Gender Roles And Symbolism In 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is started by the narrator’s sense that the wallpaper is a text she must understand, that it symbolizes something that affects her directly. Accordingly, the wallpaper develops its symbolism throughout the story. At first it seems unpleasant: it is ripped, soiled, and an “unclean yellow.” The worst part is the ostensibly formless pattern, which fascinates the narrator as she attempts to figure out how it is organized. After staring at the paper for hours, she sees a ghostly sub-pattern behind the main pattern, visible only in certain light. Eventually, the sub-pattern comes into focus as a desperate woman, constantly crawling and stooping, looking for an escape from behind the main pattern, which has come to resemble…show more content…
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the author uses the conventions of the psychological horror tale to critique the position of women within the institution of marriage, especially as practiced by the “respectable” classes of her time. The story reveals that this division in gender had the effect of keeping women in a state of ignorance and preventing their full development. John’s assumption of his own superior wisdom and maturity leads him to misjudge, patronize, and dominate his wife, all in the name of “helping” her. The narrator has no say in even the smallest details of her life, and she retreats into her obsessive fantasy, the only place she can retain some control and exercise the power of her mind. For the author, the conventional nineteenth-century middle-class marriage, with its rigid distinction between the “domestic” functions of a woman and the “active” work of a man, ensured that women remained second-class citizens. The narrator is reduced to acting like a child, unable to stand up for herself without seeming unreasonable or disloyal. The mental constraints placed upon the narrator, even more so than the physical ones, are what ultimately drive her…show more content…
Writing is especially off limits, and John warns her several times that she must use her self-control to rein in her imagination, which he fears will run away with her. Of course, the narrator’s eventual insanity is a product of the repression of her imaginative power, not the expression of it. She is constantly longing for an emotional and intellectual outlet, even going so far as to keep a secret journal, which she describes more than once as a “relief” to her mind. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is an illustration of the way a mind that is already plagued with anxiety can deteriorate and begin to prey on itself when it is forced into inactivity and kept from healthy work. The connection between a woman’s subordination in the home and her connection in a doctor/patient relationship is clear, John is, after all, the narrator’s husband and doctor. The author implies that both forms of authority can be easily abused, even when the husband or doctor means to
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