The Yellow Wallpaper: Women’s Rights in the Nineteenth Century

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A house is not a home if no one lives there. During the nineteenth century, the same could be said about a woman concerning her role within both society and marriage. The ideology of the Cult of Domesticity, especially prevalent during the late 1800’s, emphasized the notion that a woman’s role falls within the domestic sphere and that females must act in submission to males. One of the expected jobs of a woman included bearing children, despite the fact that new mothers frequently experienced post-partum depression. If a woman were sterile, her purposefulness diminished. While the Cult of Domesticity intended to create obliging and competent wives, women frequently reported feeling trapped or imprisoned within the home and within societal expectations put forward by husbands, fathers, and brothers.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s tantalizing short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” tells the horrifying tale of a nineteenth century woman whose husband condemns her to a rest cure, a popular approach during the era to treat post-partum depression. Although John, the unnamed narrator’s husband, does not truly believe his wife is ill, he ultimately condemns her to mental insanity through his treatment. The story somewhat resembles Gilman’s shocking personal biography, namely the rest cure she underwent under the watchful eye of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell in 1887, two years after the birth of her daughter, Katherine. Superficially, the rest cure the narrator in "The Yellow Wallpaper" endures loosely replicates Gilman’s personal anguish as she underwent such a treatment. More complexly, however, the story both accentuates and indirectly criticizes the oppression women faced in both marriage and motherhood.

Within the story itself, the progression ...

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...nth century and remains as reminder of the progression women experienced since that time.

Works Cited

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979)

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, Thomas L. Erskine, and Connie L. Richards. The Yellow Wallpaper. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1993. Print.

Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism and Literature's Ancestral House: Another Look at 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Women's Studies 12:2 (1986): 113-128.

Johnson, Greg. "Gilman's Gothic Allegory: Rage and Redemption in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Studies in Short Fiction 26:4 (Fall 1989): 521-30.

Treichler, Paula A. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 3:1-2 (Spring-Fall 1984): 61-77.
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