Gender Roles in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

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“The Yellow Wallpaper”: Gender Roles
During the time period in which Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, discrimination towards women was widely evident throughout most of the world. It was especially obvious in nineteenth-century America due to historical evidence not relevant to this topic, but this was the time period that Gilman grew up in; therefore, it is easy to see why a female writer would chose to write about such a thing. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a three month tale about a woman who is suffering from some form of postpartum depression that reveals insight into gender subordination by the usage of symbolism, tone, and imagery, showing how the conventional nineteenth-century marriage ensured that women remain second-class citizens.
The main symbol in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, obviously, is the yellow wallpaper in the narrator’s bedroom. At the beginning of the story she, the narrator, is distraught and disgusted by the pattern and color of the wallpaper. She asks her husband, John, to leave the house, or at least change rooms, multiple times. As the story progresses, however, her disgust changes to infatuation with the wallpaper. The change seems evident when she begins to think about her child living in the room. She states, “What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn’t have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds” (Gilman 245). It seems at first that the wallpaper is a symbol for her mental distress, but after this particular incident with her making an excuse to stay in the room, the symbolism changes. Later on in the story, the narrator personifies the wallpaper’s outer pattern as bars and the inner pattern as a woman, or sometimes women, trying to break out. Thi...

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... and the lurid orange shows that she is completely intrigued by the wallpaper, but it still has an unpleasant effect on her. The dull orange also represents her wanting to break free of the conventional gender roles; whereas, the lurid orange also represents her actually attempting to free herself from them.
By using the narrator’s mental illness and utter disgust of the wallpaper, Gilman showed her displeasure with the conventional nineteenth-century marriage and the gender subordination that came with it. By using the narrator as a medium, Gilman tried to explain the need of social change of thinking toward women and their gender roles. Writing this story herself seems to coincide with the narrator finally breaking free of her gender role by killing her husband and continuing to tear down the bars of the gender subordination.

Works Cited

The Yellow Wall Paper
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