Trapped in Societal Gender Roles – Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” entails the life of a grown woman living under the seemingly infantile conditions of her time period, all through her relationship with the printed decorative patterns on the walls of her summer home. Victim to an illness that no one else believes exists, this woman is left at home daily with nothing but her own thoughts. This troubled woman is the main character, who narrates the story through her journal entries which she writes in secrecy, using descriptive language that hints at mental unstableness. Not only does the short story depict her mental deterioration up to a point of insanity, it tells a great deal about the gender dynamics of the late 19th century. Ultimately, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which conceivably can be classified as a piece of feminist literature, reveals the dangerous effects of occupying the specific social fabric expected of women during the time the piece was written.The narrator begins the story by describing her illness, which her husband, “a physician of high standing” (437), fails to acknowledge. It is simply classified as a “temporary nervous depression” (437), in which the narrator is ordered to stay at home and do nothing whatsoever. It is later implied in the story that the two have a baby, and it is inferred that the narrator suffered from postnatal depression (also based off of the fact that the author of this story experienced a severe depression following the birth of her one daughter (436)). Having personally known someone who suffered from this, I would assume being left to their own devices in a time like that will do nothing but hinder one’s recovery. So, why was this treated without care, let alone undiagnosed? Granted, back then, doctors did not know the specific medical information they know today? However, perhaps this was because men did not recognize the pain women had to undergo to simply give birth to a child. This thought simply did not hold great value to them. That being said, men weren’t necessarily out to oppress women in every way they possibly could. Rather, this was the way society was at the time, a rigid social structure where women could not do as many things as men, including receive the same respect as they did. Not only did women not receive respect, they did not have many rights. Often, choices were made for them, and that was just the way things were. Even the narrator recognizes this trait in her husband, as she states “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (437). Indeed, although John can be dubbed as an evil man, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that he does not love his wife. He is simply playing his role in the gender relationship. He is blinded to the fact that his wife is a human being of her own with the capability to make decisions and think for herself. He sees her as his wife, who needs to be fulfilling the duties she has in this role. As a result of these normalities, this mindset was almost embedded into their everyday lives and way of thinking. That being said, Gillman wrote this piece to expose this systematic oppression of women during this era through the story of a woman’s mental state in these conditions.The relationship between the narrator and her husband, as well as the husband’s treatment towards his wife tells a great deal about the sex division at the time. The reader is given the presumption that the narrator is subordinate to her husband, as evidenced by the way they interact. This drives the author to have the husband go as far as treat her as if she is a little child, which is noticeable and somewhat disturbing to the reader. This is highlighted by his comments towards her, where he asks her “What is it, little girl?” (442). Perhaps this is just the type of language that was used between husband and wife back then. However, even the fact that this is what may have been considered normal is demeaning, to a wife, or any woman in general. If women were to call men “little boy,” that would not stand well with them.  Another thing that illustrate the gender dynamics of the time is the fact that the narrator is forbidden to write in her journal, which is seemingly one of the only things she enjoys doing. Interestingly enough, she writes this story secretly through journal entries, and stops writing whenever John comes near. This is captured by the closing of one of her journal entries, where she states “There comes John, and I must put this away–he hates to have me write a word” (438). The irony of her being forbidden to write is that when writing, the narrator gets a release, and most importantly, she gets what she wants to do. When confined to not doing anything, she is left to act like a mad woman, unfit to defend herself without appearing to be outlandish, or simply insane.This perceived insanity is shown through the narrator’s relationship with the yellow wallpaper, a symbolic object that holds a very deep meaning in the story. The wallpaper starts out being something that the narrator simply hates, and wants to get rid of. She examines it for hours on end a day, examining the dreadful ugly color and the trying to figure out what odor it has. By that point, it is inevitable that the narrator has gone insane, stating that “Life is very much more exciting that it used to be” (443), as she look forward to looking at the wallpaper every day. She does not sleep much at night due to her watching developments on the wallpaper. She begins to see things. Looking hard enough, she makes the pattern on the wall out to be a woman trapped in the wallpaper behind bars, who moves and shakes the bars at night. She then talks about how that woman in the wallpaper “gets out in the daytime” (444). She becomes fixated on this, and her goal is to set the woman/herself free, emphasizing “No person touches this paper but me–not alive!” (446).Irony, among other things, is something that is present in the story. The main character/narrator’s name is never mentioned, which is symbolic of how even the most important character to the reader is not important in that time period that she is not recognized in the story, just because of her gender. Granted, she is the one narrating it, but the author could’ve easily decided to have another character address her by her name. This could be yet another way Gillman tries to prove that women go unnoticed, no matter how relevant they are in anything. Irony is also apparent in the wallpaper itself. It almost seems as if the narrator’s obsession and madness got to a point of ultimate awareness or consciousness with regards to the situation she is in, without even knowing it. Ironically, little does the narrator know that she is the woman in the wallpaper, trapped behind bars, confined to the print of an old design. Essentially, it portrays a full circle effect, as the author indicates that if seen from a different point of view, one can realize they are trapped in a reality that seems almost natural to them. The same way the narrator started off hating the wallpaper, attempting to avoid it at all costs, may be the way women at the time viewed their lives, ignoring the fact that they lead lives under predisposed, unfair circumstances. It only took a crazy woman to realize that this thing she hated so dearly was her reality, and it would forever stay the same until someone did something about it – so she did.In all, late 19th century gender roles were much different than they are in the present day, which is highlighted in this short story. The tale of a woman who lives her life in solitude and realizes her oppression through losing her mind, “The Yellow Wallpaper” points to the very real and incommensurate gender dynamics of that day and age. Reflected by the behavior of the husband of the narrator and his treatment towards his wife, their relationship, her madness is victim of the socially constructed reality she lives in.


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