As man developed more complex social systems, society placed more emphasis of childbearing. Over time, motherhood was raised to the status of “saintly”. This was certainly true in western cultures during the late 19th/early 20th century. Charlotte Perkins Gilman did not agree with the image of motherhood that society proposed to its members at the time. “Arguably ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ reveals women’s frustration in a culture that seemingly glorifies motherhood while it actually relegates women to nursery-prisons” (Bauer 65). Among the many other social commentaries contained within this story, is the symbolic use of the nursery as a prison for the main character.
From the very beginning the room that is called a nursery brings to mind that of a prison cell or torture chamber. First we learn that outside the house there are locking gates, and the room itself contains barred windows and rings on the walls. The paper is stripped off all around the bed, as far as is reachable, almost as if someone had been tied to the bed with nothing else to do. A jail-like yellow is the color of the walls, which brings to mind a basement full of convicts rather than a vacation house. I think that this image of the nursery as a holding cell is first an analogy for the narrator's feelings of being imprisoned and hidden away by her husband. When she repeatedly asks John to take her away, he refuses with different excuses every time. Either their lease will almost be up, or the other room does not have enough space, etc. Even the simple request to have the paper changed is ignored: “He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and the...
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...r members of the animal kingdom, humans have not evolved any longer with such strong maternal instinct. Nurseries probably trapped and imprisoned many a young mother who listened to society and did what she thought she was supposed to. And once they got there, maybe they realized it was not how they wanted to live their life. Yet, they could not abandon their families and children, and so they were trapped by the cradle, the toys, the bottles, the nursery.
Bauer, Dale, ed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, From Women and Economics, "Think Husbands Aren't Mainstays," "Dr. Clair's Place," From The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman 317-18.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. From The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gillman. Gilman 334-44.
- - -. "The Yellow Wallpaper." 1892. Ed. Dale M. Bauer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998. 41-59.
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