A Feminist Critique of The Yellow Wallpaper

October 31, 2011
By , Oak Lawn, IL
Andrea Dworkin once wrote, “Women have been taught that, for us, that the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge”. Throughout all of history women have been underestimated and demoralized. In the early 1900s an anti-feminist era swept through the world. This is seen in the short story The Yellow Wallpaper. Using feminist criticism a reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through symbols, setting, and characters. The narrator of this story is searching for herself while running into some obstacles. While working through them can be a challenge, she will work day in and day out to figure them out.
Chiefly, symbolism plays a key role in a story. In The Yellow Wallpaper the narrator cannot escape from her room for which her husband John wants to keep her in. While she isn’t locked into this room, she feels as if she is locked into her mind. In turn, society is doing all it can to keep the narrator from being herself and saying what she wants to say. She goes on to say, “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps because of the wall-paper” (6). Not only does the narrator feel trapped by this wallpaper but by society itself. Each night she lies awake staring at the pattern on the paper trying her hardest to figure it out. The narrator is believed, by her husband, to not have the right mindset. Therefore this is why she is mentally trapped in her room. Her only escape is writing down everything she thinks and feels in a personal journal she is forced to hide from her husband. The paper began to grow on the narrator. While lying awake at night she begins to see a “shadow” in the wall paper. While her husband thinks she is crazy she knows she is making progress and will soon have a break through. She goes on in the story and tears off the wall paper to surprise her husband saying, “’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). The narrator has finally found her voice from society holding her to such strict standards. She will not let society hold her from her identity.
Additionally, the setting plays a major role in the story which connects to feminist criticism. The story takes place in the early 1900s at a villa John found. The narrator describes it by saying, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people”(1). The house itself has been empty for years and what the narrator doesn’t realize is that John got this house for her to be sheltered from society. Her room itself has barred windows with her bed nailed to the floor. Despite the fact that the house is mansion-like, the narrator is still bothered by something, later realizing it is in fact the wall paper. She goes on to write, “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight”(2). She constantly tried to understand how the patterns go in different directions repetitively. She mentions a woman trying to shake them, as if she wanted to escape but couldn’t. The narrator felt as though saying something about this woman shaking the wallpaper would make her seem crazy to society but especially to her husband.
Furthermore, in an anti-feminist society, men instill the idea that women have no voice and no importance. John as well as the rest of society believes that men have a higher voice than women. He pushes her to be a normal female because he doesn’t want her to be able to think for herself. The narrator stated, “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” (1). The fact that she has thoughts and ideas of her own goes against his views of females. For example, the narrator isn’t allowed to write because that would only encourage her to use her mind, which is viewed as unacceptable. Writing in her journal gives her an opinion that she isn’t “suppose to” have. Not only John, but Jennie is influential over the narrator’s life as well. Jennie is the one that takes care of the kids in the story, the job that a typical female should uphold. Jennie falls into the social norm. She is the proven fact that women fear that the man will shut her down if she has her own voice. One day the narrator noticed Jennie looking at the wallpaper and wrote, “She turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry – and asked me why I should frighten her so” (11). While Jennie had the same thought that the narrator had, she knows her “place” in society at this point it time. Jennie is a prime example of everything the narrator wants to free herself from.
Conclusively, Women in the early 1900s struggled to have their voice heard. This short story is a great example of the unfair treatment of women. In The Yellow Wallpaper the characters, setting, and symbols show how an anti-feminist society possess a great challenge for women to overcome. The narrator works throughout the story to find herself which she does when she tears the wall paper off the walls. Though John tried to keep the narrator from being an individual, she finds herself. Also, Jennie is what the narrator wants to overcome. Jennie looks at the wallpaper as if she is trying to find the strength that the narrator retains, sadly never having will power to do something about it. Along with characters and symbols the setting itself shows how society tried to keep women from their individuality. With the bed nailed to the wall and the windows barred closed, the narrator still seems to look past it and become one with herself. Nothing will stand in her way anymore. Finding the strength in oneself to overcome society’s restrictions is a hard task but the narrator rises up to the challenge and succeeds.





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