Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper" is an excellent story on several levels. It works as a suspenseful thriller about the effects of mental illness. It also serves to make several points about feminism and the pervailing attitudes of her time.
John, the husband, serves as a metaphor for masculine views of the time, and for the masculine side of humans, the side of reason and logic. "John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horor of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures" (1658). His character is almost stereotypical in its adherence to reason and its attittude towards his wife. He negates her intuition; "there is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window" (1658) He attributes her condition to "a slight hysterical tendency" (1658), which is, etymologically speaking, just a polite way of saying that she is instable due to being a woman. He is not interested in his wife's actual condition, rather in his diagnosis; "John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him" (1659). His best advice is to not use her imagination (though trapped in an ugly room), but to become more reasonable and to resist her condition through willpower. When he does put her to bed and asks her to get well, he asks, not for her own self, but with him as the motivation; "He said [. . .] that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well" (1663).
John is reasonable and educated. He represents a stifling pr...
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...eedom from the bars in the pattern.
This creeping about is certainly at odds with her husband's requests. It is irrational, in that she thinks she has escaped, when it is actually time to leave for good, and she has locked herself in. She defies his orders of bed rest, physically exhausting herself crawling about and pushing the bed and biting the bed and tearing the wall-paper. She overcomes her husband's forthright sensibility by acting so crazy that he cannot deny it, cannot make sense of it, cannot do anything but faint away, leaving her to crawl right over the top of him. She has escaped his oppression by going into her dementia and embracing it.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wall-paper." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eds. Nina Baym, et. al. Shorter 5th ed. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999: 1656-1669.
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