Oppression of Women Depicted in The Yellow Wallpaper

Oppression of Women Depicted in The Yellow Wallpaper

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In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman shows that the American principle
of liberty did not apply to all Americans in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth century. Specifically it shows that this principle was
not given to women. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman shows that
American society at the time was oppressive toward women and
that it was dangerous for women to fight back. She establishes a
female narrator that is oppressed literally and symbolically by the
men in her life and the society she lives in. This oppression causes
the narrator, who is suffering from what is probably a post-partum
depression, to sink lower and lower into the depths of insanity. Her
cries for help go unheeded by her husband and she eventually loses
sanity completely. On a symbolic level, this failure of the narrator to
survive in the face of societal oppression can be seen as a warning
to society. Gilman was warning the men of society that they could
not continue to deny women opportunities for equality without
suffering the consequences.

Gilman's female narrator, who either chooses not to fight for her
rights or was unable to do so, loses her sanity at the hands of her
well-meaning husband. Her depression is unexplainable to her and
her husband, who is a doctor. In fact, neither her husband nor her
brother, who is also a doctor, believes that she is even sick. The
narrator feels certain that the "rest cure" prescribed by her husband
is not working. She says that the men in her life are wrong to limit
her activity. She feels that she could escape her depression if given
the chance. "Personally, I disagree with their ideas . . . I believe that
congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me g...

... middle of paper ...

with a great narrative drive and a shocking ending, to read it only on
a surface level is to miss the deeper meaning of this masterpiece. It
is necessary to look at this story in the context of the time in which
it was written. Gilman lived in a time when women were routinely
oppressed by society and she represented this in her story, both
literally in the husband's treatment of the narrator, and figuratively,
in the pattern in the wallpaper being a prison for the woman or
women behind it. The story, at least on some level, was meant to
be a warning to society that this type of treatment could only lead
to disastrous results. Gilman illustrates this through the narrator's
descent into madness.

The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, Ann Charters, Bedford/St. Martin's, Sixth Edition (NOT compact) 2003, ISBN: 0 312 39729 1

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