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Symbols and Symbolism Essay - Imagery and Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Imagery and Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper


On my first reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper", I found the short story extremely well done and the author, successful at getting her idea across.  Gilman's use of imagery and symbolism only adds to the reality of the nameless main character's sheltered life and slow progression into insanity or some might say, out of insanity. 

The short story is written in first person and it is from our nameless character's writing's that we are introduced to her world and her life.  It is through this that we see our main characters transition into a world that only she has access to.  She changes dramatically from our first meeting while everyone else stays very flat and unaffected.  This method is very effective in that this story from someone else's perspective would not be as real and understanding.  The outside world would have written about a crazy woman who slowly goes mad for no reason.  Only through her eyes can we see the true reason for her, not madness, epiphany.

The story begins when she and her husband have just moved into a colonial mansion to relieve her chronic nervousness.  An ailment her husband has conveniently diagnosed.  The husband is a physician and in the beginning of her writing she has nothing but good things to say about him, which is very obedient of her.  She speaks of her husband as if he is a father figure and nothing like an equal, which is so important in a relationship.  She writes, "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction."  It is in this manner that she first delicately speaks of his total control over her without meaning to and how she has no choices whatsoever.  This control is perhaps so imbedded in our main character that it is even seen in her secret writing; "John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition...so I will let it alone and talk about the house."  Her husband suggests enormous amounts of bed rest and no human interaction at all.  He chooses a "prison-like" room for them to reside in that he anticipates will calm our main character even more into a comma like life but instead awakens her and slowly but surely opens her eyes to a woman tearing the walls down to freedom.  It is the wallpaper, alive and a character in itself, that charges our main character's mind and helps her break free from the dull and husband driven life she has been living.  The wallpaper itself, so marvelously described, becomes our storyteller's best enemy and best friend.  More like a mirror, this yellow consuming wallpaper reflects what our main character is really going through and feeling and the woman that stirs and creeps within the wall is literally herself which is found out by us, the readers, when the housekeeper mentions the yellow stains on all of her clothes.  She wants to tear the confining wallpaper down that holds this imaginary woman in just as she wants to tear the confining way of life her husband has chosen for her.  The story continues to progress as she deconstructs and analyses the wallpaper until the climax when our main character locks herself in the yellow room to finally tear all of the wallpaper down so that the woman can never be put back and imprisoned forever.  The story concludes with her husband fainting, and our main character "creeping" and paying him no concern at all except that once again he is in her way but this time, not able to stop her voyage along the wall and for the rest of her life.

For some, this insanity seems without reason, but it is a long and overdue release of constraints that her husband had forced upon her for so long, much like the constraints that all of society had on women for so long.  Gilman, in one fail swoop has described the feelings that women had in her time and what could very well happen if women were to be kept quiet and reserved to only live as a man saw fit.  A giant of unspoken emotions and a typhoon of feminism were about to be released and freedom found for so many women just as it was found for our nameless main character.

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