Signs of societys sexism in The Yellow Wall-Paper
The Yellow Wallpaper is a story, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Although the work is short, it is one of the most interesting works in existence. Gilman uses literary techniques very well. The symbolism of The Yellow Wall-Paper, can be seen and employed after some thought and make sense immediately. The views and ideals of society are often found in literary works. Whether the author is trying to show the ills of society of merely telling a story, culture is woven onto the words.
The relationship between the narrator and her husband would be disagreeable to a modern womans relationship. Today, most women crave equality with their partner. The reader never learns the name of the narrator, perhaps to give the illusion that she could be any woman. On the very fist page of The Yellow Wall-Paper, Gilman illustrates the male dominated society and relationship. It was customary for men to assume that their gender knew what, when, how, and why to do things. John, the narrators husband, is a prominent doctor and both his and his wifes words and actions reflect the aforementioned stereotype: John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage, (9). This statement illustrates the blatant sexism of society at the time. John does not believe that his wife is sick, while she is really suffering from post-partum depression. He neglects to listen to his wife in regard to her thoughts, feelings, and health through this thought pattern. According to him, there is not anything wrong with his wife except for temporary nerve issues, which should not be serious. By closing her off from the rest of the world, he is taking her away from things that important to her mental state; such as her ability to read and write, her need for human interaction, her need to make her own decisions. All of these are important to all people. This idea of forced rest and relaxation to cure temporary nervous problems was very common at the time. Many doctors prescribed it for their female patients. The narrators husband, brother, and their colleagues all feel that this is the correct way to fix her problem, which is practically nonexistent in their eyes.
Throughout the beginning of the story, the narrator tends to buy into the idea that the man is always right and makes excuses for her feelings and his actions and words: It is so hard to talk to John about my case, because he is so wise and because he loves me so, (23). In a good relationship, each partner should be able to express ones own thoughts and feelings. Honesty in one of the most important characteristics a relationship should have. In this case, the narrator feels that she can not tell him how she feels so as not to upset him and make him mad. When the narrator does attempt to have a discussion with John, she ends up crying and not being able to express herself. John treats her like a child as men believed that crying something that women do and is something that shows weakness. Eventually she begins to become frightened of John and as she goes bad, his normalcy is seen as queer through in her eyes.
For a long time it was customary for the house to be able to represent a secure place for a woman. Her house was a womans place of residency as well as where women were to do their work and express themselves. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, the house is not even the couples own. It is a summer rental and the narrator is forced to reside and spent the majority of her time in a room that is unpleasant to her tastes. This house reverses the traditional symbol of security for the domestic activities of a woman. However, it becomes a place for her to release her words onto paper and eventually to release her grip on reality.
The room and many of its features twist the common comforts of a home. The room itself used to be a nursery, which is ironic since the narrator was sent to the house to recover from post partum depression. The narrator comments: The window typically represents a view of possibilities. However, for the narrator it represents a view of a world that she can not be a part of. The window is physically barred as she is barred from the world physically and mentally. The bed is nailed down. The bed should be a place of comfort for a couple, not a place where one partner is forced into a life that she does not want to live in that way. As, the title of the work shows, there is obviously something interesting to the narrator about the wallpaper. The stripes in the print of the wallpaper represent bars and the narrator begins to see a figure behind them:
The front pattern does moveand no wonder! The woman behind shakes it. Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind,
and sometimes only one, (30).
While the woman behind the bars shakes them, the narrator can not shake the bars that keep her away from reality. The woman represents the narrator as well as women in general and the movement for womens rights. The narrator also can represent any woman and the struggle that woman went though to get closer to achieving equality.
Johns sister, Jennie, comes to help take care of the narrator. Jennie is the epitome of a woman who falls into the conventional female role: She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession, (18). The narrator attempts to keep her writing a secret from Jennie, so that her one outlet will not be taken away. At some times, it seems as though the narrator pities Jennie and feels sorry for Jennies pathetic views.
As the narrator descends into madness, her views on society change and become more modern. She is emancipating herself from the docile role that a woman should play. Gilman uses the narrator and the symbolism in The Yellow Wall-Paper, to show societys views on women. The narrator eventually goes against common culture and becomes a feminist. Men thought the feminist movement was weak and useless, while comparatively, men like John thought their wives were weak and useless outside the home. At the storys conclusion, the narrator was directing her own footsteps and in reality, women are doing the same.
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