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“The Yellow Wall Paper” is the story about a journey of a woman who is suffering from a nervous breakdown, descending into madness through her “rest cure” treatment. Basically, the woman is not allowed to read, write or to see her new-born baby. Charlotte Perkins Gilman captures the essence of this journey into madness by using the first person narration. The story plot’s is by taking the reader through the horrors of one woman’s neurosis to make strong statements about the oppression faced by women in their marriage roles. The narrator’s mental condition is characterized by her meeting with the wallpaper in her room. In addition to the story’s plot, the use of symbolism and irony throughout her story also show how males dominate during her time.
From “Literature: The Human Experience” written by Abcarian and Klotz, “Irony is figurative language in which the intended meaning differs from the literal meaning” (1615). There is more than one level of irony at work in this story. Dramatic irony occurs when a reader or audience know things a character does not and, consequently, sees things differently (Abcarian & Klotz 1615). Gilman uses dramatic irony when the narrator states, “I’m feeling so much better” (Gilman 1005) as if the narrator believe that she is normal, but when she states “I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why-privately- I’ve seen her!” (Gilman 1006), the reader knows that she is actually going in sane. It is dramatic irony because the reader‘s understanding of the narrator’s speeches is different markedly from the narrator’s. Through this dramatic irony, Gilman has let the reader knows how complete seclusion can only add to the desolation and push people to the verge of insanity. The order of “rest cure” treatment may symbolize her husband’s love towards her, but ironically it makes her condition worse. This plot symbolizes how women were oppressed and dominated by their husbands and they had no place for self expression.
When the narrator states, “I can see her out of my windows! I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden” (Gilman 1006). The reader knows there is no actual woman trapped behind the wallpaper; in fact this is a hallucination that seems to be caused by forced isolation as part of her treatment.
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The use of verbal irony is also found at the end of her story. For example, “I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman 1008). By tearing off the wall paper, the narrator thinks she is free, so people cannot limit her anymore. In reality, she has torn off all the wall paper, and started to crawl around the perimeter of the room (Gilman 1008). According to Abcarian & Klotz (2006), “Verbal irony includes overstatement, understatement, and opposite statement” (1615). This is an example of verbal irony because the gap between the narrator’s statement and the narrator’s insanity creates irony. Overall, Gilman has used ironies throughout the story to prove women were oppressed and basically had no power of its own. For example, ironically, her health seems to improve to a more desirable condition as her interest in the wallpaper increases.
From a careful analysis of the story, the reader thinks Gilman has used the yellow wall paper as a symbol of her marriage and women roles during the 19th century. The woman trapped in the wall paper symbolizes the narrator who is trapped in a marriage from which she cannot escape. To show there is no means for self expression as a woman, Gilman writes, “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over window, and such pretty old fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it” (Gilman 998). It is obvious that women’s opinions and feelings were merely regarded by their husbands. From this “The Yellow Wall Paper”, the reader sees the author’s skillful manipulation of narrative perspective through using irony, and symbolism to give the reader an imaginary view of how women had to struggle to live their lives in accordance to men through submissive natures, compliant attitudes, and shattered egos.