Literary Analysis Essay Example The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman used her personal bout with postpartum depression to create a powerful fictional narrative which has broad implications for women. When the narrator recognizes that there is more than one trapped, creeping woman, Gilman indicates that the meaning of her story extends beyond an isolated, individual situation. Gilman’s main purpose in writing The Yellow Wallpaper is to condemn not only a specific medical treatment but also the misogynistic principles and resulting sexual politics that make such a treatment possible.

The unequal relationship between the narrator and John is a microcosm of the larger gender inequity in society. Gilman makes it clear that much of John’s condescending and paternal behavior toward his wife has little to do with her illness. He dismisses her well-thought-out opinions and her “flights of fancy” with equal disdain, while he belittles her creative impulses. He speaks of her as he would a child, calling her his “little girl” and saying of her, “Bless her little heart.” He overrides her judgments on the best course of treatment for herself as he would on any issue, making her live in a house she does not like, in a room she detests, and in an isolated environment which makes her unhappy and lonely. John’s solicitous “care” shows that he believes the prevailing scientific theories which claim that women’s innate inferiority leaves them, childlike, in a state of infantile dependence.

Gilman makes John the window through which readers can view the negative images of women in her society. In Gilman’s lifetime, women’s right to become full citizens and to vote became one of the primary issues debated in the home, the media, and the political arena. As women’s reform movements gained the strength that would eventually win the vote in 1920, the backlash became more vicious and dangerous. Noted psychologists detailed theories that “proved” women’s developmental immaturity, low cognitive skills, and emotional instability. Physicians, who actually had little knowledge of the inner workings of the female body, presented complex theories arguing that the womb created hysteria and madness, that it was the source of women’s inferiority. Ministers urged women to fulfill their duty to God and their husbands with equal submission and piety. In indicting John’s patronizing treatment of his wife, Gilman indicts the system as a whole, in which many women were trapped behind damaging social definitions of the female.

One can see the negative effects of John’s (and society’s) treatment of the narrator in her response to the rest cure. At first, she tries to fight against the growing lethargy that controls her. She even challenges John’s treatment of her. Yet, while one part of her may believe John wrong, another part that has internalized the negative definitions of womanhood believes that since he is the man, the doctor, and therefore the authority, then he may be right. Because they hold unequal power positions in the relationship and in society, she lacks the courage and self-esteem to assert her will over his even though she knows that his “treatment” is harming her. Deprived of any meaningful activity, purpose, and self-definition, the narrator’s mind becomes confused and, predictably, childlike in its fascination with the shadows in the wallpaper.

In the end, the narrator triumphs over John—she literally crawls over him—but escapes from him only into madness. As a leading feminist lecturer and writer, Gilman found other options than madness to end her confinement in traditional definitions of womanhood. Eventually, Gilman divorced her husband, who married her best friend, and her husband and her best friend reared her child. The public, friends, and family so sharply censured Gilman for her actions that she knew many women would stay in unhealthy situations rather than risk such condemnation. By having the story end with the narrator’s descent into insanity, Gilman laments the reality that few viable options exist for creative, intellectual women to escape the damaging social definitions of womanhood represented by John. In her horrifying depiction of a housewife gone mad, Gilman attempts to warn her readership that denying women full humanity is dangerous to women, family, and society as a whole.

The Yellow Wallpaper Summary

The yellow wallpaper is a short story in literature. It is short, but it is difficult. It is like a piece of gray lead, fit in the palm of your hand, from which the whole hand inexorably pulls down. A young woman, suffering from a nervous breakdown, comes with her husband John to a house in a quiet, cozy corner with the aim of getting a little medical treatment. Something strange begins to happen to her in this house. It is an autobiographical story. Charlotte Gilman survived postpartum depression, and she did not like the treatment of this phenomenon. Therefore, she gives her heroine the same. Charlotte Gilman was locked in the rooms and deprived even a pen and paper in order not to worry. It is all the same with the woman trapped in the room. But Charlotte managed to escape from this oppression, and the heroine did not.

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Society and psychiatry at that time very clearly divided the treatment of men and women. If a man began to suffer from anguish, then he was instructed to be distracted, entertained, practiced, spent more time in companies and be as active as possible. But this did not refer to women. The woman, on the other hand, was instructed to live herself alive in a sterile ball to prevent any experience from penetrating into it. This meant a complete rejection of physical and mental activity. Now, this method of treatment sounds absurd. Nevertheless, the husband of the main heroine of the story who was the doctor himself does not possess the vision of a seer and faithfully believes in all the achievements of medicine of that time. The unnamed narrator is trapped in a room with yellow wallpaper, which drives her mad. This is a completely repulsive, faceless, oppressive, suffocating room with yellow wallpaper and barred windows. The color is so nasty that it starts to cause hallucinations. The picture is deformed, flowing from one form to another, and the play of shadows, which takes away the mind, begins. It is a full immersion in the Hysterics. Behind the most common curve, the heroine sees something unimaginable, distinct figures, faces, hear a specific smell; eyes focus on something concrete, slowly turning the vision into a tangible dense substance. And all this is because the husband does not want to listen to her when his wife asks him to change the room. He does not believe her. The society says that these pills treat the flu, and they cure. Until recently, there were a thousand different diseases under the general name "fever," and now everyone has learned to distinguish and heal. Why not believe the same society, which claims that all women's neuroses are treated this way? To some extent, the society is also guilty in this situation. If it were free and open, then the wife would not be afraid to tell her husband about what is happening to her, but it never even came to her mind to share with him horrific stories about what was happening around her because it is not customary to talk about such things. Her husband is on the other side of the barricade. The husband comes home, sees that his wife has eaten well (what else did she have to do besides paranoia?) and rejoices that the therapy helps. And his wife smiles and is silent, occasionally snorting in the shadow on the wallpaper. On a couple of pages of the story, we gradually go into insanity together with the main character. And now she sees on the wallpaper is not just mugs, and the woman who creeps, tries to escape out of the patterns of abstraction, breaks out, chews furniture, shadows crawling on peripheral vision, in the garden, again behind the wallpaper, faster and faster, and now there are many women and she is one of them. This woman behind the wallpaper, those women behind the wallpaper is the main character. Therefore, she can not leave this room, even when it's time to leave home. She herself writes that she wants to help a woman get out of there, but since she's all mixed up, in fact, she is trying to break through, although she is already inside. And then no bed, screwed to the floor, or the body of a fallen husband without feelings, which prevents fast-crawling quickly around the room, will help.

The yellow wallpaper is one of the terrible stories I have ever read. It is interesting to think what will happen next. Surely, a woman will need serious treatment from a psychiatrist, more serious than letting in a quiet house, and her husband will read her diary. Would he have blamed everything on the fact that she was too sick initially to recover? Would he continue to bend the line of modernity and would say that if it had not written these notes, but just rest, would she have recovered? Or would my husband have written a couple of letters to the professors who advertise such methods of treatment? Charlotte Gilman wrote such letters; only they were left unattended.

Works Cited

  • Bak, John S. Escaping the Jaundiced Eye: in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Studies in Short Fiction, Vol.: 31 (1), 1994
  • Crewe, Jonathan. “Queering 'The Yellow Wallpaper’? Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Politics of Form”, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature (Feminism) 14.2, 1995.
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”, New York: The Feminist Press, 1973.
  • Hume, Beverly A. Managing Madness in Gilman's “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, Studies in American Fiction, Vol.: 30 (1), 2002.
  • Fleissner, Jennifer L. “The Work of Womanhood in American Naturalism”, Differences. Vol.: 8 (1), 1996.
  • Knight, Denise. “The Reincarnation of Jane: `Through This': Gilman's Companion to `The Yellow Wallpaper,” Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 20, 1992.
  • Lanser, Susan S. “Feminist Criticism, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' and the Politics of Color in America”, Feminist Studies 15.3, 1989.
  • Schopp-Schilling, Beate. “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Rediscovered 'Realistic' Story.” American Literary Realism 8, 1975 . Full text
  • Smith, Lansing Evans. “Myths of Poesis, Hermeneusis, and Psychogenesis: Hoffmann, Tagore, and Gilman”, Studies in Short Fiction, Vol.: 34 (2), 1997.

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