Charlotte Perkins Gilman was crafty. Taken at face value, her short work, The Yellow Wallpaper, is simply the diary of a woman going through a mental breakdown. The wallpaper itself is the arbitrary object on which a troubled mind is obsessively fixated. The fact that Gilman herself suffered from a nervous breakdown makes this interpretation seem quite viable. This explanation is, however, dead wrong.
The wallpaper is not merely the object upon which she obsesses. The madness that overtakes the narrator is not rooted in any nervous disorder that her husband diagnoses. The wallpaper is actually meant to represent a mould into which all women are supposed to fit. The insanity is rooted in the narrator's inability to fall easily into that mould. Gilman's descriptions of the wallpaper are really eloquent delineations of the restrictions and constraints placed upon women. In short, the wallpaper is what all proper women are supposed to be; the narrator is one woman who is unable to adapt and, hence, she becomes a lunatic.
The narrator's first description of the wallpaper puts forth most plainly what the nature of women is believed to be: "dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they . . . destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions" (Gilman 4-5). Initially here, women are depicted as confusing objects; so confounding that they are always annoying and yet curious enough to demand "study" or scrutiny. Upon further examination, women are then found to be "lame uncertain curves" so full of contradictions they ...
... middle of paper ...
...f the wallpaper and towards schizophrenia.
It is easy to see how someone could misinterpret what Gilman was attempting to express in The Yellow Wallpaper, but if you take into account her other books (which are clearly feminist), her intentions become more apparent. She obviously uses the wallpaper as a medium to expose the constraints that were placed upon women in the 19th century. Her attitude towards these restrictions is quite apparent from the narrator's account of the wallpaper and her subsequent insanity from overexposure to it. She despises the general view of women and of their mental capabilities. This work lashes out at a patriarchal society's belief system and, the funny thing is, not many of the patriarchs noticed.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. 1892. Alexandria, VA: Orchises Press, 1990.
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