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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper

Jane is a person that is trapped in a woman’s body in the nineteenth century. However, what the nineteenth century holds is not good enough. Her only purpose is to do what’s said to be a woman’s normal function. Thinking for herself is out of the question. In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as a feminist critic, Jane strives for the freedom to express her intellect. Characters in the text, symbolism, and dialogue clearly define the division between men and women in society. In this story, a reader learns how Jane breaks through her mental constraints from male superiorty.

The people in Jane’s life are a perfect example of what the anti-feminist society believes she should be. Her husband John is part of that society and is the most influential person in her life. He pushes her to be a normal female because he doesn’t want her to be able to think for herself. Acting as her doctor rather than a husband who loves her for who she is, he tries to fix what’s “wrong” with her. The narrator says in the story ,“John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (Gilman 1). The fact that she has thoughts and ideas of her own goes against his close minded views on the female population. For example, Jane isn’t allowed to write because that would only encourage her to use her mind, which also goes against the female social norm. When she writes in her journal she displays intelligence when to him a female is only supposed to do standard activities like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. Not only John, but Jennie too is influential over Jane’s life. Jennie and John are very similar. John is a male who is allowed to think for himself and show his intellect. However, Jennie is the one that takes care of the kids in the story, the job that a typical female should uphold. Jennie symbolizes the person that Jane ought to be. When Jane catches Jennie staring at the wallpaper she says, “She turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry – and asked my why I should frighten her so”(11). Like catching someone stealing, Jane had caught Jennie doing something she normally wouldn’t do: think for herself. Jennie immediately snapped back, but Jane was left fighting for a mind of her own.

As well as characters, symbolism also plays an important role. The narrator says the room she stays in at the mansion is “barred”. Physically she cannot escape the place her husband wants her to be, but mentally she has prison bars locked around her brain. Jane is blocked off from her own mind and isn’t allowed to think for herself. Her husbands idea to put her in an isolated room are meant to keep genders divided. Being sent to the house itself is almost like she is being sent away to a hospital to get better. Jane writes in her journal, “I take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (1). Her husband leads her to believe that she’s sick which ultimately leads her to go crazy. She doesn’t have any self-control and leaves all decisions up to the male superior in her life. More importantly, the wallpaper in the room reflects a huge part of Jane’s situation. The woman behind the wallpaper is trapped just like Jane is behind her husband’s restraints. Jane has to put on a smile and pretend to be in a happy marriage when in reality she is in a fight against her depression. She wrote, “Life is much more exciting now than it used to be”(11). The anxiety of having to be the perfect wife and woman is portrayed within the patterns of the wallpaper. Studying it night after night gave her a chance to to freely use her mind and express emotion. At the end of the story when she rips of the paper she is ultimately freeing the woman who resembles herself. This liberating act allows her to be whomever she chooses to be without her patronizing husband any longer.
Dialogue between characters and in the journal in which Jane writes become crucial when looking at The Yellow Wallpaper from a feminist point of view. When Jane records the words, “I don’t feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way – it is such a relief”(5). she is sending a message. In this specific time period there were specific domestic functions that a woman held and Jane had to live up to this standard. She hasn’t been allowed to use her mind because her husband strictly follows the standards that go along with the nineteenth century. She can’t write when her husband is home but in this passage she finally gives in. She decides to write in her journal because she needs an intellectual outlet and can’t subject herself to John’s structured ways. At the end of the story she says, “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!”(17). When she rips off the paper she is mirroring the woman who was caught behind it. Jane saying this proves that she will no longer be held down and desires self-control.
Throughout the story Jane is in a constant battle with her mind. She wards off thoughts when her husband’s around and lets her guard down when he isn’t. The Yellow Wallpaper is significant to the female society and shows the importance of equality among gender. Charlotte Perkins Gilman does this by putting emphasis on the characters, using symbols, and applying specific language to the dialogue. Although it was the nineteenth century where Jane was considered somewhat similar to a minority, she gained freedom that some women still struggle with today.


















WORKS CITED


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Feminist, 1899. Print.





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This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

alexsmith1428 said...
May 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I agree with every thing written in this essay. From the characters, dialogue, and symbols everything seems spot on. She is definietely being opressed by her husband and trying to break free from his control.

Besides feminist criticism, reader response can also be used. A reader can relate the theme of the story to their lives as well.

Yes, based on the the review, if I was a reader pondering it or not I would 100% be interested in reading this piece of literature.

 
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