The 'yellow wall paper' is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and it is mostly regarded as the work of the American feminist writings showing the manner in which women's mental and physical health are viewed. The story is a series of journals written in the first person and the narrator is a woman who has been confined to an upstairs bedroom in her house that was rented by her physician husband for summer. From the events that take place in the novel, the woman appears to have been banned from working and for this reason she is forced to hide her day to day journal entries in order to recover from impermanent depression believed to be familiar with women at that particular time.
To sensitize the seriousness of the woman's condition the door is locked by a key and she is not allowed to walk around in the rest of the rooms. From his own point of view John confines his wife in a room because he thought that the woman needed some good resting period in order to recover fully. However, the story reveals clearly how John treated his wife like a patient who did not have a right to suggest anything concerning her life (Gilman 14). Arguably, the story also narrates some events that took place in the woman's life just before she became sick which might have contributed to her present situation.
Following this, the narrator brings out the thought that the recent birth of the child bored by the woman may have made the woman to suffer from mental illness (Gilman 22). While on her summer vacation in the confined room the narrator made a lot of journal entries which possessively illustrated the wallpaper in the room. In her description of the wallpaper she concentrates on the color, smell and the patterns as well as the pieces it is lacking. As the story flows, the woman also touches the unique characteristic of the wallpaper, i.e. that it leaves yellow marks on clothing and body of any person who touches it. Actually, as she concentrates with the wallpaper her hatred for what she stood for emits all over the room. As she continues to think an idea crosses her mind and supposes that the room must have accommodated a class of young children who must have disliked the wallpaper just like her. In the midst of all this she notices a piece of the yellow paper on her shoulder and when she goes insane she realizes that her actions caused the ugly scene of the room.
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As the events unfold in the story, the women explain that the more the person stayed in that room the more the wallpaper continued to be in tatters especially at night. However, with the incentives of the wallpaper the designs and the models become increasingly stimulating and a certain figure finally appears in the midst of the design (Gilman 10). As issues in the story are revealed the woman finally comes to a conclusion concerning the patterns. According to her the patterns represented a woman crawling on all limbs behind the models trying to run away from the shadows. Nevertheless, after getting a revelation concerning her ability to free the woman in the wallpaper she starts to destroy all the other designs remaining in the room.
Nonetheless, the woman pretends to do away with her obsession towards the paper due to the fear that her husband John may diagnose her again and her sister in law may remain with the pieces. For this reason she decides to finish up the summer vacation by closing the door herself in order to remove the remaining pieces of the wallpaper.
As the story nears the end the woman's husband arrives and she refuses to open the door but instead directs him to get the key behind the window of the room she stays in. when John arrives with the key and unlock the door, he gets his wife crawling all over the room, gyrating the walls and patting the wallpaper (Gilman 34).
In addition to this, the woman also cries out that she is out at last and her husband faints instantly as the woman goes ahead to move in circles around the room even to the extent of treading on his body each lap.
Even though the story of the wallpaper is short, a lot of issues have been addressed especially those that concerns women. As matter of fact, marriage is one of the themes in this story which has been discussed at length (Spark Notes Editors). However, the unequal relationship between men and women in marriage is seen clearly. Actually, the story basically insinuates that men are the only ones who are fit to make decisions in a family setup. Apart from this, feminism is also brought in the events that take place around the narrator's life. Looking at the issues surrounding the environment of the woman in the story, it comes out clearly that women in a family setup have no right at all.
Women in the 'yellow wallpaper' are not viewed as social beings at all but rather people who are comfortable with anything. On the other hand, men in this story are not devoted to give their wives emotional support during hard times. Unquestionably, the story is build up in a social setup where gender determined the roles to be played by each individual. Nevertheless, the potential that women have in this story is never developed nor utilized. Instead, it is triumphed down and they are perceived as children in the family. In reality, married women in this story are not in a position to express their own opinions due to the oppression that surrounds them (Thrailkill 7).
A family is a basic unit in the society where people are suppose to stay in harmony by supporting each other. It is for this reason that allows people to grow together in a respectful manner. However, when these basic functions of a family are ignored then there is no future among the people that are involved (Ford 13). From this point of view, it can be said that marriages in the 'yellow wallpaper' are full of oppression. Mostly, women are the ones who appear to be more vulnerable to family oppression as compared to men.
Notably, as the story starts the woman in the story describes her pain, repression and dejection which women during that time experienced in their marriages. In fact she confesses that her husband John laughs at her and she believes that this is expected in marriage (Gilman 9). This shows that John as the husband to the woman in the story looked down upon his wife. In other words, he does not respect her but rather view her as a property or just like a child who should be shown the path to follow in life.
Another point to note is that the woman is very unhappy about everything that is happening around her family life. This comes out clearly where she expresses painfully the fact that she is the only allowed to take phosphates, journeys and air but no work. The meaning of this is that the woman cannot do anything constructive as lead by her desires since the husband won't allow her to do so. For this reason, she continues to suffer psychologically due to her inability to contribute to any social and economic issues in her family. In essence, as the events unfold in the story the woman admits that John does not listens to her at all. In fact, he cannot agree with his wife that she is sick. This therefore shows that men in the marriages at that time never trusted their women at all but always relied on their own understanding.
Secondly, the men were never concerned at all with what their women needed but instead mistreat them thinking that they were just pretending.
In addition to this, the women in this story were like stand alone machines operating without any assistance. For this reason, women who were married at this time in history did not have a close association with their husbands. Instead, they were isolated and their ideas were not invited in the building of the family. This is symbolized by the house in the story which is as the house that stands back from the road, walls and hedges with locked gates (Gilman 11).
In essence, women just stood alone in the family in this context without any help and were restrained by all means. This clearly indicates that women were treated like objects and not shareholders of family issues. In reality, servants were even better placed than women since the secrets on how to carry out the day to day activities were revealed to them. In actual fact, the locks in the gates represent the confined life of women whereby they are supposed to operate under the commands of their husbands. In the same line of thought, the woman in the story also explains how she feels that there was something strange concerning the house.
At this point, it can be argued that the woman was trying to bring out what she felt about herself that something was amiss and she was in a position to feel it. As matter of fact, her feelings directly touched on her husband oppositional temperament. This clearly indicates that even though John was married to the woman in the story they could not agree on any issue concerning family matters. Needless to say, the women in this story set up lacked the emotional support from their men since the men understanding concerning women was wanting. This comes out clearly when the woman who is the main character in the story confesses that John could not believe that she was sick (Gilman 10).
From this point of view, it can be said that men were never available to satisfy their women emotionally. Moreover, this shows that no single issue that was raised by a woman in a family was taken with seriousness even if they were almost dying. Therefore, most of the basic needs that women required just like any other human being could not be in a position to receive due to men's negligence (Thrailkill 7). From the stand point of marriage, it is very dangerous for partners to neglect each other emotionally. This is because the consequences are never friendly since it may cause the breakage of that particular marriage and this was a loss. In extreme conditions it could cost a life due to depression which causes mental illness. In this story, it is the many frustrations that the woman faces that really contributed to her pain and madness. In reality, women in the 'yellow wall paper' were not allowed to exercise their rights at all.
Differently stated, men in this story were the ones who knew what was right and acceptable for women to do in the family as well as the community at large. This was due to their beliefs that women were part and parcel of their property and needed to be managed properly. Following this point, women in the 'yellow wall paper' could not exercise any freedom; be it that of speech, association or expression. Along with this, women in this story were not in a position to exercise conjugal rights. This was because the story brought out clearly the fact that men were the only ones who had the right to demand for their conjugal rights by describing the bed in the room as fixed (Gilman 34).
For this reason, it can be argued that women were permanently fixed around the house and in all aspects including bedroom affairs and they were supposed to act as their husbands need them to. Additionally, women in this story were not treated like social beings but rather objects. For example, John treated his wife like a case that requires attendance but not as a mother and a wife. In fact, the woman is confined in an upstairs old room which must have been a nursery at one point in life.
To add insult to injury, the woman had just lost a child and was really disturbed emotionally and psychological which might have contributed to her insanity. Due to lack of people to associate with the woman got obsessed with the wallpaper and began to imagine things as they appeared in it since it was the only source of stimulus. Naturally, human beings honor appreciation and company of the people due to their social nature and incase these two were not there then one could easily suffer from mental disorders due to isolation (Ford 13). Instead of confining his wife, John should have cared for her and made sure that she received emotional support till she had recovered. By doing that he could have saved the life of his wife from madness.
Looking at the unfolding of events in the story it can be presumed that gender at this time determined the roles and position of an individual in society (Johnson 18). In this case, women were assigned domestic activities while men remained to be the providers in the family. In connection to this, men were the ultimate decision makers in the family and they did not consult their wives in most cases. In other words, whether the decisions made by men were correct or not, women were not allowed to intrude in form of giving suggestions.
Unquestionably, the great potential that was possessed by the women in 'the yellow wallpaper' was not tapped and developed. For example, John could have invested in the writing skills possessed by his wife and therefore helped her to be a better writer (Gilman 66). Nonetheless, the inequality existing between husband and wife in the 'yellow marriage' could not allow John to help his wife to come up with good writings. Instead, he denied her permission to work and even that of writing in her journal. In actually sense, the woman complained that she really wanted to write but she was afraid that her husband and Jennie might find her and start quarreling.
Following this, the woman's talent and interest was lost into insanity in confinement. In reality, an international writer could have emerged out of her. This is to say that women we were full of potential not only in developing the society but also in contributing ideas that could as well improve the living standards of the people. However, lack of a favorable environment where they could be encouraged to maximize their potential and abilities was a wasted resourceful effort in community building. So to speak, women could do exploits in terms of development in this story if only they were given an opportunity. Through the institution of marriage feminism was also brought out in the narrative.
In conjunction to this, no woman was allowed to participate in any decision making concerning the needs of the people. This was because women were believed to be among those creatures that could not reason and needed someone to think on their behalf. As a result, women in this story were not given an opportunity to explore their abilities in the economic and political world.
History holds that this book was written at the time where feminist movements had just begun with a mission of fighting for the women's freedom (Johnson 18). In connection to this Gilman decided to write a narrative which really portrayed the state in which women were living at that time.
In fact, they lived as slaves rather than human beings without the freedom they required. The goal of the feminist was to really fight for equality since women had lived for long in traumatizing situations which men cared less about.
On the other hand, critics on Gilman's narrative are of the idea that the story was specifically written in address of the medical department which seemed to have been careless on how to handle patients. For this reason, Gilman decided to criticize the health department in order to take caution on how they handle patients. In fact, health practitioners were required to examine a patient properly in order to understand what the patient needed in order to recover. This meant that they were supposed to raise their standards of service. Failure to that, they would continually kill people thinking that they were helping them due to their ignorance just like the woman in the story who went insane as a result of confinement and isolation.
From a broader point of view, it can therefore be said that the narrative is basically about a woman who was confined by her husband in upstairs room in order to receive treatment so as to recover. Even though the woman thought that mingling with people around will do her better, the physician who was also the husband refused to listen to her at all and insisted that she must stay alone until she was well. As the events unfold in the narrative, the woman eventually got obsessed with the designs in a wall paper on the wall. Following this, she decided to study the significance of the designs and realized that a woman was crawling behind bars in it but could go nowhere. However, on realizing that she was also in the same situation just like the woman in the design she went insane and began to creep around the room. Finally, when John arrived and found her in this state he fainted and became unconscious.
Above and beyond, the narrative clearly portrays a world dominated by men in all aspects and women were isolated and left at home to carry out domestic activities. In fact, women in this story were oppressed so much and they were never allowed to decide anything on their own. This is because men in the 'yellow wall paper' believed that men were the only ones entitled to decision-making in a family set up. On the other hand, women were not allowed to participate in other activities at all but rather locked in the houses away from any working environment. This was evident when the woman in the narrative had to hide her journal where she made her entries everyday due to the fear that her husband who had denied her the freedom to write may find her and quarrel. Finally, women living in the narrative environment lacked emotional support from their husbands and therefore felt lonely and depressed emotionally.
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