The Protagonist’s Physical and Social Conditioning in Charlotte Perkins

Satisfactory Essays
The Protagonist’s Physical and Social Conditioning in Charlotte Perkins

Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.

The wife, protagonist, in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins

Gilman, is trapped. Suffering from a “slight hysterical tendency” (p

676), an affliction no one really understands, her husband, a

physician, prescribes a treatment, which offers her little support to

be well again. Her condition is further aggravated by limitations of

her social role as his wife. She is confined, controlled and devalued

by her husband. She is powerless to renegotiate her situation. She is

trapped by her treatment, her environment and her social role as a

wife, with no hope of change. Given the hopelessness of her situation,

she chooses to overpower what she can defeat, a figment of her


The setting is a colonial mansion, which the husband, John, has rented

as a place of respite for her recovery. It is run down and neglected,

like his wife – run down from her illness and emotionally neglected,

as her desires are overruled by his practicality. The mansion has

housed children in the past. The nursery serves as the couple’s

bedroom, where “the windows are barred” (p 677), to prevent the children

from injuring themselves from a fall. Like the children, she is protected

and imprisoned. This “atrocious nursery” (p 677) is covered with “a smouldering

unclean yellow” (p 677) wallpaper, which becomes her obsession.

Surrounding the mansion is plenty of fresh air, an aspect of her

treatment. But the wife suspects an air about the house -- an air of

an unwanted presence. Being isolated, the mansion is a perfect place

for her confinement, another aspect of her treatment. Her husband has

prescribed a version of the “rest cure”[1]. His “rest cure” amounts

to being idle. The wife is a writer with artistic sensibility. She is

deeply offended by the yellow wallpaper and its “sprawling flamboyant

patterns committing every artistic sin” (p 677). She needs an outlet

to express herself, through writing, but is prevented from doing so,

as part of her “rest”. However, she still writes, covertly. John is a

physician, an expert on physical illness. Being practical, he is not

predisposed to be an expert on the artistic temperament. She disagrees

with her treatment, but remains silent on that issue, displaying

appropriate wifely behaviours.

To be appropriate, to exhibit “proper self-control” (p 676) is

required as his wife in the nineteenth century. She is the property

of her husband and must appear to submit to his will. John is, by

modern standards, a control freak -- a well intentioned control freak.

He controls her environment by choosing the mansion and the choice of