“The Yellow Wallpaper” explores mental illness and, through this exploration, presents a critique of the place of women in a patriarchal society. Interestingly, Charlotte Perkins Gilman never intended the latter. The primary intent of her short story is to criticize of a physician prescribed treatment called rest cure. The treatment, which she underwent, required female patients to “’live as domestic a life as possible’” (Gilman). This oppressive treatment, however, parallels the oppression of women. As such, “The Yellow Wallpaper” has been interpreted as a feminist work. In the story, Gilman comments on the status of women, the nature and source of their confinement and the possible modes of escape.
Afflicted by hysteria and “nervous depression,” the narrator in this story, symbolic of all women, is confined. The condition of the narrator is such that she is “absolutely forbidden to ‘work’” and unable to “relieve the press of ideas” through creative endeavours. The narrator makes continued reference to immovable objects and thereby, creates a sense of confinement. “Hedges and walls and gates that lock” seem to enclose the colonial mansion and hereditary estate. The garden is “full of box-bordered paths.” Everything is structured, rigid and restrictive. The windows of the nursery are barred. The narrator sleeps on a “great immoveable bed” which “is nailed down.” Yet, the nursery is a paradox of images; the images of confinement are contrasted with descriptions of the nursery. The nursery is “a big, airy room” that has “windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore.” and was, at one time, a “playroom and gymnasium.” The use of contrasting image...
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...front her confinement the wrong way. It is through these events in the story that Gilman does seem to be criticizing women for seeking their freedom at the expense of men. Gilman, while attacking the repression and oppression of women, seems also to attack radical feminism by pointing out that contempt for the opposite sex does nothing to further the feminist cause. Feminists, therefore, should be examples of proper conduct. They should continue to strive for equality but in a manner, that does not alienate men and other women.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Harbrace Anthology of Literature. Eds. Jon Stott, Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers. 2nd ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I wrote the Yellow Wallpaper” [reprinted article]. URL: http://fmc.utm.edu/~lalexand/reply.htm
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