Study of “The Yellow Wallpaper”
The Yellow Wallpaper”, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story of a woman, her psychological difficulties and her husband’s so called therapeutic treatment of her aliments during the late 1800s. The story begins with a young woman and her husband traveling to the country for the summer and for the healing powers of being away from writing which just seems to worsen her condition. Upon reading this intense description of an almost prison like prescription for overcoming “temporary nervous depression” the reader is permeated with the idea the men are nothing more than the wardens in the lives of women. “The Yellow Wallpapaper” has focused mainly on the richly documented medico-cultural circumstances surrounding the story. (Wiesenthal 1)Gilman does well throughout the story to show with descriptive phrases just how easily and effectively, the man ‘seemingly’ wields his ‘maleness’ to control the woman. But, with further interpretation and insight I believe Gilman succeeds in nothing more than showing the weakness of women, of the day, as active persons in their own as well as society’s decision making processes instead of the strength of men as women dominating machines.
From the beginning of the story forward the narrator speaks of how her husband and other influential men in her life direct her so that she will recover quickly and I believe this to be the initial sign that the feminist perspective will be presented throughout. The narrator shows how although she has a formed opinion (and probably successful idea for her treatment), she is still swayed by her husband’s direction with the following passage, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus–but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.” Jonathan Crewe writes, “Her supposition that the room in which she is confined has been some kind of schoolroom or gymnasium means that she has correctly divined its function(s) as a scene of disciplinary schooling (she later speaks of suicide as “an admirable exercise”), yet she fails to see in advance—or even fully to recognize—the continuity between these functions of the room and its functions as the prison cell and/or asylum ward to which the recalcitrant pupil is destined.” (Crewe 274) Her husband seems to be the one who can change her thoughts because of his ‘maleness’ or the fact that he is her husband. Nonetheless, a member of the opposing sex is still suppressing her.
With a further look into this passage though, I believe that this again is nothing more than a sign of the inablities of the narrator. I don’t believe her sex to be the cause of her suppression it is her lack of understanding of not only herself, but of how to successfully make others aware of what is best for herself. The narrator also speaks many times in a manner, which suggests that because a man speaks she has no means by which to disagree with him because she is a woman, yet another feminist tact. A perfect example of this is presented in the beginning passages of the story, where the narrator states, “Personally, I disagree with their (her husband’s and brother’s) ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” This last sentence “But what is one to do?” exemplifies wonderfully her oppressed female stature in the society of her life. The proceeding passage is yet another display of the woman’s ineptness with self-esteem. If the woman would just take a moment to assess the fact that she is quite possibly right about her own recovery even though she is a woman the conflict would immediately taken from the sexist realm to a realm of inner-conflict, which is were I believe many of the topics covered in this story belong.
The final passages of the story, at last, successfully manifest a display of power and possible regain of self-governance through the narrator’s finally standing up to her husband by locking him out of the room in which he has imprisoned her supposedly for her benefit. Whereupon, for the first time in the story he must listen to her entreaties to discover where the key is hidden. The proceeding assessment of the final moments of the story could quite possibly be a successful way in which the author intended to say much, after the fact, of how she understood the need for a woman to stand up for her rights even in the face of a man’s believed superiority. This is an astute revelation considering that at that time men were still the magistrates and governors of women’s lives and for the author to make such an observation was in itself unorthodox for the day. This passage serves a two-fold purpose. The ability to lock the door restores the narrator’s power over her environment at the very least, and possibly her inner domains as well. The husband having to pay attention to the wife so that he may once again be with her also displays that she may finally be getting through to her husband, that the manner in which he can help her most is to listen to her and try to understand her.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” presents a very interesting perspective of how a man can influence a woman’s life from a very feminist point of view, but with a present day interpretation can be given a whole new depth because the many conflicts flow from being woman vs. man to a much more complex struggle of woman vs. herself so that she may successfully win the battle of person vs. society. Gilman successfully portrays a dominated woman in this story, but I believe that is all the narrator is, a dominated woman not a woman dominated by a man. Gilman does portray the man as insensitive and lacking in emotional support, but neither of these qualities imply or affect dominant characteristics. I believe that in the end the woman discovers that she is not being dominated as much as allowing herself loss of control. I totally agree with Jonathan Crewe when he said, “Yet if it remains important to establish that being a woman or being queer is not tantamount to being sick or insane, it is hardly trivial to establish that being so is not tantamount, either, to exhibiting bad form. (Crewe 298) The discovering of where control falls in this story is very interesting when compared with literature in general. Much as the narrator comes to the realization that control over her life is ultimately her responsibility, a reader, who often times is ‘controlled’ by a story, must come to the realization that a work of literature only becomes a personal experience when he/she finally determines his/her interpretation or ‘control’ over the story. “Weather on the wallpaper or in the narrator’s first person text, the “unheard-of contradictions” in “The Yellow Wallpaper” never tell us but do ultimately teach us that madness is, precisely, unheard contra-diction.” (Wiesenthal 13)It is this realization of control or the reader’s interpretation that is the final block that gives the building that is known as a story, depth and meaning to every reader.