Traditionally, men have held the power in society. Women have been treated as a second class of citizens with neither the legal rights nor the respect of their male counterparts. Culture has contributed to these gender roles by conditioning women to accept their subordinate status while encouraging young men to lead and control. Feminist criticism contends that literature either supports society’s patriarchal structure or provides social criticism in order to change this hierarchy. “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, depicts one women’s struggle against the traditional female role into which society attempts to force her and the societal reaction to this act.
From the beginning of this work, the woman is shown to have gone mad. We are given no insight into the past, and we do not know why she has been driven to the brink of insanity. The “beautiful…English place” that the woman sees in her minds eye is the way men have traditionally wanted women to see their role in society. As the woman says, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road…It makes me think of English places…for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.” This lovely English countryside picture that this woman paints to the reader is a shallow view at the real likeness of her prison. The reality of things is that this lovely place is her small living space, and in it she is to function as every other good housewife should. The description of her cell, versus the reality of it, is a very good example of the restriction women had in those days. They were free to see things as they wanted, but there was no real chance at a woman changing her roles and place in society. This is mostly attributed to the small amount of freedom women had, and therefore they could not bring about a drastic change, because men were happy with the position women filled.
This creates a despair, of hopelessness and of downheartedness. The woman, on multiple occasions, wrote down, “And what can one do?” This lets the reader know that women as a whole were very oppressed in ...
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In the final moments of this story, the woman’s husband returns to see her. She writes, “He stopped short by the door. ‘What is the matter?’ he cried. ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ Now why should that man have fainted, but he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!’” This final passage shows that, when this woman rebels, and “escapes the wallpaper”, it is not highly looked upon. The woman made a power statement, by telling her husband that she had, in essence, found a new role in life, and he can not push her back. When he can not handle her actions, she continues her new ways right over him.
In conclusion, this story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, provided a great social and psychological criticism. It shows the reader how women have progressed so far in the recent years. This woman was the start of many, which finally led to making men and woman more equal, and this is the society that this woman wanted.
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