I could not read Gillman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper without perceiving the protagonist as a child. This was the author’s intention, to show the relationship between John and his wife to be unequal. The unfortunate constraints placed on the female character by her spouse made her child-like. Through her writing, it is obvious she is creative and intelligent, but the higher status of the household male has confined her to the room and removed her outlets of writing, moving and living. As a white mother with a well educated husband and a comfortable lifestyle, she is considered a fragile women. There is no need to use her mind or body, especially if she is “sick”.
She is forced to stay in a room which was once a nursery or child’s room. Her husband speaks to her more like a daughter than a woman or his wife and even refers to her as “my child”. He seems to enjoy keeping her small. There is focus on her weight and whether she is eating enough, he is able to carry her, and soon she begins whining like a toddler. It is incredily frustrating to read as the woman believes she is sick herself. In the beginning, she realizes her confinement and disagrees with her husband’s ideas. Soon she gives in and though continues to write against John’s will, says she doesn’t “feel able”, meaning she is too sick and tired, just like he wants her to believe.
This situation reminded me of Munchausen by proxy syndrome, which is really between a parent and child. Still, John was convincing everyone else, including his wife and himself, that this woman was indeed sick.
This is a frightening reality of Gilman’s era. I believe these relationships still exist today. There is a great division between sexes but was certainly more prevelant when women really didn’t work. This can be related to the division of labor. Men were the primary breadwinners They are also the bosses of the household and workplace. The laborers during the industrial era in many cases were children because their small hands could easily work with small machinary pieces. John is his wife’s boss, but treats her like a child.
A case like this today would probably end up on Oprah, but this happens endlessly in other forms of spousal abuse. Preventing women from working or using their minds and bodies will not prevent them from understanding oppression, like Glilman. More extreme forms of oppression today which come to mind are still unfortunately a feminine struggle. Is the male as the dominant figure a natural way of life, seeing its repition through most of history and societies?