In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," the reader is treated to an intimate portrait of developing insanity. At the same time, the story's first person narrator provides insight into the social attitudes of the story's late Victorian time period. The story sets up a sense of gradually increasing distrust between the narrator and her husband, John, a doctor, which suggests that gender roles were strictly defined; however, as the story is just one representation of the time period, the examination of other sources is necessary to better understand the nature of American attitudes in the late 1800s. Specifically, this essay will analyze the representation of women's roles in "The Yellow Wallpaper" alongside two other texts produced during this time period, in the effort to discover whether Gilman's depiction of women accurately reflects the society that produced it.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" features an unnamed female narrator who serves to exemplify the expectations placed upon women of the time period. As we are told early on, she is suffering from a "nervous condition" (Gilman 1). While we are not told the specific nature of this condition, we do discover that the cure prescribed by John, the narrator's husband and doctor, entails taking "phosphates or phosphites--whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise" while intellectual "work" is "absolutely forbidden Ö until [she is] well again" (Gilman 1). This poses a particular problem for the narrator, due to her desire to write, which she continues to do "in spite of them," and causes her to hide her writing to avoid facing "heavy opposition" (Gilman 1). The treatment to which t...
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...Mitchell, seems all the more plausible. After all, her socially-defined role as the dutiful wife and mother was being constrained by her inability to withstand the treatment foisted upon her by a man trained to disregard his patients' feelings. As a woman, she had no socially sanctioned way to respond to the problems she faced. Rather than wonder, as John does throughout the story, why his wife is becoming increasingly deranged, readers of this story should only wonder why, given the mores of the time period, there weren't far more stories like it.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." English 101 Homepage. August 1999 .
Mitchell, S. Weir. The Evolution of the Rest Treatment. English 101 Course Packet. Chico: Mr Kopy, 1999.
Power, Susan. The Ugly-Girl Papers. English 101 Course Packet. Chico: Mr Kopy, 1999.
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