Feminist literature has been in existence for several centuries, which allows researchers and lay people to become familiar with how women were treated during different historical periods. Moreover, by analyzing the sources and accounts of previous epochs, one can gain a better understanding of the current situation and establish certain parallels between the past and the present. Reading The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman from a feminist critical perspective exposes the challenge of women living in a patriarchal society.
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The short story demonstrates how women become subject to oppression from the closest males in their life, who motivate it by good intentions. The main character is kept in a room and prevented from going outside and even engaging in her hobby of writing. Her husband John believes that she has “temporary nervous depression,” and to address her problem, he developed a plan which implies that the woman must rest until she is better (Gilman 648). This shows that women who exist in a highly-patriarchal environment can be denied their freedom and be ordered to behave in a way which is only approved by men. Most importantly, under such circumstances, there are no mechanisms which could help them escape the predicament. Especially in the 19th century, when there were no NGOs ready to assist victims of domestic abuse. Yet, even nowadays, cases similar to the main character’s are quite common, especially in extremely religious families where women do not possess any right to go against their husbands’ will.
It also highlights the difficulties many women with mental disorders face when they share their problems with their male family members. The main character does not agree with her husband’s approach but does not have the capacity to say it openly because it will not change the situation (Gilman 648). Her husband does not treat her as his equal and is certain that as a woman, she cannot make a reasonable decision and needs assistance. Moreover, he manipulates her and leads her to believe that she is a “burden” for him (Gilman 649). Essentially, the main character’s life is completely controlled by her husband, who is not interested in helping her but rather uses her as a subject of his experiment. In other words, the main character does not belong to herself; instead, she is treated as the property of her husband, whose will cannot be contested. On the contrary, his attitude towards his wife is venerated in a society which is inherently anti-feminist and pro-masculine.
The factor of manipulation is one of the key ones in this short story, and the reader also receives an opportunity to see the outcome of this phenomenon. As it was mentioned earlier, the main character does not try to oppose her husband’s abusive behavior, false diagnosing, and the unnecessary treatment plan, which goes against the principle of the patient’s beneficence. Throughout the story, the woman is constantly trying to pander to her husband and is very careful not to overstep the boundaries he set up for her. For example, even when she is already experiencing mental problems with seeing a creeping woman, she is still concerned about her husband, “John is so queer now, that I don’t want to irritate him” (Gilman 654). The author attempts to show that the main character’s obsession with appeasing her husband is progressing alongside her psychological illness, which started as a result of her being locked in the room. Her husband and social norms have forced her not to question her position in society, which ultimately led her to lose control of her life and freedom.
Symbolism plays a major role in this short story, and it helps foreground the theme of women’s struggle in a patriarchal society. The woman who is trapped behind the pattern of the yellow wall-paper can be viewed as the lost identity of the main character and all women living under patriarchy in general. While the yellow-paper itself can be interpreted as the men’s oppression and authoritarian essence of the male-dominated society. After seeing several creeping women outside her window, the main character says, “I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?” (Gilman 656). Here, the author demonstrates that women who leave the patriarchy risk losing their sanity because it will be difficult for them to adjust to a new way of living. In other words, centuries of oppression have instilled into women a message that they will not cope on their own and that they certainly need a male in their life. Gilman warns the female readers that their transition can be difficult, but it is crucial for obtaining true freedom and control over one’s life.
The feminist perspective allows one to interpret Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wall-Paper, as a work which demonstrates how women struggle to exist in a patriarchal society. It indicates the fact that women can become victims of their closest male relatives who will not hesitate to limit their freedom. Additionally, the story highlights the problems of women with mental disorders who often become subject to medical procedures against their will. Carver draws the readers’ attention to manipulation utilized by men to deceive women and make them doubt themselves and their ability to think logically. Finally, the author uses symbolism to shows that escaping the male-dominated society or refusing to live according to its rules can lead to unfavorable consequences, yet, it is necessary to attain equality.
Gilman, C. P. “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” The New England Magazine, 1891. pp. 647–656.
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