The Yellow Wallpaper Feminism

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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The Yellow Wallpaper Feminism

This essay will provide a feminist analysis of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It will discuss the story’s portrayal of women’s mental health, gender roles, and the patriarchal medical establishment. The piece will examine the narrative as a critique of 19th-century attitudes towards women’s autonomy and mental health. Moreover, at PapersOwl, there are additional free essay samples connected to Feminism.

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Any literary work intends to evoke some profound feelings and impressions that readers link to their personal experience and reality around. Charlotte Perkins Gilman presents a feminist gothic story “The Yellow Wallpaper” that discloses the issues of female suffering and lack of freedom in the patriarchal society that limits women’s choices and desires. The protagonist faces discrimination and neglect that result in her physical and psychological breakdown, broken illusions about self-identity, and madness as a response to inside and outside ‘incarceration.

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’ Charlotte Gilman applies the number of literary devices like symbolism, dramatic irony, bright imagery and simile to reveal the ideas of feminism, limited possibilities, violated human rights and will that are all explicitly expressed in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

The first point to make is to state that the gothic story aims to depict the ordinary life of a woman whose dreams about self-expression, independence, and healthy relationships are ruined after child’s birth and further depression. The narrator’s husband aims to help her through excessive interference with her conditions, claiming his professionalism and competence in treating hysteria(Ghandeharion, and Mazari). Here, the issue of gender inequality takes place since John’s definition of illness is considered to be exclusively right and objective. Specifically, men are the incarnation of higher power and authority who may decide on the narrator’s life. When explaining ‘hysteria,’ John convinces that “My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing”(Gilman 648). He struggles to provide his wife with everything necessary for successful recovery, but his meticulous care and rationality leads to an entire misunderstanding of the actual narrator’s needs.

Namely, the husband’s confidence in one’s actions and decisions make him blind to his wife’s inner discomfort, health aggravations and finally, madness. Gilman uses dramatic irony to transfer the notions of illusionary care and love when the wife believes “He said we came here solely for my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get”(Gilman 648). In fact, John released her from the cozy room and ability to write that were her admitted conditions of effective treatment. The lack of interest and false interpretations of women’s actual concerns enhance the challenge of females to withstand their position, to cope with the difficulties, to find support and involvement that are useful and reasonable.

It is important to say that the primary idea of the story is the narrator’s imprisonment in the room with yellow wallpapers that drive her crazy every day she observes them. To be more precise, the author applies the ideal symbolism for the reader to track the mental fall of the protagonist that starts seeing a woman shaking the pattern attempting to get free. Individually, the narrator describes that “And it is like a woman in stooping down creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder – I begin to think – I wish John would take me away from here”(Gilman 652). In general, the wallpapers and their color represent the symbols of the protagonist’s confinement and her growing awareness of one’s position. She is incarcerated by her own inability to withstand the imposed notions and to be willing to claim her rights.

The woman in wallpapers is the incarnation of a prisoner, the image of the narrator in her domestic and social life(Raouf, Ali). The symbol of wallpaper that portrays the struggling woman is wife’s inner call for freedom but the lack of power to expose it in reality. She is very naive about the intentions of her husband; she believes in male power over her and relies on John’s statements that may not be wrong. That is why wallpapers with their pictures allow her to see the reality of her position, to understand one’s sincere feelings about her current life and lack of happiness in it. The protagonist describes that she “can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design”(Gilman 650). Her inner world is ready to show off and declare about the sufferings, complaints, and dissatisfaction it faces being literally and figurately trapped.

Moreover, even the house where narrator and husband spend time serves as the physical symbol of dependence and submission of the main heroine. She admits that “wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it”(Gilman 648). In other words, she possesses the inside desires to act according to her impulses and preferences but the room with yellow walls, a taboo on writing and inability to see her friends turn the house into the tool for confinement that further destroys the character. She seems to like the house for the first glance since in general, it reflects her perceptions of freedom, beauty, comfort, and family hearth but the expectations are broken when the yellow wallpapers become the only thing that distracts her from illusions and blind spot(Hume). They function as her self-relief, make her open the eyes and see the reality that gradually kills her identity, objectivity, and self-respect as a woman.

Gilman also strengthens the readers’ interpretations of the story with the help of imagery, namely visual and tactile one. Notably, the wallpapers and its color are described with such detail that everybody may imagine the figure, pattern and figure’s movements as they are happening in reality. That is “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down”(Gilman 649). Such descriptions enhance the visuality of the protagonist’s feelings and emotions that help to understand and realize them deeper.

At the same time, the author takes precise attention to the color of wallpapers giving them a special role in impacting the narrator’s moods and impulses. The ordinary yellow wallpapers deliver various connotative meanings that only emphasize the narrator’s irritation, pain, and fear. Individually, “the color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long”(Gilman 649 ). The wallpapers are so provocative that they do not give the ability to relax, continually reminding the main protagonist about the necessity to wake up and realize her dramatic life.

On the whole, the paper depicts the spectrum of emotions that she is filled with but can not release due to imposed rules and principles. The wallpapers seem to her different and she says that “ it is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke a study. And when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance, they suddenly commit suicide”(Gilman 648). All in all, the visual and tactile imagery functions as the additional means of intensification that leads to the readers’ full involvement into both the narrator’s inner world and the leading feminist idea of the story. The critical thing is that the imagery shows the gradual breakdown of the protagonist what allows us to see the phases of the protagonist’s awareness and freedom. Mainly, the visual images interfered with the narrator’s explanations contribute to the full picture of her madness when first seeing the blurred lines and figures, she ends in noticing woman who tends to break the bars with high determination.

Finally, Catherine Gilman adds simile to the meaning of wallpapers when her hallucinations and emotions are compared to some general phenomena and help to settle links with some personal experiences. It allows tracking the changes in the protagonist’s behavior, to define her unsafe conditions, and to understand her states through associations and parallels with real life.

To sum up, the story “The Yellow Wallpapers” gives the readers space and freedom to interpret the main ideas and make conclusions about protagonists’ actions and decisions. Gilman uses various literary devices like irony, simile, symbolism, and imagery to expose the suffering, aggravations and mental breakdown of the woman who was devoid of the possibility to function following one’s desires, values, and needs. She ends in madness being not able to accept the truth that struggled to break free from the yellow wallpapers. The idea of the story remains relevant for the modern world where gender differences still exist and limit women in their self-expression, freedom of speech and equal access to the surrounding beauty.

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The Yellow Wallpaper Feminism. (2021, Apr 19). Retrieved from