Supression of Women in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860 by Barbara Welter

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In the nineteenth century men and women were subjects of patriarchal societies and as such fit into the particular gender associated roles. Men were considered to be in control and were often professionals. Women, on the other hand, were supposed to be pious and domestic—the “hostage in the home” (Welter 43). Both Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “the Yellow Wallpaper” and Barbara Welter’s “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860” reflect the suppressed life that American women were forced to live. Gilman’s narrator suffers from the patriarchal construct of her society but in the end shows that the cult of true womanhood can be broken through. While the narrator’s intense imagination would have allowed her to excel in writing being subject to the cult of true womanhood subdued her potential causing her to revolt against society. Gilman illustrates the oppression of women in society through the characters of the narrator, her husband John, John’s sister Jennie, the nanny Mary and, of course, the woman in the wallpaper.
According to Welter, “religion or piety was the core of woman’s virtue, the source of her strength” (44) because if they were pious than “all else would follow” (44). In a patriarchal society religion was valued in the cult of true womanhood because it did not take women away from the home (Welter 45). In Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator’s husband, John, plays a godlike figure to whom the narrator is devoted. In their temporary home, which is “quite alone, standing well back form the road, quite three miles from the village” (96), the narrator is locked in her room where she becomes dedicated to the wants and likes of her husband. She tells readers, at one point, “there comes John, I must put this away, — he ha...

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...own destruction” (Welter 66). While Gilman’s narrator did not have all the pillars of true womanhood within her, people who enforced and succumbed to the pressures of the pillars surrounded her. Seeing these people around her, and the lives they lived did nothing for her. She did not want to be imprisoned to her home, acting as a servant tending to her family. She did not want to be reformed to become the ideal woman enveloped in Jennie and Mary. Pulling down the wallpaper challenged the patriarchal ideologies of society showing that women can move beyond the constructions of true womanhood. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” illustrates and simultaneously challenges the ideals of true womanhood depicted by Barbara Welter in “the Cult of True Womanhood” with her ultimate outcome being the opportunity and possibility for the end of oppression of women.
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