“The Yellow Wall-Paper”


September 11, 2001

In the early 1800’s women were given a subservient role in society. In marriage the husband could be viewed as the warden and the wife as the inmate. This left the woman to become dependent and therefore inferior. In “The Yellow Wall-Paper” the author Charlotte Gilman vividly writes the effects of oppression on women. The main character is suffering from mental depression because of the shackles her husband puts on her with his practical ideas of recovery. The wife is a creative spirit with her own ideas and thoughts, which she tries on numerous occasions to express to the husband only for him to view the ideas as insignificant and reply “blessed little goose.”[1] “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is about a woman’s’ perception of the control men have and the unwillingness for one woman to give into the male patriarchy. The writings in the wife’s journals and the symbolic description of the wallpaper show the rising theme of feminism.

John is the husband who is also a doctor. His practical thinking with logic is what causes the psychological restraints in his wife. “He scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.”[2] It is because of his philosophy for a rest cure he appropriately plays the male patriarch archetype. The wife demonstrates the first sign of feminism when she believes that he best cure for her is not rest. “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change would do me good. But what is one to do?”[3] The repeated phrase “what is one to do?” shows the power of men and her inability to express her feelings of recovery to her husband. The narrator’s journal entries are prohibited. The husband disapproves of her writing because he feels it is her creativity of thought that is the cause of her depression. “There comes John, and I must put this away, -he hates to have me write a word.”[4] However, in spite of her husband’s regulation she disobeys him and continues to write which symbolizes her outright defiance to not give into the social duties impressed upon her. In fact the reason for her suffering is John’s narrow mind suppressing her desire to be imaginative. Surrounded by the wallpaper in the room the narrator begins to describe it in her entries.

The wallpaper is symbolic of oppression and gives the narrator her freedom from the shackles. Initially the wife expresses a horrid discontent for the wallpaper and gradually in the story she takes a liking to it. “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.”[5] The wallpaper could be seen as a potential cure for the wife. Later, she begins to see a womanly figure amidst the symbols and designs; soon the figure emerges to be a woman trapped behind bars. This imagery the wife sees can be applied to herself as a woman trapped behind the male superiority. Eventually, the caged woman in the wallpaper becomes free to creep but in the day and the wife begins to see the connection as her. The narrator wants the ability to creep out during the day and night just like the imaginary figurine in the wallpaper. The narrator realizes that her freedom is close and she prepares to free herself by tearing off the wallpaper. “It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please.” [6] This signifies the narrator is ready to declare her freedom from the social constructs of marriage and the inferior role the wife must play. Instead of running (creeping) away outside, the wife will tear off the wallpaper inside. That will be the first step to free the creativity that is trapped behind society and when her husband sees this behavior he reacts by fainting. “Now why should that man have fainted? Bet he did and right across my path by the wall, so that I have to creep over him every time!”[7] The wife does step over her husband and his practicality. This victory promotes feminism because the wife wants to be heard as a separate person with her own ideas and thoughts.