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The Woman in the Wallpaper

Updated on March 9, 2018

The Woman in the Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” was intriguing story for its depiction of madness, but it also has underlining tones for the authors own issues. In the late 1800’s Gilman had put herself into treatment for depression or know at the time as” nervous prostration. Doctors of the time did not know how to differentiate between mental health issues and clinical issues of the brain. Gilman did not go completely made as did the women in the story. But she could of. Gilman later comments in the 1913 that she had written “The Yellow Wallpaper” to save people from being driven crazy. Gilman depicts the torments that these types of treatments can produce.

Gilman was sent home from Mitchell's sanitarium after one month, having been pronounced cured, with the following instructions: “Live as domestic a life as possible.... Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.” When Gilman heeded this advice she came, in her own words, “perilously close to losing my mind.” Gilman was losing her mind from not doing what she loved and stimulating herself. She played this very well into her story. Gilman had advocates that helped get her short story out to spread the word of the problematic outcomes to the Rest Cure making the women prisoners to “domestic sphere. Charlotte Gilman has said that she has a reason for everything she wrote. In the “The Yellow Wallpaper” her goal was to show how the treatments for mental health of the day were detrimental to the health of the patients. Gilman’s book had its desired effects and some doctors changed their treatment strategies after reading her book.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a chilling story of a women’s falls into madness. This was on of the first texts where and author makes the narrator unaware of her slip to madness. The narrator shares her feeling and emotions as she is going thru them. It provides for a very ominous feel while reading the story. I feel that the author used the women’s mental breakdown, to show she is freed from her husband’s authority. Being that she is stuck in the wallpaper and can wonder to wherever she wants to go. The women from the story is trapped emotionally and physically by her husband from the beginning of the story. She had wanted a bedroom downstairs, but John would not allow it. He said she needed a room with a lot of air, she was given every excuse as to why she could not have the room that she had wanted. The women are put upstairs far from any interactions with the rest of the family. She is not allowed to do anything without the special direction of her husband John. Once she is in her room she recognizes her confinement bares on the window the bed is nailed down, this is a very foreboding image for her.

Throughout the story the woman has a misconception of her room adding thoughts and assumptions. She tells John that the wallpaper bothers her, and she wants to change it. Johns tells her that once she changes the wallpaper she is going to want to change other things and denies her. John shows his control over by this action, and further cements her feeling of confinement. In the story she states she hasn’t the will to confront him. Her only reprieve is her journal and even that adds to her feeling of confinement.

“Gilman's narrator is so cruelly trapped both by the conventions of nineteenth-century American society, which says that a woman's function is to bear and raise children, and by her husband's inflexible belief in this code. John has attempted to take away one of the few things that bring her consistent pleasure, her writing, “He hates to have me write a word,” she says, and notes his determination to correct her “imaginative power and habit of story-making.” Unfortunately for Gilman's narrator as well as other creative women, these sentiments are shared by others in society. John's sister, a woman who occupies her proper place in the domestic sphere by being “so good with the baby” and a “perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper,” seems to believe “it is the writing which made [the narrator] sick!”

The woman of the story has no escape for her husband’s confinement, so she turns inward to the yellow wallpaper. Which creates a relationship between the women and the wallpaper. She started of saying “I never saw a worse paper in my life,” as she loses her slim hold on sanity, she gets “really fond of the room despite the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.” Though at first, she says of it, her initial discomfort decreases as she sees mirrored in the wallpaper her own existence. She realizes that the wallpaper has two patterns; the front pattern is made of bars, and in the back pattern is a woman “stooping down and creeping about,” later shaking the bars. And the woman in the wallpaper continues to reflect the narrator; “she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through the pattern–it strangles so.” By the end of the story, the narrator finds escape when she becomes the wallpaper woman as she “creep smoothly on the floor.” With this last action she escapes those places of her confinement. Her husband, the force that keeps her in the home, has become an inanimate object, one that only gets in the way of her “path by the wall, so that [she] had to creep over him.” She releases herself from her maternal role as she occupies the role of a “madwoman.” And, by refusing to write it anymore, she has freed herself from the text that chronicles her mental breakdown.

Works Citied:

Korb, Rena. "An overview of 'The Yellow Wallpaper'." Gale Online Encyclopedia, Gale, 2018. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 9 Mar. 2018.

The Yellow Wallpaper." Short Story Criticism, edited by Janet Witalec, vol. 62, Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 9 Mar. 2018.


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