Symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Symbolism of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

In the 19th century society was from different from what it is today. Women were not in the workforce, could not vote, or even have a say in anything. Women were not permitted to give evidence in court, nor, did they have the right to speak in public before an audience. When a woman married, her husband legally owned all she had (including her earnings, her clothes and jewelry, and her children). If he died, she was entitled to only a third of her husband’s estate. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wanted to change this. She wanted people to understand the plight of women in the 19th century. In her short story The Yellow Wallpaper she tries to convey this to the reader not just on a literal level, but through various symbols in the story. In The Yellow Wallpaper the author uses symbols to show restrictions on women, lack of public interaction, the struggle for equality, and the possibilities of the female sex during the 1800s.

The yellow wallpaper itself is one of the largest symbols in the story. It can be interpreted to symbolize many things about the narrator. The wallpaper symbolizes the mental block mean attempted to place on women during the 1800s. The color yellow is often associated with sickness or weakness, and the narrator’s mysterious illness is an example of the male oppression on the narrator. The wallpaper in fact makes the narrator more “sick” as the story progresses. The yellow wallpaper, of which the writer declares, “I never saw a worse paper in my life,” is a symbol of the mental screen that men attempted to enforce upon women. Gilman writes, “The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing” this is a symbolic metaphor for restrictions placed on women. The author is saying subliminally that the denial of equality for women by men is a “hideous” act, and that when men do seem to grant women some measure of that equality, it is often “unreliable.” The use of the words “infuriating” and “torturing” are also descriptions of the feelings of women in 19th century society.

Another large symbol is the narrator’s lack of public interaction. It symbolizes women being out of the public eye in the time period. Women were needed to stay inside and tend to the house and children. They didn’t belong in government, in the workplace, or outside at all.
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