Critical Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper
Society viewed women as physically and intellectually weak in the 19th century. They were required to submit to their fathers and husbands. In other words, their purpose was to serve men in their lives. Men did not consider women’s individuality in the larger society. Charlotte Perkins Gilman captures women’s struggles during this period in her short story “The Yellow Paper”. A woman’s playfield was her home, where she managed the household and took care of children. Gilman uses profound thematic elements in “The Yellow Paper” to reveal how women are treated as second-class citizens in the late 19th century American society leading to severe mental issues.
Gilman incorporates subordination of women in marriage as a major theme in her short story to depict the current state of marriage. Women are supposed to submit fully to their husbands and follow their decisions without question. This is a condescending position that women held in American society during the late 19th century. They had no say in the marriage other than to stay at home and handle domestic chores. The narrator cannot talk about herself without being overlooked as irrational or childish by his husband. She claims that “it is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise and because he loves me so” (57). Women had been programmed to view men as superior and intelligent. The author uses the context of John’s marriage to reflect how the larger society treated women in marriage. According to BBC Bitesize, ideal women at this period were supposed to take care of and support their husbands. They had no reason to leave the house as their male counterparts provided everything. This theme sheds more light on the unwavering dependent nature of a woman to his husband.
Gilman employs the suppression of self-expression in women as another powerful theme in her story. She uses it to show that they were not allowed to express their creative capabilities, at least not in public. The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses writing as an emotional outlet that brings her relief. However, John believes that her wife’s imaginative ability will “lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that she ought to use her will and good sense to check the tendency” (37). This theme reveals the mental constraints placed upon women during this period. In other words, Gilman tries to point out that the larger society did not consider the ideas or opinions of women. Lasting mental and emotional health issues are significantly influenced by lack of self-expression (Stockton). Therefore, the rest cure used by John to cure his wife yielded opposite results. The author employs this theme to show that all genders require self-expression to thrive as dynamic individuals.
Summing up, Gilman carefully incorporates clear and vivid themes to depict how women’s current position in her period contributes to mental health problems. In general, men viewed them as emotional and irrational. Therefore, they had to depend on their husband for everything solely. Women’s role in marriage was reduced to providing domestic comfort to their man and take care of the house. Also, they were restricted from expressing themselves, which deteriorated their mental health. The author uses these two themes to show how the narrator suffered mentally and emotionally due to her position in the 19th century American society.
BBC Bitesize. “The Campaign For Women’s Suffrage – Life for Women At The Start Of The 19th Century “. BBC Bitesize, 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zy2ycdm/revision/2.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Dover Publications, 1997.
Stockton, Elizabeth Stockton. “Why Self Expression Is Important In Recovery”. Rrtampa.Com, 2020, https://rrtampa.com/therapy/need-self-expression.
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