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The short story "The Yellow Wall-Paper" written by Charlotte Perkins
Gilman is a cry for freedom. This story is about a woman who fights for her
right to express what she feels, and fights for her right to do what she wants
to do. The narrator in this short story is a woman whose husband loves her very
much, but oppresses her to the point where she cannot take it anymore. This
story revolves around the main character, her oppressed life, and her search for
There are many male influences in this woman's life and although they
may mean no harm, push her over the edge. The main character's husband, John,
and her brother are well-known physicians. They use their power to control the
main character, perhaps subconsciously, to feel what they think a woman should
feel. For example, the woman tells the men she is sick but they believe
differently. "John is a physician, and perhaps- (I would not say it to a living
soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind-) perhaps
that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am
sick!"(507) The men are under the impression that what they say goes and
therefore the woman has no choice but to follow. "He knows there is no reason
to suffer and that satisfies him."(508) This quote illustrates that the men are
in control. If they strongly believe nothing is wrong, then nothing must be
wrong. It is a feeling of self satisfaction the men feel when they are superior
to the woman.
The main character knows John loves her, but it is the oppression she
feels that bothers her so. Her husband expresses his love for her but at the
same time imposes his will on her. He hinders her from having her own thoughts.
"...He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special
direction..."(507) The last few words of this quote show how John did not let her
have any freedom because he was always there. John acts as if he knows what the
main character feels at all times.
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"Quest for Freedom in The Yellow Wallpaper." 123HelpMe.com. 15 Oct 2019
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for her husband would let nothing happen unless he was there to supervise. An
example of this treatment is when she wanted to get out of the house and visit
some cousins, but John insisted she really did not want to go. "Dear John! He
loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest
reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me
go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia. But he said I wasn't able to go,
nor able to stand it after I got there..."(511) The main character understands
her husband loves her, but he insists on her doing what he wants her to do.
John says she will not stand it after she got there, but how did he know this?
John has absolutely no idea how his wife feels, he just imposes his ways on her
and expects her to abide. John sees no reason why his wife should go so
therefore he believes she should not. He does not consider her wanting to go a
good enough reason for him to let her go visit.
Another example of the misery the main character feels is her inability
to write freely. The woman hides herself while she writes the frustration she
feels inside. Writing is this woman's only way of expressing her emotions, the
anger, sadness, fear, and what little happiness she felt. She cannot express
these emotions physically in public so she writes them down or else she will
suffocate in her incapability to express her mind. John strongly disapproves
his wife's writing because he knows he will not be able to control this factor
of her life. "He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making,
a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies,
and that I ought to use my will and good the check the tendency."(509) The
husband knows she has the ability to think for herself. He tells her she should
use her "good sense" not to do use this ability. John is also aware of her
imaginative power, and this is a power he does not like. If John gives in to
this power then he loses all control over his wife.
The main character states many times her need for expressing her
thoughts. "I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't
feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel
and think in some way--- it is a relief!"(511) Gilman shows in this quote that
this woman is oppressed by her husband. It is almost as if she is fighting
between having to conform with this oppressed way of life and her need for
freedom. The woman states she does not want to write, she does not feel able.
This is her dispirited self. When she states: "I must say what I feel... It is
such a relief!"(511), this woman is actually wanting independence even if she
must defy her husband.
The main character's oppression is due to her husband, but the house and
specifically the room she stayed in helped her realize who she really was, and
helped her find the freedom she looked for. The yellow wallpaper which covered
the room disturbed her greatly. At the beginning of the story she hated the
color. "The color is repellent, almost revolting, ..Dull...I should hate it
myself I had to live in this room long."(508) Through this the woman expresses
her feelings towards the room, but specifically the wallpaper. Throughout her
stay at the house and as the oppression sets in even greater, she begins to see
patterns in the wallpaper. The woman is engrossed in finding what this pattern
is all about, what meaning it holds. She states: "... and I determine for the
thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some
conclusion."(510) The woman longed to find some kind of importance in that
pattern. The woman herself has made conclusions as to what the pattern
symbolized. Being in the house, closed all day, oppressed by her husband, not being able to do
anything the woman had all the time in the world to think about the meaning.
She makes an unclear conclusion that the wall symbolizes a woman behind a cell.
Perhaps the woman, the main character, sees herself in the wallpaper. She
states: "... By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that
keeps her so still..."(511) She describes herself in the paper, but she is also
subdued by day. The main character mentions "I don't sleep much at night, but I
sleep a good deal in the daytime..."(513) By using these quotes from the main
character Gilman gives us the impression that the main character is describing
herself subconsciously. Another example of the main character's resemblance to
the woman in the wallpaper is when she states: "I think that the woman gets out
in the daytime!... 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. I see her
on that long road under the trees..." (514) Much similar to what the woman in the
wallpaper does all day the woman also has a daily routine. "So I walk a little
in the garden or down that lovely lane, or sit on the porch under the roses...
"(516) Combining both of these quotes allows the reader to realize that the
woman in the wallpaper and the woman in the room are the same person.
All of these patterns the main character sees, and the resemblance she
makes to herself, lead her to try to change her life. As John's wife discovers
the meaning of the yellow wallpaper she changes. "Life is very much exciting
now than it used to be. I have something more to expect, to look forward to...
"(513) This quote describes how the main character perceives life now than what
she used to, and that was conforming to her husband.
By the end, the last thing the main character can do is rip up the
wallpaper, and help the woman in the wall to become free. In other words to
help herself to become free. She sits and waits for her husband to come home to
confront him, to reach her goal of freedom, to not be subdued anymore. "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!"(516)
Works Cited and Consulted:
Ehrenreich, Barbara and English, Deirdre."The 'Sick' Women of the Upper Classes," The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on the Yellow Wallpaper, ed. Catherine Golden, New York, Feminist Press, 1992, 90-109.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." "The Yellow Wallpaper" and other Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1997. 1-15.
Hedges, Elaine R. Afterword. The Yellow Wallpaper. 1973: 37-63. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism 9. Detroit: Gale: 1988.
Schopp-Schilling, Beate. "' The Yellow Wallpaper': A Rediscovered Realistic Story."' American Literary Realism 1870-1910. 8 (1975): 107-108.
Shumaker, Conrad. "'Too Terribly Good to Be Printed': Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper'" American Literature. 57 (1985): 194-198.
Treichler, Paula A. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in The Yellow Wallpaper"' Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. 3 (1984): 61-77.
The Yellow Wallpaper. http://members.aol.com/luvthebard/111/yellowwallpaper.html, Aug. 2, 2003, 1-2.
Brown, B. D. A Psychological Approach to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. http://www.usinternet.com/users/bdbourn/yellow.htm, Aug. 2, 2003, 1-2.