In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. The Yellow Wallpaper presents the tragic story of a woman's descent into depression and madness. Gilman once wrote "Women's subordination will only end when women lead the struggle for their own autonomy, thereby freeing man as well as themselves, because man suffers from the distortions that come from dominance, just as women are scarred by the subjugation imposed upon them" (Lane 5). The Yellow Wallpaper brilliantly illustrates this philosophy. The narrator's declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually destroying her.
The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where she can recover from severe postpartum depression. She loves her baby, but knows she is not able to take care of him. "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous" (Gilman 642). The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. In this story the opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are barred, holding her in. (Biedermann 179, 382). From the outset the reader is ...
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...f the wallpaper . . . "(Gilman 647).
Anderson, Daniel. *http://cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/wallpaper/whywrote/htm* Why I Wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper"? As it appeared in the October issue of The Forerunner, 1913." 1996. (19 Sept. 1998)
Biedermann, Hans, ed. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism. Cumberland House: Hertfordshire, 1996
Cunningham, Iain and Holmes, Douglass. "Sensory Descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper." 1977.
http://englishwww.ucla.edu/individuals/mcgraw/wallpaper/senses.htm* (19 Sept. 1998).
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Women's Work - An Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Barbara Perkins, Robyn Warhol, and George Perkins. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994. 640-650.
Lane, Ann J. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990.
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