Nowadays the question of women’s rights and gender equality is quite popular. Yet, the situation, which exists today, differs much from what it looked like in the 19th century or even in the middle of the 20th century. In today’s American society women have important roles, equal to men’s ones, they study together with men, become bosses of big companies, and create absolutely new things, therefore they rule and change the world. Completely different was the position of women at the end of the 19th century when was written one of the most famous American feminist texts The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
What Is the Yellow Wallpaper About?
The Yellow Wallpaper tells a story of a married woman, who is suffering from depression. The story represents a conflict between her and her husband. What is important, her husband is also her doctor and he is trying to care about his wife and treat her from her illness. He takes her to a summer rental house, where nothing actually changes. Even more, the situation becomes worse, when the woman finds a room, the walls of which are covered with the wallpaper of yellow color. Soon after this, she starts seeing a woman, imprisoned in the wallpaper. She is obsessed with the color and even starts to feel an unpleasant smell from this wallpaper. The last point comes when the woman starts identifying herself with the woman in the wallpaper she begins to see herself caught and imprisoned, unfree.
Who Is the Author of the Yellow Wallpaper?
The Yellow Wallpaper is a semi-autobiographical short story, written in the first-person narrative. Therefore, to understand the main character of the story better it is important to give a short account of the author’s life. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in 1860 in Connecticut, the USA and she was supposed to have a typical life of a typical American woman of the end of the 19th century. What was the life of women in America in the 19th century like? From the very birth, the girl was brought up as a future wife and mother, whose main tasks were to maintain a household, care for her husband and raise her children. No other functions of a woman were accepted. They were not encouraged to have education, as just a few colleges for women existed. Due to this, they didn’t have a wide range of career opportunities and could not find any suitable job. Females had no opportunity to influence the politics of the country because they were not allowed to vote. Moreover, when a woman got married, all her possessions became her husbands and her life depended on her husband completely. Divorces occurred very rarely and if they happened, the husband was supposed to care about the children, not a wife.
Therefore, the situation in the USA in the times, when Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born and supposed to live, was not beneficial for women. However, the writer and feminist did not choose the beaten way and led the way of life she wanted. She was not afraid to struggle for her rights as well as the rights of other women. At the same time, her life was not easy, as she had to suffer much in her family life and from society prejudices, which is skilfully depicted in her most prominent short story The Yellow Wallpaper.
The Yellow Wallpaper Short Story Summary
As it has already been mentioned, The Yellow Wallpaper is a semi-autobiographical short story. It is possible, that it is partially biographical for all American women of those times, as they all had common lives and similar problems. They all were doomed to lead repetitious life, confined to home and family. So, the situation, which faced the narrator, was typical. No surprise, that a woman having nothing to make her life diverse and being stuck in one nursery room in an old house starts seeing and imagining different things. The setting plays an important role in the story as it shows the attitude of her husband and other people toward this woman. She is placed into the former nursery room, which has a grid on its windows It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge, for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls. It proves, that her husband perceives her as a child, not an adult woman with her own ideas and desires. He does not let her do what she wants or choose where to live I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it. Moreover, he does not let her express her thoughts, express herself, saying to her what to think and even how to think there is something strange about the house. I even said so to John, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window.
The reader may guess, that such a situation was not rare and this woman was told by her husband what to think and explained how what her thoughts meant. Having no opportunity to express herself in the way she needed it, the wife had nothing left but to start imagining things. She is a rather imaginative woman and it is seen from the way she perceives the house It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock. She starts believing that this place has (or used to have) ghosts and even some details of the scenery cannot stop her from thinking like this. It looks like imagining things for her is just a way to escape from the reality, which gives her nothing, but depression and frustration.
What Does the Yellow Wallpaper Symbolize?
One more way of escaping the narrator finds in keeping a diary, her secret journal, where she writes all her thoughts and ideas and nobody makes her change her vision or explains to her what to think or how to think. Soon her room with yellow wallpaper becomes the only place, where she can feel free, despite the reality. The room, which was supposed to be her confinement, becomes a spot of her freedom I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. The author describes the wallpaper in all the possible details and it seems that she is obsessed with it. She understands, that something has gone wrong, however, she cannot resist and not pay attention to it I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't feel able to. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way - it is such a relief! Yet, the way of her unchaining is rather controversial as she starts losing her mind, seeing in a wallpaper some pictures and shapes There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will. A few days later she understands what this shape is And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. Now she sees a woman, imprisoned in the wallpaper. As imprisoned, as herself, as unfree and suppressed.
The woman tries to get rid of hew visions and asks her husband to go away, but does not believe her as usually — "Why darling!" said he. Of course, if you were in any danger, I could and would I am a doctor, dear, and I know. This only proves his attitude to his wife, whom he does not take seriously, who is just a little girl for him. So, the narrator has to stay in the room and her obsession with the wallpaper progresses and she sees the woman crawling The front pattern does move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
Soon the narrator starts identifying this woman with herself. Moreover, the narrator also starts crawling too I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. Finally, she thinks that she is that woman from the wallpaper There are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did? The narrator undoubtedly goes mad as she loses herself completely.
The short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman represents a story, which may have happened to any woman of the 19th century in the USA. The narrator loses herself as a woman, as a person. Actually, she is the last one to perceive herself as a separate unit, as an independent person, as a member of society, not as an additional thing to care about home and family. Therefore, there is no surprise, that without support from her husband and any acknowledgment of her separate and special identity, she stops herself like that as well and becomes one of the many other women, crawling inside the wallpaper.
Quotes from the Yellow Wallpaper
“At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”
“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”″
“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 think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house.”
“So I take phosphates or phosphites—whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas.”
“Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.”
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Dale M. Bauer. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.
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