The physical restrictions John places on his wife represent a prison. In order for her to have “perfect rest” over the summer (598 Gilman), he rents an estate that is “quite alone” (598) with “hedges and walls and gates that lock” (598). Despite her wanting a room downstairs, he places her in a top-floor room containing barred windows, “rings and things in the walls” (599), and a bed that is likely nailed down. These surroundings create an impression of a highly secure, isolated prison; and, just like in prison, the narrator cannot leave. John refuses when she asks him to let her move downstairs and to visit her cousins, and again when she begs him to let her leave the estate entirely. Moreover, he controls her daily schedule, which includes hour-long rests after every meal and absolutely no work. Consequently, the narrator is doomed to a sedentary life spent largely within the confines of her room.
Her response to John’s physical restrictions suggests that they precipitate her descent into madness. She describes the torn, “smouldering unclean yellow” (599) wallpaper in her room as being “dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study” (599). She also says that she “never saw a worse paper in [her] life” (599) and that she “should hate it [hers...
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... she calls her husband “that man” (608), implying that she no longer recognizes him, and says that she “had to creep over him every time”, clearly not comprehending the absurdity of crawling repeatedly around the room and over her husband’s unconscious body.
In the end, “The Yellow Wallpaper” examines the relationship between a loss of freedom and insanity. Specifically, the story uses John’s treatment of the narrator and the narrator’s subsequent reactions to demonstrate the evil that can occur when people deny others their freedom. John adds to this theme by exercising complete authority over the narrator’s life, thereby causing her descent into madness.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." 1892. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. 7th ed. Eds. Richard Bausch and R. V. Cassill. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 598-608.
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