Most of the stories written by modern female writers reveal their intolerance against the oppressed life of women. Male domination, for several centuries, made them mere domestic animals, denying mobility and individual freedom. The urge to free themselves from this situation, from their domestic prison, is the main thrust of the stories written by these female writers. Gilman’s stories are fine examples of the truthful depiction of suffering and exploited women who are seeking emotional freedom. This brief essay takes a look at the authorial vision of Gilman, at her urge to see woman emancipated, with a particular attention to her story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
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Charlotte Gilman in this story portrays a woman whose sincere life as a wife, with her true womanhood, pushes her to the verge of madness. Till women’s liberation made drastic changes in the life of a woman, the role of the female was total submission to man, be it husband, father, or anyone else. A woman was supposed to live a life of purity, she was expected to dedicate herself to the welfare of the family, and just live a passive life. Thus, man exploited her biological make up, and ensured that she lived within the four walls of a house. It is this patriarchal attitude which Gilman attacked through her central character in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
This autobiographical story exposes the male attitude to continue the status quo of true womanhood. The author tries to redefine womanhood and show how new womanhood, promising freedom, mobility, and emotional release, can be established. In other words, the old cult of womanhood, domesticity, purity, etc is rejected and is replaced with a new cult, to enable women to have equality. This is the essence of her story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” tells the story of a wife doomed to live an isolated life. This isolation is a prescription made by her husband, who is also a doctor. It was a common Victorian way of treating the patients suspected of depression. The woman in the story is forced to take rest in her attic room. Actually she is healthy, she likes work, not rest, she would like to move about and not being isolated. She would also like to be with her child.
The room with its unpleasant furniture, scratched floor, and the yellow wall paper make her really mad. “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman). The wallpaper is symbolic of her isolation and depression. She snatches further obscurity to turn her inner experience into a journal. She gets relief only when she removes the disgusting yellow paper, a symbol of her inner torture.
The rest cure prescribed by the doctor here is in line with the old attitude of seeing a woman biologically week: the idea that a woman needs only rest to get relieved from her depression. The yellow wallpaper stands as a witness to her inner torture. Tearing this paper is a metaphor for her emotional freedom. As Deborah Thomas observed, “Getting beyond the yellow wallpaper, women defied the corrupted power that men wielded over women, escaped their confinement, and created for themselves a new ideological role, one that included entry into the public sphere, or the market place” (Thomas). It is a release from the age old suppression. The “I” in the stories of Gilman stands for the universal female “I”.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Web.
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Thomas, Deborah. “The Changing Role of Womanhood: From True Woman to New Woman in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Web.