Feminist Criticism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Feminist Criticism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

This essay will analyze “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman through a feminist lens. It will explore themes of female oppression, mental health, and the struggle for autonomy within a patriarchal society. The piece will discuss how the protagonist’s experience with postpartum depression and her confinement in the wallpapered room symbolize broader issues faced by women in the late 19th century. It will also consider the story’s impact on feminist literary criticism. On PapersOwl, there’s also a selection of free essay templates associated with The Yellow Wallpaper.

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In the 1890 ‘s women were not allowed to have a voice for themselves, their husbands were the ones that were allowed to make all the decisions in the house. Charlotte Perkins-Gilman had a feminist approach to this story, due to the protagonists’ struggles against male thinking and society norms. The story tells of the close-mindedness of how postpartum depression was treated and dealt with by society. It tells of a woman who is the narrator, who is going through postpartum depression.

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Her husband John, who is a physician tries to cure his wife’s nervous condition, in which will lead to her breakdown; John tries to prescribe the rest cure treatment for her. She is advised to abstain from all physical activity and creative stimulation. She is not allowed to read, write, or to see her new baby, the only thing she can do is sleep and breath in the fresh air. John manages to keep her in a secondary role and make her think she did not have the ability to make her own decisions.

The narrator struggles against depression and male dominance, which was common in the 1800s. The narrator is held captive by her husband and locked away from the outside world because he believes this is one of the remedies to make her well. The narrator describes the room as having been, a nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium. (Perkins P.688). She is constantly watched and controlled by John which also leads to her breakdown. He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.(Perkins P.688) The narrator starts to obsess on the yellow wallpaper found in the room she’s kept in. 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.(Perkins). The narrator’s house for the summer is a countryside estate.

A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house and reach the height of romantic felicity-but that would be asking too much of fate!(Perkins P.686) The estate is isolated and secluded away from the main road. There are gates, locks, other small houses surrounding it, and large walls. Despite the narrator’s progression into insanity, the wallpaper and the room become her source of strength, giving her the courage and confidence to leave her husband John. It is seen from the beginning that the narrator allows herself to be inferior to John. 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. (Perkins P. 687). John dictates orders as a physician, for her to stay in bed, not to delve into her creativity, and discontinue her writings. So I take phosphates and phosphites- whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to work’ until I am well again.

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good (Perkins P.687). John knows his wife on a superficial layer only and he sees the outer layer but misses the woman trapped screaming to be set free. John’s ignorance blinds him from fully understanding his wife. Their relationship is not equal in any way. In the 19th century, women were expected to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers. The narrator is unable or willing to adhere to the ideal model of domesticity by the 19th-century society and John is at loss as to what to do. With this in mind, John was a reflection of society. The ignorance and shortcomings of society led the protagonist in a direction that could have been prevented if they would have just stepped out of the box. John’s solution was to use Weir Mitchell’s rest regimen to cure his wife, not knowing he was going to push her over the edge of insanity. Isolation and boredom force the narrator to use the room as a playroom where her mind begins to wonder and she begins to find comfort in the yellow wallpaper. She gradually begins to see the patterns in the wallpaper, which is a woman stooping down and creeping around behind that pattern. (Perkins P.692) The narrators become obsessed with the women in the wallpaper that she forgets that she wants to be the perfect wife and mother.

The interesting thing is At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind is as plain as can be.(Perkins P.693) The woman stooping down and creeping around behind the pattern that symbolizes submission to man in the 19th-century era. The narrator begins to focus only on the pattern during the nighttime and sleeping in the day. During the nighttime hours, the narrator believes the woman becomes alive and tries to free herself from captivity. I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.(Perkins P.695). In spite of her fixation on the yellow wallpaper, the protagonist begins to grow in strength and self-esteem. She begins to not listen to John anymore, not looking for approval in decision-making and begins the growing process of her self-confidence. In the end, the narrator has an awakening or rebirth of herself in regards to John. Why there’s John at the door!(Perkins P. 697).

It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!(Perkins P.687). These are a few examples of the narrator has had a role reversal with John; she is the authoritative person now, instead of John. The narrator begins to find her true identity as we get deeper into the story. As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. (Perkins P.696). The narrator has locked the room, while John is away and begins to peel off the layers of the wallpaper. She begins creeping around the room as the wallpaper-trapped woman does when she comes out at nighttime. John finally opens the door and sees what she has done and faints. I’ve got out, at last, she says, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! (Gilman P.32). As John faints, the protagonist proceeds to creep over him to continue with her work. The creeping over him symbolizes that the protagonist has obtained control of her own life. One of the major symbols in the story was the yellow wallpaper.

The narrator believes she must decode the yellow wallpaper. It’s like the yellow wallpaper is the narrator’s mind as if she was the yellow wallpaper. The color yellow is associated with illness or being weak. Sometimes yellow is associated also with a woman’s oppression by man. The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.(Perkins P.688). The wallpaper becomes the narrator’s enemy and best friend. The protagonist remains obsessed with the yellow wallpaper until the end when she sets it free. The wallpaper reflects the protagonist’s feelings and emotions, but most of all the suffering she is enduring. The stained yellow clothes belong to the narrator from creeping during the night. The protagonist sets the imaginary woman free by tearing down the wallpaper and she would like her wall with John torn down that he has built for her. The wallpaper represents family, medicine, and tradition in the protagonist’s life, which she finds herself trapped. By tearing down the wallpaper, the protagonist forms her own identity; an identity of herself without John her controller. Another symbol that is used in the story is the sun and the moon. the sun is a symbol of masculinity and the moon is a symbol of femininity. Sunlight is associated with John, who as a physician likes control, order, and a schedule. He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.

Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear.(Perkins P.688). At nighttime, John is asleep and unable to control the narrator’s behavior; so she begins to creep. Her subconscious roams free at night in so many ways. It is in the moonlight, when the protagonist begins to understand more fully the figure in the wallpaper. In the sunlight, the woman freezes with the fear of being caught. When there is sunlight, the narrator cannot see the trapped woman in the wallpaper because of the glare of John’s oppression. The barred windows in the house signified the imprisonment women felt in the 19th century. The room where the narrator sleep is actually a prison mental asylum. But the narrator imagines the room as a nursery because she just gave birth and she is longing for her child. She compares everything in the room to a child’s nursery such as the bite marks on the bed; wallpaper ripping, and the bars on the windows. The room was a prison, but she was blinded by her insecurity and helplessness. At the end of the story, when the narrator states, The key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!(Perkins P.697). This leads the reader to believe her mental illness has progressed for the worst.

Work Cited

  1. Perkins- Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper” Literature: A World of Writing. Ed. Ana M. Acosta and David L. Pike. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Sigurard?ttir, Helga. Behind the Wallpaper. May 2010, skemman.is/bitstream/1946/5344/1/Behind The Wallpaper.pdf.
  2. Ford, Karen. The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Women’s Discourse. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 4, no. 2, 1985, pp. 309??“314. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/463709.
  3. Lanser, Susan S. Feminist Criticism, The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the Politics of Color in America. Feminist Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 1989, pp. 415??“441. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3177938.
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Feminist Criticism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper". (2019, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/feminist-criticism-in-charlotte-perkins-gilmans-the-yellow-wallpaper/