The Historical Context in Charlotte Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper: Women’s March

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The Historical Context in Charlotte Gilman’s the Yellow Wallpaper: Women’s March

This essay will analyze the historical context of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in relation to the early women’s rights movement. It will discuss how the story reflects the struggles of women in the late 19th century, particularly regarding mental health and societal roles. The piece will explore Gilman’s critique of the medical treatment of women and the broader implications for women’s independence and autonomy. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Book Review.

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The views of current society, along with past generations, have shown women have been relatively domesticated, only having a purpose when it comes time to bear children and take charge of all household affairs. The men, on the other hand, have tendencies to go out in the world and provide for their families by doing the “harder” labor. For too long, this has been seen as the status quo. Women are heads of the household only and are inferior in comparison to men.

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This primitive way of thinking has stood the test of time, and a millennia later, it is still prevalent. However, in recent decades women have acquired basic human rights that allow them a voice in society. The problems that women face now echo writings of the past, specifically “What if Shakespeare had a Sister” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Let’s look at the historical context of The Yellow Wallpaper and the cultural context of The Yellow Wallpaper.

The historical context here is important. Individuals came out in droves in response to a certain person who threatened their progression to a status that males have always had. The Women’s March, held in Washington D.C., is an annual event that was born on January 21, 2017, after the inauguration of the newest president. Women have been protesting for common sense human rights for centuries, but the recent election was a complete slap in the face for all that women have worked for in terms of equality. Most women were not comfortable with having a misogynistic person having a hand in civil and social liberties. According to the official Women’s March, their mission was “ to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change (Women’s March 2019).”

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman completely echoes how women have always been trapped behind the curtain of males in past centuries. The narrator of the story, who specifically is not given any name, gives the reader an overview of her life. She lives with her husband, John, a doctor, who keeps her inside the house and forces her to follow inhumane rules. The husband monitors and bans all her activities. He even goes as far as not letting her write. The narrator states, “I sometimes think that if I were only well enough to write a little, it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me (Gilman 445).” John does not even allow the narrator to pick which room she wants. All of the limits that John imposes on the narrator really illustrate a jail-like setting. This is especially reinforced by Jane’s mind conjures trapped in the wallpaper in the room she sleeps in. This imagery expresses how trapped the narrator is and how she really doesn’t see any way out. Looking for other ways for her voice to be heard by her husband, the narrator becomes obsessed with the women in the wallpaper, eventually to the point of complete insanity. It is also hinted that she was going through postpartum depression, and with these factors, in play, the narrator commits suicide. Suicide was her only way of protesting and escaping this imprisonment.

The women in the 2017 march expressed their opinions and made sure that their voices were heard. The narrator of the story, and by extension Charlotte Gilman, would indeed support the march. The march today attempts to protest those limited living conditions and wants to give complete freedom to the women in society. This is something women in the past had no idea could be possible.

They would support it rather than be forever silenced. It is a way to fight off people like John and all the men who are thought to be superior simply because of an extra “x” chromosome or lack thereof.

The women’s march also echoes another story that was written in the past. In the author’s excerpt, “What if Shakespeare had had a Sister?” Virginia Woolf explains how women are not given a chance to exploit all the talent they own. Virginia Woolf paints a picture of the fabricated life of Shakespeare’s sister and how her life would be different if she had the talent of the legendary writer. Wolf writes, “She was adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone Horace and Virgil (Woolf 551).” A woman with Shakespeare’s abilities would have never lived the same life that her male counterpart did. Instead, she would become a domestic just like every other woman in that time period. Instead of writing timeless tales and becoming a literary legend, she would whittle away her life doing the housework and marrying to bear children.

Woolf later says, “ For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty (Woolf 552).” In essence, this shows how supportive Woolf would have also been if she had been alive during the women’s march of 2017. Woolf, knowing there are women out there with a talent greater than Shakespeare, feels women deserve an opportunity. They deserve to get the appropriate resources to be able to be as legendary as Shakespeare. Virginia would be in full support of an event like the Women’s March due to the fact that it is fighting for women to have equal rights to males. Virginia would love to be part of a movement that pushed for women to no longer be under the males in society and to see them get all the opportunities that men do every day.

The males in both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “What if Shakespeare had a Sister” can relate to men today, such as especially people in powerful positions. Men in Shakespeare’s time constantly blocked the road for women, just as similar to how John would keep the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” behind bars, both mentally and physically. This also goes with what Woolf says in her excerpt about women not getting the same chances as a man. These two readings both show how they attempt to keep women under their heels, as both of the individuals have all writing taken away from them and are forbidden from expressing themselves.

Obstacles, as we have seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “What if Shakespeare had a Sister,” have been very strong echoes of the past world that still show the problems years later. It is clearer than ever that women will not stand for the injustices placed on them in the past and will make sure their voices will be heard. Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman would have fully supported the march because they have experienced what it feels like to be under the heel of another. It has gotten a lot better for women. However, more battles must be won if they want to be on the same level as males.

Frequently Asked Questions
What is the historical context within The Yellow Wallpaper?

During an era when women were starting to challenge their status in society, Gilman penned The Yellow Wallpaper. Numerous women were advocating for equal treatment and the right to vote. As a proponent of these movements, Gilman utilized her writing to articulate her stance on the issue. The Yellow Wallpaper narrates the tale of a woman gradually descending into madness due to the constraints imposed upon her by her husband and societal norms.

What was the author's purpose when she wrote the story The Yellow Wallpaper?

In composing The Yellow Wallpaper, the author’s objective was twofold: firstly, to convey her personal emotions regarding being diagnosed with post-partum depression, and secondly, to offer enlightenment to others undergoing a similar ordeal. Additionally, the author aspired to dismantle the social stigma surrounding mental illness.

What was the original purpose of the room the narrator is in The Yellow Wallpaper?

The room the narrator occupies in The Yellow Wallpaper was initially intended to facilitate her recuperation from mental illness. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the confinement and seclusion only exacerbate her condition, emphasizing the importance of mental health treatment and support systems.

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The Historical Context in Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: Women’s March. (2022, Jun 22). Retrieved from