The conflicting social roles and expectations nineteenth-century women experienced were troublesome. Many women felt they did not live up to the rules of a being a true woman, which were the ideals of being submissive and pure. Many women blamed themselves for this but many decided to challenge the idea of what a true woman was. The competing ideologies of women are central to the narrator’s conflict in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). It has been largely debated whether or not Gilman’s narrator is freed from the expectations characteristic of the True Woman or if she is overpowered by them. This essay will argue why she is not freed from the expectations and is defeated at the end. This is realized in the character and plot development and the symbolism throughout the story.
Gilman’s story first starts off with an unnamed woman narrating about an illness she believes she has and how the men in her life are treating her. She certainly believes that fresh air and a purpose would do her good. “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change would do me good. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them,” (1184). From the very start, she is trapped between her own beliefs and the beliefs of her husband. However, she knows she is not able to do much to get herself out of her situation, so she writes to get back at them because that is all she feels she is able to do. It is also highly interesting that she is aware something is not quite right with her. The way her story develops and ends is certainly not a happy ending with her being freed from her society, or her mind.
Throughout the story, the woman sees images appear out of the wallpaper. Each appearance is significant in it’s own right. The appearance of the figures in themselves change as the woman goes deeper and deeper into her mind. The first time it appears is telling. “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” (1187). The figure first appears in one spot and it is grotesque, with the broken neck. However, she does not relate to the figures yet just that she is disturbed by it’s constant appearance.
As the narrator sinks further into her inner fascination with the wallpaper, she becomes progressively more dissociated from her day-to-day life. She becomes so obsessed with the paper that all she...