression.’ Very...

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