Yesterday I took my final exam for my literature course, Short Story. It was two hours of writing, answering short answer to identify authors and stories, and two other sections of short and long essay. While studying I was a little concerned about the volume of work we had read in the last 5 weeks. On the other hand I thought to myself that I had read the stories, I knew the themes, the idea’s that the professor wanted us to learn. That got me through, I was able to feel relaxed as I started the exam and finished strong,
With that I had only one thing left to do, which was turn in the final draft of my research paper. We were allowed to pick a topic on something that we chose from the things we had learned about literature during the course. I chose to do a literary analysis on The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and what I thought her meaning behind the story and it’s symbols were. Here below is the work that I produced. I re-read it many times and am very happy with it. I wanted to share it with all of you.
Professor Jacqueline Smith
28 July 2013
The Yellow Wallpaper: A Women’s story of Oppression and Feminism in the late 1800’s
The short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has been debated by many scholars. They have described it as an isolated work, an autobiography, fantasy, feminism, colonialism, and a revolt by the author from the male dominated doctors and men in her life and of the time period. One scholar has even related the feminism aspect with a feline cat during one scene within the story (Golden 1). As I read the story I was originally attracted to the unreliable narrator, with her being crazy tell a story from her imagination. But, as I looked further I could see that there were a lot of aspects that represent feminism and Ms. Gilman’s feelings of repression by her husband and doctors. What I intend to argue in this essay is that Ms. Gilman was conveying those attitudes of feminism and repression in the story The Yellow Wallpaper.
In the beginning paragraph of The Yellow Wallpaper the author is a describing the new summer house that she and her husband have rented. She calls it “a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate” (Bausch 302) which is a reference to the time period of the late 1800’s. During this time period it is a well-known fact that women were subservient to their husbands and to men in general. This inference along with the continuing dialog that “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that.” (Bausch 302) is a direct reference to her feeling of repression by her husband and men of the times. An essay by Samaine J. Lockwood “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Colonial Revival.” also represents these feelings. This is especially true when she expresses that the colonial references describe the time period as a time when women were being prohibited from joining the mainstream progressive nation (Lockwood 3). This shows another reference to how women were being repressed and how Ms. Gilman was portraying the colonial mansion and era as repressive.
Mahinur Aksehir, in her essay “Reading The Yellow Wallpaper” describes this era “that nineteenth century women of the middle class were… isolated, lonely and consequently depressed” (2). At the same time Aksehir also states that “the model of the prefect woman” (2) essentially subjected a woman, “robbed them of essential human qualities and depersonalized them” (2). Just from the first few paragraphs it can be seen how Ms. Gilman is stating that this is the way it is for her and other women in this time period and she doesn’t like it.
Along with this different symbols or themes can be seen within the story, such as her husband John wanting her to rest more and eat more was his imposition of the male dominated standard for women of that time period. The character tells us that her husband is a physician, and “You see, he does not believe I am Sick! And what can one do?” (Bausch 302). She later in the next paragraph tells us that her husband assures friends, and others that her problem is just a temporary depression. She wonders “what is one to do?” (Bausch 302), which is the authors attempt to show us that women are not to argue, not to question their husbands or male authority figures.
In fact, supporting this thought Diana Martin in her paper “Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper”” writes that Gilman under the name Mrs. Stetson underwent a famous rest cure and Gilman describes the Dr. that treated her as “well-meaning but insensitive husband” (1) in The Yellow Wallpaper. In another paper, “Managing Madness in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, about Ms. Gilman’s real life rest cure Beverly A. Hume describes this as an “indictment of wise men treating mad women” (1). Ms. Gilman was under extreme pressure during her stay with Dr. Mitchell to follow the rest cure and she even mentions Dr. Mitchell in story “he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” (Bausch 306). In the next sentence she actually talks about Dr. Mitchell being worse than her husband, whom Ms. Martin in her paper describes as enforced isolation and that Ms. Gilman even sent a copy of the “damning story” (1) in case Weir Mitchell had missed it. That to me is one of the most compelling reasons that Ms. Gilman was trying to show that she was being oppressed as a women, not being given her freedom of choice to help decide her well-being.
As the story progresses the character sees another woman in the yellow wallpaper which is a representation of being trapped, along with the pattern (bars) that she sees within. “It is like a woman, stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.” (Bausch 308), which as Ms. Lockwood states in her paper is like “woman/women that are trapped in this oppression of colonial times” (17). The yellow wallpaper has been stripped at the same height as the narrator, which Ms. Lockwood interestingly states is a representation of repression by other women (18). Many of these references lead to old ways of thinking by men toward women. The yellow paper and the woman the narrator sees in it are to me Ms. Gilman’s need to come out from a feminist point of view in this story.
One of the interesting aspects of The Yellow Wallpaper that is rarely mentioned in any scholarly reviews is that Ms. Gilman is relating the story as if the narrator is a feline or cat marking her territory in response to male oppression. There are passages where the main character is walking around or creeping to remove the wallpaper. Catherine J. Golden in her peer reviewed article “Marking Her Territory: Feline Behavior In “The Yellow Wall-Paper” talks about this as cat like behavior, marking her territory, and gaining dominance in a male dominated society (16). It makes sense that we are being led by the narration of the character that they are crazy and just falling further into their own mind. This thought is discussed by Dr. Asha Nadkarni in her paper “Reproducing Feminism in Jasmine And “The Yellow Wallpaper.”.” She points out that it is her ability to free the woman within the wallpaper from repression by her fall into complete madness by the end of the story (219).
But, looking further at this, Ms. Gilman is making the reader see that she is trying to represent that she has been repressed because she is a woman that doesn’t know what is best for her, not because she had post-partum depression that should have been treated differently. The imagery of the feline continual tearing of the wallpaper, creeping around the room, looking at all aspects of the wallpaper is a complete marking of her territory and a show of dominance to the male dominated society.
In closing, when reading the The Yellow Wallpaper, the unreliable narrator is an apparent literary tool that that author has used. But delving further into the authors history and the different symbols and imagery the feminist point of view stands out as an overwhelming theme. The actual repression of females in the colonial time period that the story is set is one symbol that Ms. Gilman used by describing her stay in a colonial mansion. She is describing while setting up the story to follow the well know aspects of the colonial times and male dominated society. As she progresses through the beginning of the book she describes her husband doctor, who doesn’t think she is sick, but she is at a loss to tell him otherwise, which reinforces the male oppression of the times. It also represents that there is supposed to be a perfect woman that has babies and takes care of the household. Later in the work she describes how she is being forced into a cure for what ails her by her doctor/husband. She is even threatened by her husband with an actual real life reference to the doctor that she saw for her own post-partum depression. These doctors were oppressive, wise men, telling crazy women what to do, another male repression of women of the time period as related by Ms. Gilman through her story.
The wallpaper, the old yellow color, the woman in the wallpaper and the patterns sometimes bars at night (Bausch 309), all represent the repression, especially the woman that the narrator sees within the wallpaper. She is the representation of all women oppressed and specifically the author’s repression at the hands of those wise male doctors. As she progresses to the end of the story she falls into the depths of depression which in the telling of the story sets up what I found interesting in the feline marking of her territory. This is Ms. Gilman’s imagery of dominance or the rights of women of the time against male oppression.
Overall, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is more than a work by an unreliable narrator that is crazy. It is a story that relates the oppression of women and is a statement of feminist in the colonial times that it was written.
Aksehir, Mahinur. “Reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” As Post-Traumatic Writing/”The Yellow Wallpaper” Adh Oykunun Travma-Sonrasi Anlati Olarak Okunmasi.” Interactions 17 (2008): 1+. Print.
Bausch, Richard. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction: Shorter Edition. Vol. 7th Ed. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.
Golden, Catherine J. “Marking Her Territory: Feline Behavior In “The Yellow Wall-Paper”.” American Literary Realism 40 (2007): 16+. Print.
Hume, Beverly A. “Managing Madness in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper”.” Studies in American Fiction 30 (2002): 3+. Print.
Lockwood, J. Samaine. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Colonial Revival.” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 29 (2012): 86+. Print.
Martin, Diana. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman And “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” The American Journal of Psychiatry 164.5 (2007): 736. Print.
Nadkarni, Asha. “Reproducing Feminism in Jasmine And “The Yellow Wallpaper.”.” Feminist Studies 38.1 (2012): 218. Print.
Treichler, Paula A. “The Wall Behind the Yellow Wallpaper: Response to Carol Neely and Karen Ford.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 323-30. Print.