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A Feminist Critique of The Yellow Wallpaper

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"This above all: to thine own self be true". This quote, written by Shakespeare, goes to show that literature has evolved since the 1600’s. Children these days would have a hard time understanding what this quote means. The English language isn’t the only thing that has changed throughout the years; women’s roles in society also have changed dramatically. Before the 1960s, women had no rights. They could not have jobs, vote for government officials, or own their own property. Men thought it was absurd when a woman would try to become more independent. They only used them to bear children and become housekeepers. That is why men saw The Yellow Wallpaper as a thriller. Back around the 1800s, it was strange to read a short story about a woman becoming more independent. The story was about a woman named Jane who was struggling to let her inner self be understood. Using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through character, setting, and symbolism.

John was the narrator’s husband. He was a physician who thought Jane was mentally sick. He decided that it would be a good idea to take her away from society and move into a home that’s been empty for many of years. He has a hard time understanding the narrator’s sudden condition. She starts to write her thoughts down on paper and he doesn’t approve. “He hates to have me write a word” (2) Because of John’s feelings about this, she would only write when she was alone in her room. Another person that was in the house with them was John’s sister, Jennie. “She is perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession” (5). This quote explains that Jennie does not question her role in society. She knows what women are expected to do and doesn’t mind. This is how Jennie and the narrator differ. Both John and Jennie believe that taking her away from society will help improve her condition.

The house that they move into is far away from the village that they are from. “It is quite alone standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (1). It seems as if John is embarrassed of his wife’s condition. He decided to take her away from society and from other people since they would frown upon the narrator’s actions and thoughts. In her room, the one located at the very top of the house, is where the narrator writes and feels free to express her opinions. The room was compared to a jail cell “…for the windows are barred” (2). The bed was also nailed into the floor. It was as if John didn’t want her to go anywhere until she was better. The setting of the novel helps illustrate the effect of the narrator’s condition on the people close to her. It makes them seem naïve about the fact that the narrator is not actually mentally sick. They just cannot accept the fact that somebody is going against society’s expectations.

The narrator in this story knew that she was different. She questioned her role in society and did things that women were not allowed or expected to do. Inside the room she slept in was yellow wallpaper that covered the entire walls. At night when the moon shone through the windows, a woman appeared in the wallpaper, “I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (5). This woman that she saw was a symbol of herself. It was her that was trapped behind society’s expectations. When she tore the wallpaper off the wall, it was a symbol of her releasing herself, “I got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (17) When John heard her speak these words, he fell to the floor. Jane’s sudden outburst caused him to faint. During these times a woman was not expected to break free from society’s beliefs. This was so shocking to him that it took toll over his entire body.

In conclusion, it is easy to analyze the story through character, setting, and symbolism. These three elements create the base to the story’s outline and moral. By analyzing the characters, the reader can understand the motifs of the author better and get a feel for the different conflicts that can arise. The setting also plays a great role in the story line. Knowing where the story takes place makes it easier for the reader to picture the events in their mind. Symbolism gives the story more emphasis and makes the reader think about the meaning behind each one. By using these three elements, The Yellow Wallpaper was easier to understand. It is made clear that women did not have the same rights back then as they do now. The people thought it was absurd for women to have certain privileges. This opinion has changed throughout the years. Women and men are now meant to be equal and are to be treated the same way. ?





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