The Yellow Wallpaper: Feminist Criticism

November 9, 2011
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Mark Twain once expressed, "We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one - the one we use - which we force ourselves to wear to please [people], until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it." Using a feminist criticism, a reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by using the narrator’s husband, symbols, and setting from the short story. In the short story the narrator is treated for being ill, diagnosed by her husband, which she then houses at a villa away from society. However, while she is in the house she is driven mad by the wallpaper in the room she must reside. Throughout the story, the narrator’s self reliance is tested by her husband, John, her feelings for escape are exhibited through symbols presented, and her unkempt mind is held hostage by her surroundings.

Foremost, the narrator’s overall problem begins with her husband’s ideals of her. John keeps the narrator thinking as if she were a child he could scold whenever she did anything against what the norms of society were set as. An example of this is when John calls the narrator, “Blessed little goose” (pg 3). John talks to the narrator as a child; therefore giving the impression that he controls her. This keeps the narrator believing that her loyal husband is correct when she is in the wrong for following what she would like to do. John keeps the narrator bound to him. Also, John undermines the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator states, “If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency-- what is one to do?” (pg 1). The narrator assumes that John knows best. This means that John could state anything and she would listen to him because during that era that was what was expected of women to do was to listen to their husbands and not question their authority.

Additionally, the narrator was held back by society through symbols in the story. A formidable symbol is the greenhouses on the premises where the narrator is staying. The narrator explains, “There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now” (pg 1). This is a reflection of the narrator’s own place on the property. The character is neglected because she does not follow the rules of the society she is in therefore she is put aside and forgotten. The reader can make a connection that the narrator is not cared for just like the greenhouses because over time they both have caused more work then more productivity then what society deems proper. Another symbol is the yellow wallpaper. The narrator finds, “a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (pg 8). The narrator sees an imaginary woman stuck behind the wallpaper that plastered around her room. The narrator actually relates the woman to herself stuck behind the rules and chains of society, much of how the woman in the wallpaper is stuck behind the crazy design. It’s as if the wallpaper wants the narrator to conform to society as well.

Likewise, the narrator is also despondent because of the setting presented. There are bars on the windows of her bedroom. The narrator states, “To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try” (pg 16). The bars on the windows don’t allow the narrator to escape as she would like to. The narrator becomes capture and bound by the rules of her room, just like the rules of society that have held the narrator down from not being able to do what she truly wants. The reader clearly realizes there is no change in the feelings of the narrator for escape where she clearly needs to fulfill her own goals. A different part of the setting is the bed in the narrator’s bedroom. The narrator describes, “I lie here on this great immovable bed--it is nailed down” (pg 6). The bed cannot be moved even is the narrator tries. This means nothing is allowed to be changed, in turn, giving the narrator dismal outlooks on society letting her be how she wants to be.

Overall, the narrator is not able to address herself as a singular person until she finally destroys the yellow wallpaper. The feminist view used to evaluate the conditions of the narrators depended upon the setting, John’s character, and the symbols in the short story. This short story shows the differences in the views of women in today’s society versus the views of the beginning of the twentieth century.





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