The Man-Woman Dynamic in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

Satisfactory Essays
The Yellow Wallpaper

During the change of the century, from 1865-1912, American women struggled to obtain freedoms and independence that is taken for granted today. The roles of women during this era were mostly defined by men, often in one of the many books of etiquette that taught them a proper 'code of manners' and stated flatly, "The power of a woman is in her refinement, gentleness and elegance; it is she who makes etiquette, and it is she who preserves the order and decency of society" (Harper, 1999, p.1298).

This was particularly true of middle-class women, and men strived to keep them restrained within the influences of the home. The expectation was for the woman to be “fixed firmly within their sphere of home and hearth” (Harper, 1999, p.1298), tending to the needs of the family, caring for children, and taking care of the home. Women were expected to remain virtuous and pure, to be modest, devout in their faith , and submissive to their male counterparts. This was evident in the medical profession and in The Yellow Wallpaper Gilman demonstrates the arrogant attitude men display towards women when she highlights the fact that even her husband does not believe she is ill, that she merely suffers from “temporary bouts of nervous depression.”

In The Yellow Wallpaper Gilman and her husband have rented a mansion for the summer so she can recuperate from the recent birth of their child. She rests in an upstairs room, a former nursery, with peeling yellow wallpaper, which becomes her obsession. She describes its color as repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow with dull yet lurid orange in some places. She emphasizes its unpleasantness by exclaiming, “No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.”

Her husband forbids her to do anything, particularly write, so she keeps a diary in secret. She writes that when John comes in, she must hastily put the diary away, as he hates for her to write a word (Harper, 1999, p.1736). Her husband’s sister, Jennie, tends to her and the nanny takes care of their baby boy. As her condition worsens, the woman becomes more obsessed with the wallpaper, trying to trace its patterns and becoming convinced that someone is trapped inside, a woman who is trying to get out.
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