The beginning of the 19 the century is characterized by strong discrimination and oppression of women in society meaning that women were something like private property being able only to keep house and to bear children. Gilman comes from a long list of freedom fighters for women’s rights and they were concerned with the role of women in society and, especially, in family interactions. The authors made an attempt to create new ideal of free and independent women. Her works are full of symbolic meanings persuading women to change their lives, to be provided with opportunity to receive proper education and job, to have suffrage. They simply wanted men to listen to them. (Lane 1990)
“The Yellow Wallpaper” highlights the issues of control and attack of women in society. It is necessary to admit that the author appears rather symbolic for all women. She objects to the fact that women are expected to keep house, to bear children and to obey men’s orders. Consequently, men are privileged enough as they have proper education, job opportunities and are allowed to make decisions in contrast to women. As Gilman says women are in the prison of acquiescence, simply because of personal weakness that contribute to the suppression of women as well as because of a combination of society’s control. (Gilbert 1996)
The authors on the example of main heroine provide detailed overview of 19th century society; especially they tend to show the ills of society, culture of those times and attitudes towards women. “The Yellow Wallpaper” tells a story of a young woman, narrator, who has driven insane by too loving her husband. The author surely highlights that blatant sexism is present in society. The short-story shows that women are afraid of expressing their feelings in order not to baffle husbands or to make them angry. In order to achieve the desired expression and to better illustrate the social order of 19th century society Gilman uses symbols and metaphors. (Gilman 1989)
Throughout the short-story the author shows symbolically that females are restrained in the American society. For example, the main heroine is simply imprisoned in the room with the yellow wallpaper. It is seen that the house is surrounded by “gates that lock” and at the top of the stairs the gates prevent narrator from leaving top floor. Bars on the windows provide an idea that freedom is limited and all is need to break down the constraints, because window is, obviously, symbolizes mental limitations, not physical ones. The author shows that heroine is provided with no opportunities to escape and lots of women in those times were kept “in their place” in American society. (Rex 1996)
The narrator is obliged to follow rigid schedule being not able to deviate from it. The image of narrator is metaphor of all women who were considered not to be intelligent enough to make up their own decisions. The narrator and women in general were physically week and hysterical and, therefore, were treated as children. The narrator is also placed in child’s nursery. She is forced by her husband to sit in her and “to rest”, as he thinks she is unintelligent and sill: “he called me a blessed little goose”. (Gilman 1989, 5) Of course, such attitude was extended to most women and was not confined to the main heroine in the story.
Actually, the yellow wallpaper is metaphor itself as it is used symbolically. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes societal oppression of women in American society. The pattern on the wallpaper represents male-dominated society which deprives women their rights and freedom: “by moonlight, it becomes bars, she says, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be”. (Gilman 1989, 13) The narrator wants to show that pattern on the yellow wallpaper is the actions of narrator’s husband, brother, and doctor who forced main heroine to be locked in her room and to do nothing but idling. Apparently, these people are willing to aid the narrator, to imprison her in her room upstairs.
Women’s imprisonment is described metaphorically by using woman’s image of bars behind the pattern in the wallpaper. The heroine realizes that these bars imprison women and choke off their lives. Therefore, the image of yellow wallpaper only magnifies the problem being experienced by the heroine. Ostensibly, the pattern on the wallpaper isn’t simply pattern for a children’s room, as Gilman firstly notes, it is presented as a mind-numbing quality attracting unbalanced mind: “[The pattern] slaps you in the face, knocks you down and tramples on you. It is like a bad dream.
I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still”. (Gilman 1989, 13) The author shows that women were unable to struggle: “And she is all the time trying to climb through… nobody could climb through that pattern – strangles so… they get through, and then the pattern strangles them”. (Gilman 1989, 15) Pattern on the yellow wallpaper and the fact that the main heroine achieves her freedom and independence, though the price appears too high: insanity in return for long-waiting freedom and independence – author’s metaphorical illustrations that women were strongly oppressed and suppressed in American society. (Gilman 1989)
Other characters in the short-story notice that there is something strange and unusual with the yellow wallpaper: “I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once”. (Gilman 1989, 13) As it is noted wallpaper is a metaphor of women’s suppression, the actions of John, narrator’s husband represent the way many men and women of the time period dealt with this oppression. Obviously, John is an image of all men in American society who thinks that women are inferior to men and thus should be treated with delicacy not to do harm for them.
Actually, John treated her wife as private property and a second-sort thing. Metaphorically, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a horror story for women, because the narrator drives insane in the end symbolizing that it is the only way to escape. If to look deeper in the context, it is apparent that the narrator illustrates literally women were routinely oppressed in those times. Treatment of husbands and pattern on the wallpaper symbolize prison for most women. Gilman warns men that such treatment can lead to nothing but disastrous results. (Gilman 1989)
Gilbert, Kelly. (1996). “The Yellow Wallpaper”: An Autobiography of Emotions by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings. USA: Bantam Classic Books, 1989, 1-20.
Lane, Ann J. (1990).To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. USA: Thomson Place, 1990.
Rex, T. (1998). Metaphor in The Yellow Wallpaper.
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