Table of Contents
In most spheres of life, women struggle to find a place in society, freshly coming from the point of perceived inferiority compared to men. Women received second-class treatment after men in society, evidently when they were denied control to make decisions concerning their own lives (Yogapriya, 2022). Such a time when women were outrightly perceived inferior is the nineteenth century, as Charlotte Perkins Gilman depicted in her piece, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The overbearing theme in this piece, published in 1892, is the inferior place of a woman in society, which denied her autonomy in serious decisions like those that affected her mental health. The use of symbolism and setting allows Gilman to successfully deliver the theme of the inferior place of a woman in society.
We can do it today.
Inferior Place of a Woman in Society
“The Yellow Wallpaper” embodies an oppressed woman whose say in society, including her marriage, does not matter. The narrator takes her audience through a difficult time of postpartum depression, which received the “rest cure” as treatment (Boyle, 2017). Whenever she requests her husband for something, he turns her down and says it is for her own good. For instance, she is denied a different room even after complaining of her discomfort in the large upper room. In her marriage, she has no say in what treatment to receive for her depression because she is a woman.
This inferior perception of women is not just with her husband but also her physician brother, who recommends the rest cure for women despite damaging them further. Women’s inferior place is more evident when her husband, John, prevents her from practising her writing craft, yet she knows it can help cure depression (Perkins, 2022). Her husband controls her life, evidently when he initially brings her to the isolated house, claiming it is for her good. This theme continues to dominate the whole story, showing how women suffered at the hands of male dominance in society.
The yellow wallpaper that torments the narrator is symbolic, which Gilman uses to develop the core theme. It symbolizes the deteriorating mental health of the narrator under the rest cure. In the story, the narrator is in a room with a yellow wallpaper containing patterns that drive her deeper into insanity. First, she merely dislikes the wallpaper, then progressively hates it. Society, typified by male dominance, views postpartum depression as a “temporary nervous depression” (Perkins, 2022). That is, they take it as a short-lived thing that is not serious; therefore, a rest from work will do to cure it. However, the narrator’s life reveals this temporary problem as much of a puzzle and malevolent as society views it. As the story progresses, it reveals the worsening mental health of the narrator as she tries to solve the patterns on the wallpaper, showing the audience the extreme that the depression goes. This symbol shows how women’s mental health was not a concern for society, recommending a blunt cure like resting with the knowledge that it worsened the cases.
The diary is the audience’s opening in the narrator’s head, symbolizing the rebellion that should come with salvaging the women’s mental health. It becomes evident that the narrator writes in secret since John forbids her from working in any way (Perkins, 2022). Therefore, the entrapment she experiences drives her to be rebellious, which was unheard of in the nineteenth century (Yogapriya, 2022). In 1913, Gilman confessed to writing “The Yellow Paper” as a rebellion against her physician after recommending the rest cure for her (Gilman, 2011). After the observation that the cure did more harm than good, she rebels against the instructions and goes to work, where she recovers. Similarly, her character writes about her experience in her diary, representing rebellion. This symbol empowers the central theme by showing how only rebellion could help women, which later became the bedrock of feminism.
The story’s narrator describes the house as a “colonial mansion, hereditary estate… a haunted house” (Perkins, 2022). This description sets a melancholic mood that John subjects to the narrator, matching the painful condition of women undergoing postpartum depression. Describing the house as colonial brings a totalitarian effect that the narrator’s husband has on her, which the story later reveals. Also, the isolated room that resembles a nursery to the narrator uncovers how John treats the narrator as a child, hence not paying attention to her needs (Perkins, 2022). The isolated room she lives in features a mentally ill person’s room, with the bed fixed on the wall and windows barred to prevent escape. This physical restraining setting that John subjects the narrator claiming it is for her good, enlightens the audience on the extent of inferior treatment women faced and the effects of the same.
As shown above, Gilman’s story has a woman’s place as the core theme throughout the piece, where the author uses symbolism and physical setting to achieve the same. At the time of the story’s authorship, the roots of male chauvinism were deeper than now, having women treated inferior to men then, as the story indicates. The inferior place of a woman in society is successfully delivered using symbols like the yellow wallpaper and the dairy. Also, the physical setting reveals to the audience the toxic environment of inferior women.
with any paper
- Boyle, K. (2017). Rest Cure. Journal of the Short Story in English. Les Cahiers de la nouvelle, (68), 135-141.
- Gilman, C. P. (2011). Why did I write The Yellow Wallpaper? Advances in psychiatric treatment, 17(4), 265-265.
- Perkins Gilman, C. (2013). The Yellow Wallpaper. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Yogapriya, S. (2022). The female predicament in the novel is the yellow wallpaper. Louis Savenien Dupuis Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 17-20.