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“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman is a sad story of the repression that women face in the days of late 1800’s as well as being representative of the turmoil s that women face today. Gilman writes “The Yellow Wallpaper” from her own personal experiences of having to face the overwhelming fact that this is a male dominated society and how women suffer because of it.
The narrator, being female, is suffering from a “temporary depression”. She states right from the beginning that “John is a physician, and perhaps I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind perhaps that is the one reason I do not get well faster.” The narrator sets up the story to convey a certain opinion of the repercussions a woman faces in the care of a man. She obviously loves her husband and trusts him but has some underlying feeling that maybe his prescription of total bed rest is not working for her. The story mentions that she has an older brother who is also a physician and concurs with her husband s theory, thus leaving her no choice but to subject herself to this torment of being totally alone in his room with the yellow wallpaper. She stares at this wallpaper for hours on end and thinks she sees a woman behind the paper. “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.” She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind that pattern and what it is doing. The narrator with absolutely nothing else to do is reduced to staring endlessly at a pattern in wallpaper, thus creating some image that she feels is necessary to find out. Perhaps saving her own sanity. Once the narrator determines that the image is in fact a woman struggling to become free, she somehow aligns herself with the woman.
In the story she mentions that she often sees the woman creeping outside. “I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden…. I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.” The narrator is trapped and sees this girl out and how she is free. This shows the narrator seeing herself in the woman and when she sees the woman creeping outside, she sees herself. When she creeps outside she locks the door. She is afraid her husband will take away the only comfort she has since she was subjected to this “rest cure”. She continues to pursue this obsessive project of getting the woman out. The narrator wants the woman to be free of the paper but does not want to let her go. The woman is her sanity; “I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up her that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!” After peeling all the paper within her reach in hopes of getting the woman out, she states, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn’t do it. Of course not, I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.” The window has bars on it, symbolizing imprisonment or oppression.
The narrator appears to have no knowledge that this very obsession might be misconstrued as well. She feels everything is fine in her world as long as she gets this woman out. She goes on to say, “I don’t like to look out of the windows even there are so many those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did? I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is so hard!” It seems she has released the woman and it is indeed herself. As if she enjoys being out and doing as she likes but at night her husband will be around and she must not creep around her husband. He might find her mad. But at last she finds the courage to confront her oppressor and stand up for herself, which Perkins tried to convey throughout the entire story that women could not stand up to their husbands and the man is always right. What is the matter?’ he cried. For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. I’ve got out at last, said I, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time! The symbolic yellow wallpaper has now brought us back to show the repercussions that the care of her “all knowing” husband has inflicted upon her. She had been a product of a society that puts woman in the lowest segment, but she triumphs over her husband as well as herself in freeing her soul. Now she creeps openly because of the yellow wallpaper. Even though her mind is convinced that she is free, she is still oppressed in a world that is not ready to accept women s liberation.
The cost of the narrator s freedom was a price too many women had to pay. Gilman s symbolism illustrates a period of time where women struggled for more equality. Most women lost the struggle and it took many years for them to reap the benefits of their cause. The woman in this story realizes that she is able to think for herself, and consequently she is dragged into the depths of insanity.
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