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A Reader Response Critique of "A Rose For Emily"

In the late 1800’s, women were always being degraded by society because they were seen as incapable individuals who couldn’t think for themselves. They were belittled based on their role in society to only be a house wife. In the story, The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator retells her story of how she was being degraded by society. They thought she was “crazy” because she acted “unusual”. However, in reality, she just challenged the status quo. Using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, through dialogue, symbols, and setting.

The narrator’s husband, John, is a family physician who claims his wife, the narrator of the story, is mentally sick. He claims she suffers from a temporary nervous depression. He believes in order to cure her illness he needs to isolate her from the rest of the population. Being a male and the man of the household, John decides to relocate the family to a colonial mansion for a period of three months. During her stay there, the narrator develops disgust for the old yellow wallpaper that covers the walls in her bedroom. She becomes sickened by the wallpaper’s color and same patterns. In a conversation, she brought up her hatred of the wallpaper to John, but he laughed at her. When she wrote down her thoughts, she said, “I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper!”(2). John wouldn’t listen to what she had to say because he believed he was far superior then her. He thought he was better because he was a certified family physician. After some time living at the mansion, the narrator decided it was best for her to leave but John disagreed, stating, “That you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind, there is nothing as dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is false and foolish fancy.”(9). He argued she wasn’t yet fully recovered but he was just holding her back from being herself. He didn’t want her to think for herself yet alone break free into the world.

The author created a great deal of symbols to represent the narrator’s character. She was symbolized as the wallpaper she hated so much because she hated herself for not being able to be her own self. She was devastated and confused or “torn in pieces” like the wallpaper she seen every single night. She would see herself behind the patterns of the wallpaper meaning she blended into the bandwagon of society. On the other hand, she begged to differ; she made it clear she personally disagreed with society’s ideas. Her individuality would come out when she would write on paper. Writing on paper was her way to escape because she explained and showed her real thoughts. The narrator tried to make a request to change the wallpaper to her husband but, “He said that after the wallpaper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.” (3).The meaning of this quote symbolizes if one woman went against change to think on her own then it would cause other women to do the same. Regardless of what John said, she was always determined to follow her own instinct, “And I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.”(6).Towards the ending, she is finally set at ease. She pulled off most of the wallpaper in order for her to get out. Figuratively speaking, like the wallpaper she was symbolized to be, she was set free from being mentally entrapped when she was torn off the walls.

The setting also emphasizes how crucial it was for the narrator to escape from society’s standards. When they first moved in, the narrator described the wallpaper as, “Repellant, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”(2).This meant she was unhappy with not the smell and the sight of it but how things actually were at the time. She didn’t have a say nor could she be independent. She described from her own perspective, how the wallpaper first looked, “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.”(2) .In that quotation, she was really making a reference to people. She explained how an individual can follow the same, uncertain curves. They don’t know where the lines lead but they still follow them for a short distance. After that, they suddenly stop because it’s too dangerous to go against society.

Finally, after realizing she really did exist, the narrator found herself. She put her husband’s, her nanny’s, and other people’s views aside to pursue her own voice. At first, she was unnoticed and hidden beneath the patterns of the wallpaper but she overcame her fears. She ended up exceeding in finding her own voice by herself. This story was inscribed with symbols, but it was also defined by dialogue and setting.





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