Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story that deals with many different issues that woman in the 19th century had to deal with on a daily basis. Some of these issues were within their control, but many of them were outside of the realm of control for women. The main point that I will focus on is how restricted societal roles can cause insanity. I will do this by deciphering the meaning of the "yellow wallpaper" and its symbolism. In my opinion, I believe that once we get a better understanding of the author's interest in this subject area and get a feel for life in the 19th century, then we will have a better understanding of the story.
First, let's take a look at the background of Gilman before and after she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and she definitely had her fair share of troubles. Her biggest struggle in life was living within the constraints of a society that put women in a class apart from everyone else; when in her heart she felt that she was an equal counterpart to men. She suffered depression from this problem for many years, until finally she was seem by a world-famous neurologist, Dr. Weir Mitchell, who simply prescribed her with rest. This "rest period" sent her into an even deeper state of depression, which she didn't come out of until she tried to resume her normal life, along with joining the American Woman Suffrage Association as a writer and active participant. Unfortunately, Gilman's life got so bad that her condition got worse and she fell to the insanity level, eventually causing her to commit suicide with chloroform.
Now that we have a little background on the author, we can take a closer look at the actual work and its characters. The two main characters of the story a narrator and her husband, John, and the story takes place in the 19th century. Life for the two is like most other marriages in this time frame, only the narrator is not like most other wives. She has this inner desire to be free from the societal roles that confine her and to focus on her writing, while John in content with his life and thinks that his wife overreacts to everything. Traditionally, in this era, the man was responsible for taking care of the woman both financially and emotionally, while the woman was solely responsible for remaining at home. This w...
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...John comes home and finds the door locked. He begs her to open it and she tells him "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!" (Gilman 669) When he comes back and opens the door, he sees her ripping the rest of the paper off the wall, with the rope tied around her and he faints. This is when John realizes that his wife has reached the point of hysteria and is insane. But, the narrator sees it differently. She declares that she is now free by saying: "I've got out at last,..in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (Gilman 669)
The one theme that I pulled out of The Yellow Wallpaper only cracks the surface of understanding this story. The wallpaper was used by Gilman as a medium to expose the constraints that were placed upon women in the 19th century. The same constraints that she utterly despised and tried so hard to get rid of them. The narrator's overexposure to the wallpaper was just like Gilman's overexposure to societal roles. They both needed to get out in order to keep their minds intact. Eventually they both did, but it took a long time and a big toll on their mental health and psyche.
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