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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
The Yellow Wallpaper is a popular short story written by the famous feminist writer Charlotte Perkins-Gilman. The meaning of this literary work is nothing short of astonishing. In her short story, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman examines the fundamental problems regarding the position of women in the world, the societal understanding of psychiatric disease as well as the evolution of the feminist movement throughout the nineteenth century. The main theme of The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates a feminist perspective, seeing as the main character fights to overcome the male-centric viewpoints as well as societal conventions.
The book discusses the narrow-minded manner in which postnatal depression was regarded and handled not only by doctors but by the entire society. The leading female character, who also narrates the events of the story, is struggling with the symptoms of postnatal depression. Her spouse, John, who works as a doctor, attempts to treat the woman’s “neurological illness.” In the wake of her husband’s treatment, the protagonist suffers a total nervous breakdown. John attempts to treat his wife by using the “bed rest” approach. In other words, John recommends her to avoid engaging in any physical actions. In addition to that, she is also supposed to cease any kind of creative activity. John forbids her to read books, write down her thoughts and even spend time with her newborn infant.
As such, the only activities that she is actually allowed to engage in are sleeping and taking in the clean air of the countryside manor. The doctor succeeds in placing his wife in a position of total dependence and making her believe that she did not have what it takes to make personal choices. The story’s leading character is forced to deal with both depression and male supremacy, which was something very usual in those days. The woman is kept prisoner by her husband, who prevents her from having any contact with the world around her because he sees this as the best method of treating the woman’s condition.
According to her description, the room in which she is held captive used to serve as a nursery, playroom and ultimately a gymnasium (Perkins P.688). The woman is kept under steady supervision and command of her husband, an attitude that results in her mental breakdown. She describes John as being incredibly attentive and affectionate and points out the fact that the man almost never allows her to move without guidance. (Perkins P.688) The main character progressively becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper on the walls of the chamber in which she is held captive. As the writer describes, this yellow wallpaper “is dull enough to confuse the eye.” She even states that when you try to follow the pattern, it commits a “suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles” (Perkins P.688).
The summer residence in which she spends her days is a property located in the countryside, described by the protagonist in the following way: “A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house!”(Perkins P.686) The manor is remote and concealed from the main path. It features numerous gateways, padlocks, and big walls, and it is encompassed by different buildings of smaller dimensions. Notwithstanding the woman’s gradual advancement towards madness, she draws strength from the yellow wallpaper and the chamber. Eventually, she becomes bold and confident enough to escape John’s oppression.
As the story progresses, the name of the main character is never disclosed by the author. Her husband, who is an esteemed doctor, diagnoses her illness and decides to treat her by keeping her locked away at the countryside estate and secluded from the rest of the surrounding world. Although she doesn’t fully approve of her spouse’s treatment, the woman doesn’t have the courage to contradict him. “John is a physician, and perhaps… that is one reason I do not get well faster.” (Gilman P.87) She doesn’t dare to make her own personal choices without John’s consent.
Additionally, she abstains from expressing her worries as to her well-being because she is afraid she might be misunderstood. Rather than speaking against her husband, she puts her thoughts and sentiments in writing, an activity that she needs to keep secret from everyone. Locked away in this chamber for a very long time, the woman starts to examine the wallpaper. She makes up the person of a woman behind the wallpaper of the room in which she spends her every day. This room is the place in which she and her husband spend the night, and she is locked away during the rest of the day. The main character is captivated by her hallucination of a female held prisoner behind the yellow wallpaper, a fascination that nearly turns into an obsession. She keeps on studying the figure behind the wallpaper day after day and night after night. “Through watching so much at night… I have finally found out. The front pattern does move…. The woman behind it shakes it!…She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.” (Perkins P. 695). As the story reaches its conclusion, the main female character attempts to liberate herself as well as the female in her delusion by destroying the yellow wallpaper.
As the story starts, it is pretty obvious that the main character accepts her position of inferiority to her husband. In her own words, “John is practical in the extreme” (Perkins P. 687). She also states that John despises everything immaterial, such as feelings. Her husband gives her commands as a doctor and forbids her to leave her bed and to explore her imagination by writing down her thoughts. “So I take phosphates and phosphites- whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again” (Perkins P.687). “But what is one to do?” (Gilman P.27). As implied by the protagonist’s words, she is in a position of inferiority to her husband, and she lacks self-respect and self-assurance. Her husband is only familiar with her at a shallow level. He is merely aware of her external side but fails to acknowledge her hidden personality, which longs for freedom. His narrow-mindless prevents him from truly knowing her.
The relationship between the protagonist and John is not one of equality. As per the norms of the 19th century, women were supposed to accomplish their tasks as spouses and child bearers. The woman cannot or doesn’t want to abide by the perfect version of family life imposed by the society of that era. As a result, John feels confused and doesn’t know how to proceed. With respect to this, the husband represents an expression of the society of the 1800s. Due to the close-mindedness and imperfections of that society, the woman has a fate that may have easily been prevented if they simply thought differently and expanded their perspectives.
John’s answer to his wife’s illness was to subject her to Weir Mitchell’s bed rest treatment, failing to understand that he was about to condemn her to a complete mental breakdown. John sometimes talks to his wife by using the third person. “Bless her little heart!” (Perkins P.692). The doctor wears down the leading character’s individuality. John behaves with her as if she were an infant who required constant direction and assistance. The protagonist depends on her husband similarly to the way in which a kid would rely on their guardians when it comes to any choice or idea.
The main character is inspired by the writer’s own struggle with depression and anxiety. She is silent and submissive to her husband. She hopelessly attempts to make her husband happy and to do her duty as a spouse and parent. She is trying very hard to attend to both John’s necessities and her personal yearnings for creativity. He does not even believe his wife is sick. He thinks she is bored and, perhaps, needs some rest. In other words, John does not take his own wife seriously enough. As a result, she finds shelter in her writings that need to be kept secret from her husband, who does not know how much she suffers. She believes it’s hard to talk to her husband because “he is so wise” and “he loves her so” (Perkins P.692).
As a result of her constant seclusion and boredom, she is compelled to use the chamber as a playroom. In that room, she starts to explore her thoughts and eventually finds solace in the wallpaper. She progressively starts to notice the motifs in the yellow wallpaper until she is convinced that she can see the figure of a woman leaning over and crawling from behind the motif (Perkins P.692). Eventually, she fixates on the female figure in the yellow wallpaper so much that she stops thinking about becoming an ideal spouse and parent. A fascinating description of the woman she sees is the following: “At night… it becomes bars! The outside pattern… and the woman behind is as plain as can be”(Perkins P.693). The main character says that she did not understand the pattern for some time, but later on, she started seeing a sub-pattern in the wallpaper. That sub-pattern is where the other woman is hiding, according to her beliefs. The female figure leaning over and crawling from behind the design of the wallpaper is a metaphor for women’s obedience towards men that dominated those days. The main character starts to focus exclusively on the motif throughout the entire night, which is why she begins to spend her days sleeping. After the sun sets, she is under the impression that the figure from her hallucination is alive and attempts to escape her prison.
Notwithstanding her obsession with the woman in the wallpaper, the main character starts to gain strength as well self-respect. She stops obeying her husband and seeking his authorization concerning her choices. Last but not least, her self-assurance stars to develop. Towards the end of the story, she has a revelation, and she feels as if she was reborn in what concerns her husband. “Why there’s John at the door!”(Perkins P. 697). “It is no use… you can’t open it!”(Perkins P.687). “John dear!” said the protagonist in the gentlest voice.”(Perkins P.697). The excerpts above illustrate how the functions of the doctor and his wife change; the wife is now the one in a position of authority, rather than the husband. In addition to that, she becomes the grown-up, while John is turned into a child. The main character has become in charge of her own person and has stopped being in a position of inferiority to the physician. She comes to realize that she has a life of her own and that she can do anything she wants without having to ask for her husband’s approval. The main character finally discovers her genuine personality. When she notices a wallpaper woman starts crawling and shaking the patter, she runs to help her (Perkins P.696). When John is gone, she locks the door to the chamber and starts to tear down the wallpaper. Furthermore, she starts dragging herself across the room similarly to the woman in the wallpaper. When John comes home and notices this, he passes out. “I’ve got out at last,” said the protagonist, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman P.32). After John passes out, the woman continues creeping over him to carry on with her actions. This represents the fact that the woman is now in control.
The most relevant symbol in this story is, without any doubt, the yellow wallpaper, which the central character wants to decipher. The yellow wallpaper is a metaphor for the woman’s mind. The color yellow symbolizes disease as well as weakness. In some cases, yellow may also represent men’s dominance over women. The main character of story believes the color to be ‘repellant’ and ‘revolting.’ She also describes it as ‘dull’ and even ‘sickly’ (Perkins P.688). Still, the wallpaper is both her adversary and her friend. The woman stays fixated on the wallpaper until she is ultimately liberated by it. The yellow wallpaper mirrors the main character’s thoughts and sentiments and, above all else, it symbolizes her hardships. The female’s garments are stained with yellow from creeping at night time. The leading character and narrator liberates her by destroying the wallpaper, similarly to how she wants to break the wall her husband has constructed for her. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes the elements that make her a prisoner, like domesticity, therapy, and conventions. By destroying the yellow wallpaper, the main character establishes her own personality, which is independent of her husband. The yellow wallpaper features distinct motifs, such as circular, angular or irregular motifs. These patterns symbolize the way in which the society of that era regarded females. The mansion is segregated and concealed from the rest of the world, similarly to the way in which the leading character is kept prisoner and sealed away from everything around her.
The woman thinks that the manor is eerie or peculiar. She suspects that her husband is hiding something from her. Inside the mansion, there are bars on the windows, same as the female figure in the yellow wallpaper is behind bars. This is a pretty vivid metaphor of captivity, standing for the men’s dominance over the women. Later on, the main character thinks that she is also behind bars. Both the mansion and its surroundings have begun to gradually decay. The woman becomes obsessed with the nursery room, as well as the wallpaper. The windows in this room are barred, and the bed is fixed to the ground – just like in prison or a psychiatric hospital. The mansion and its restraints are a metaphor for the psychiatric condition of the woman.
The night and day also stand as powerful symbols in the story. While the sun symbolizes manliness, the moon represents a metaphor for womanliness. The sun is linked to the husband, who, as a doctor, loves command, neatness as well as a careful organization. During the night, the husband sleeps and is no longer capable of keeping the main character under surveillance; as a result, she starts creeping. Her subconsciousness wanders freely after the sun sets. When the moon is up in the sky, the woman starts to gain a more thorough comprehension of the woman in the yellow wallpaper. As a new day dawns, the protagonist is afraid of being discovered by her husband. During the day, she cannot see the female held prisoner in the wallpaper because she is afraid of her husband and, as a result, is dominated by him. The bars on the windows are a metaphor for the captivity females were subjected to in the 1800s.
Although the chamber represents a jail or a mental institution, the woman pictures it as a nursery, because she misses her newborn infant. All of the elements in the room are associated with a nursery: the torn wallpaper, the barred windows or the bite signs on the bed. Notably, the main character pictures the blocked staircase as a gateway that prevents kids from leaving. Due to her creative spirit, as well as her self-doubt and weakness, she fails to realize that the chamber stands for a jail. In the last part of The Yellow Wallpaper, the woman claims that “The key is down by the front steps” (Perkins P.697). This indicates that her disease has aggravated.
Last but not least, the protagonist likes to stare at the wallpaper and to play with it, while disregarding the opinion of others, including that of her husband. In a way, she frees herself and her feelings. When she peels off the wallpaper, she noticed how sticky it is. Still, she claims that the pattern loves it. By the end of the story, the woman emerges victorious against John’s injustice and acknowledges that she has a shot at making her own decisions and developing her personality. While being locked in the chamber, her life has undergone a shift. She starts out in the nursery, where her husband behaves towards her as if she were a kid. Afterwards, she moves on to the playroom, a stage of personal development. The next phase, the gymnasium, is the one in which she gains inner power. In the end, when the protagonist locks her husband out of the chamber and tells him to look for the keys, she declares her self-reliance. Moreover, she makes the independent decision of destroying the wallpaper, which makes her feel free at last. Initially, the wallpaper was merely an unpleasant material stuck to the wall, but as the story progresses, it empowers the main character. The mansion instilled faith in her and made her stop feeling inferior to her husband. The chamber helped her find the courage to speak her mind. The woman’s personality changed. She started out as a defenseless kid and gradually became a mature person with no limits. The main character had previously led her existence in a cage, encompassed by societal customs and by the male figures who imprisoned her there. After this experience, the protagonist and a lot of other women of the 1800s can break free from this cage and be alive. In some cases, people are blind, and they need a medical innovation to finally see things for what they are.
Charlotte Perkins-Gilman wrote this short story after renouncing the “bed rest” therapy. Although she sent an edition of The Yellow Wallpaper to her doctor, he never replied. Personally, I think that in addition to offering medical guidance to women, the writer’s purpose was also to help women by offering them an accurate diagnostic. To put it otherwise, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman was attempting to prevent other women from experiencing her suffering. In this short story, the author showed what can happen when a person is prohibited from manifesting her imagination, when her mind is not stimulated, and when she doesn’t feel accomplished. Sometime after publishing her story, the writer found out that her doctor had renounced the so-called “bed rest” therapy. The Yellow Wallpaper represents a medical breakthrough in the field of psychiatry. Charlotte Perkins-Gilman paved the way for distinct trials for medical treatments, as well as alternative therapies. In spite of her mental breakdown, I think that the main character did manage to defeat her husband and men in general – according to the conventions of the 1800s. In doing so, she rediscovered her self-esteem. The author was a pioneer in what concerns female entitlements and psychiatric problems. Both from a feminist and a mental perspective, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s short story was of great help to the emergence of the feminist movement. Her devotion and determination are something that we can all draw a valuable lesson from.
Even though this story is rather short, it touches on many social and gender-related issues. That is exactly why coming up with a solid A-paper is not as easy as it may seem. Plus, both male and female students are required to write about this short story, which sometimes raises another difficulty. After all, the discussion around the subject is far from being over, and sometimes, it seems hard to express one’s feeling on the subject in an academically acceptable manner. Then again, there is the time. Writing a proper literary analysis paper is a time-consuming task, and if literature is not your major, it can be quite annoying – to put it mildly.
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