Symbolism and Repression in The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is as a wonderful example of the gothic horror genre. It was not until the rediscovery of the story in the early 1970’s that “The Yellow Wallpaper” was recognized as a feminist indictment of a male dominated society. The story contains many typical gothic trappings, but beneath the conventional façade hides a tale of repression and freedom told in intricate symbolism as seen through the eyes of a mad narrator. It is difficult to discuss the meaning in this story without first examining the author’s own personal experience. “The Yellow Wallpaper” gives an account of a woman driven to madness as a result of the Victorian “rest-cure,” a once frequently prescribed period of inactivity thought to cure hysteria and nervous conditions in women.
Shaw, Bernard. ?The Quintessence of Ibsenism.? B.R. Tucker (1891): 82-86 Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 37.
Gilman's literary indictment of Dr. Mitchell's ineffective treatment came to life in the story "The Yellow Wallpaper." On the surface, this gothic tale seems only to relate one woman's struggle with mental illness, but because Guilman was a prominent feminist and social thinker she incorporated themes of women's rights and the poor relationships between husbands and wives (Kennedy and Gioia 424). Guilman cleverly manipulates the setting to support her themes and set the eerie mood. Upon first reading "The Yellow Wallpaper," the reader may see the relationship between the narrator and her husband John as caring, but with examination one will find that the narrator is repeatedly belittled and demeaned by her husband. On first arriving at the vacation home John chooses the old attic nursery against his wife's wishes and laughs at her when she complains about the wallpaper (Kennedy et al.
Imprisonment of Women Exposed in The Yellow Wallpaper When asked the question of why she chose to write 'The Yellow Wallpaper', Charlotte Perkins Gilman claimed that experiences in her own life dealing with a nervous condition, then termed 'melancholia', had prompted her to write the short story as a means to try and save other people from a similar fate. Although she may have suffered from a similar condition to the narrator of her illuminating short story, Gilman's story cannot be coined merely a tale of insanity. Insanity is the vehicle for Gilman's larger comment on the atrocities of social conformity. The main character of "The Yellow Wallpaper" comes to recognize the inhumanity in society's treatment of women, and in her awakening to this, visualizes her torment in the faded yellow wallpaper that hangs in her chambers, her jail. The unnamed narrator of the tale is purposefully left unnamed; the narrator could be any wife, any mother, any woman.
Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991. Works Consulted Treichler, Paula. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'." Rpt. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism Vol.
Gaskell’s loss of her child prompted her to write stories such as The Old Nurse Story, and she used haunted houses and oppressed women and children to not only bring dark terror to the audience but shine light on social issues that were arising in the Victorian era. Rossetti’s religious background inspired her to allude to temptation and fruits from the Bible and comment of the oppression of female sexuality in the Victorian period. The Victorian Gothics not only horrify and disturb the reader but speak out on social injustices such as the gender role. Works Cited Christ, Carol T., Catherine Robson, Stephen Greenblatt, and M. H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature.