Self-destructive Self-expression in The Yellow Wallpaper
In "The Yellow Wallpaper", a story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the conflict centers around the protagonist's inability to maintain her sanity in a society that does not recognize her as an individual. Her husband and brother both exert their own will over hers, forcing her to conform to their pre-set impression an appropriate code of behavior for a sick woman. She has been given a "schedule prescription for each hour in the day; [John] takes all care from me" (155). This code of behavior involves virtually no exertion of her own free-will. Rather, she is expected to passively accept the fact that her own ideas are mere fancy, and only the opinions of the men in her life can be trusted. She is expected to take their own uninformed opinions on her mental state over her own. While "Wallpaper" presents a powerful argument in favor of the feminist movement, the true issue behind the conflict is even more fundamental: the resiliency of human will in the face of social negation.
Obviously, it is impossible to maintain a healthy mental state in the oppressive environment surrounding the woman. Throughout the story, the author traces the woman's mental deterioration from a having a normal but weakened sense of self, to a complete inversion of her ego. She slowly inverts her orientation of her place in society, turning away from society completely in order to create a world where she can act on her own volition. In order to represent the stages of her gradually worsening state of mind, the author represents the woman's struggles through a parallel with her view of the wallpaper. The wallpaper is at first a seeming inversion of the woman's mind, but it is gradu...
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