Women in the late 19th century were treated and valued as subordinates. The abilities of women in Charlotte Gilman’s time were limited without the resources to learn and explore. Their inability to make decisions for themselves often led to a restricted and unhappy life. This is true with the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. She is a doctor’s wife and a mother who suffers from post-partum depression. Her abilities fail to develop as she is forced by her husband to suppress her strengths. The narrator is imprisoned in her own life and is obviously unhappy. “The Yellow Wallpaper” expresses the theme of confinement and imprisonment as the narrator describes how her illness helps her husband imprison her with the house, the bedroom, and the way he treats her.
The narrator suffers from post-partum depression. Johnson’s article about Gilman’s gothic allegory claims the story is “drawing on Gilman’s experience of post-partum depression” (523). Gilman writes “The Yellow Wallpaper” based on her own experience dealing with post-partum depression in the late 19th century. John, her husband and doctor, cannot diagnose her properly because he “is practical in the extreme” and refuses to believe there is anything mentally wrong with his wife, the narrator (Gilman 655). John begs the narrator to “never for one instant let that idea enter your mind” (Gilman 661). He does not want the narrator to think her problem is mental, as he only considers her physical symptoms in her treatment. Instead of diagnosing the narrator’s real problem, depression, John attempts to treat her problems with fresh air, rest, and many limitations. This setting imprisons the narrator as she is under her husband’s care.
The home the narrator occupies duri...
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...over. John’s controlling ways over his wife plays a major role in the decline of her health. John calls her a “little girl” when she gets up to check on the wallpaper in the middle of the night (Gilman 661). Also, he restricts her from seeing family and leaving the home whereas he is allowed to go anywhere he pleases with his work. The narrator mentions how, “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious!” (Gilman 657). John can busy himself with work, but he forbids his wife to work until she is well again (Gilman 655). This is unfair, the way the narrator is forced to stand back and let her husband make all of her decisions. He does not give her any freedom, and he isolates her from the world. The narrator is a great example of the women in Gilman’s time. The life the doctor makes for his wife creates a theme of imprisonment and confinement.
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