A Feminist Critique of The Yellow Wallpaper

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“It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Perkins-Gilman). Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent American sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work is her semi-autobiographical short story The Yellow Wallpaper which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman who is completely under her husband's control. Jane and her husband John rent a mansion for the summer so she can recuperate from a slight hysterical tendency. Jane does not believe that she is actually ill, John is convinced that she is suffering from "neurasthenia" and prescribes the "rest cure" treatment. She is confined to bed rest in a former nursery room and is forbidden from working or writing. The spacious, sunlit room has yellow wallpaper- stripped off in two places- with a hideous, chaotic pattern. Jane detests the wallpaper, but John refuses to change rooms, arguing that the nursery is the best- suited for her recovery. Two weeks later, Jane's condition has worsened. She feels a constant sense of anxiety and fatigue and can barely muster enough energy to write in her secret journal. Jane's irritation with the wallpaper grows; she discovers a recurring pattern as the faint image of a skulking figure stuck behind the pattern. As more and more days pass, Jane becomes increasingly anxious adn depressed. The wallpaper provides her only stimulation, and she spends the majoirty of her time studying its confusing patterns which, as she asserts, are almost as "good as gymnastics." The image of the figure stooping down and "creeping" around behind the wallpaper becomes clearer each day. Jane's health starts improving as her interest in the wallpaper deepens. That night, Jane begins helping the woman in the wallpaper by peeling off the wallpaper halfway around the room. The next day, Jennie is shocked, but the narrator convinces her that she only stripped the wallpaper out of spite. Jennie is able to understand the desire to peel off the ugly wallpaper and does not tell John that anything is out of the ordinary. The next night, the narrator locks herself in her room and continues stripping the wallpaper. She hears shrieks within the wallpaper as she tears it off. She contemplates jumping out of a window, but the bars prevent that; besides, she is afraid of all of the women that are creeping about outside of the house. When morning comes, the narrator has peeled off all of the wallpaper and begun to creep around the perimeter of the room. John eventually breaks into the room, but the narrator does not recognize him. She informs him that she has peeled off most of the wallpaper so that now no one can put her back inside the walls. John faints, and the narrator continues creeping around the room over him. Using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through the character John’s actions, the character Jane’s actions, and the symbols given throughout the story.
To begin with, the character John in The Yellow Wallpaper is a misogynistic male because his actions show that he feels that he is superior to women. An example of John feeling superior over Jane is he treats Jane as if she were a child. The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper says, “And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.”(Perkins-Gilman). John picks up Jane and carries her to bed when she has the ability to walk to her bed herself. John reads Jane a bedtime story as if she were a two year old until she falls asleep. Another example of John feeling superior over Jane is he has complete control over her. The narrator inThe Yellow Wallpaper says,“Better in body perhaps-I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.” (Perkins-Gilman). John told Jane that she looked better then what she did when they first arrived at the temporary home but Jane feels like she isn’t getting better. Jane tries telling John that but when she starts to disagree with what he thinks he gives her a stern look and Jane knows that she needs to stop because John doesn’t like that and he knows best for her.
As the result, the character Jane in The Yellow Wallpaper is a weak woman who a dependent greatly on her husband John throughout the story because her actions show that she feels inferior to males. An example of Jane feeling inferior to John is Jane listens to every command John gives her with no questions asked. Jane says,“He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” (Perkins-Gilman). Jane is unable to do things alone and anything she wants to do without having to ask for John’s permission. Another example of Jane feeling inferior to John is Jane is under John’s complete control. Jane says, “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!” (Perkins-Gilman). Jane feels like John does everything for her but she isn’t allow to do anything for him because he doesn’t allow her to. This is because John doesn’t let Jane do things she wants to do without having to ask him for permission. John wants to be in control of Jane all the time.
For this season, the symbols given throughout The Yellow Wallpaper stand for male oppression and female independence. The yellow wallpaper is a symbol of female independence because Jane sees a woman behind it trying to get free of the ugly wallpaper. Jane says, “Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move-and no wonder! The women behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are great many women behind and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.” (Perkins-Gilman). The women in society are being so controlled by men that they are struggling to get free. Another example of male oppression is the control over women the men have in society because John doesn’t take Jane seriously. Jane says, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. You see he does not believe I am sick!”(Perkins-Gilman). John laughs at Jane when she tells him that she is sick because he thinks she is being childish and exaggerating.
Therefore, using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through the character John’s actions, the character Jane’s actions, and the symbols given throughout the story. Anyone who reads The Yellow Wallpaper will learn that no man has control over a woman. Every woman has a voice and they should have the right to voice their opinion. The story The Yellow Wallpaper more women need to be independent and not rely on their man to support them fully. The men should support their women but the women shouldn’t be so reliant on them to where they can’t do anything without their permission.





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