This short story by Gilman clearly depicts an example of the oppression women faced at the time. The way women were essentially ‘locked up’ and told to do nothing was ridiculously an irrational remedy and could obviously only bring negative outcomes. This type of depression wasn’t understood then, which also points out how women were seen as inferior and quick to be rendered crazy if they deviated at all from their gender role. It was also seen as another weakness that women possessed. This illustrates clearly the chains and restraints women felt at the time. It is a horror to think what women in those situations had to experience. Even as one reads the story, initial thoughts of “this woman is crazy!” can pop up but then the need to look deeper happens. This is what men in society saw them; they used it a tool to make them feel inferior and remind them of how “weak” they were. Society can brainwash us on how to fit our gender roles so to be able to see outside the box is always an incredible attribute. I believe Gilman – though her views on gender inequalities only applied to a certain population of women – has positively contributed greatly to where we are today.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, describes the refusal of the male dominant society to recognize the natural superiority of a woman. It expresses the inequality that exists among men and women, and the mistreatment and lack of respect women receive from society. This is seen as a “condition” through the eyes of the narrator. She begins to believe that she is lacking something, that something is wrong with the way she is, but in reality, it is not her, but the society around her that implements and continues to misdiagnose her. The lack of acceptance causes the narrators husband ,John, to treat her as if she is inferior; he treats her like a child and “laughs at [her]… he does not believe [she is] sick” (233-234). He is presented as someone who is more knowledgeable than she because he is a physician, and at times she grows to fear him. In the narrative she contemplates on her “condition” and her thought is abruptly ended, because she suddenly remembers her husbands insight. She states “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 to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (234). She is encouraged to ignore her judgments about her own situation and remain submissive to the authority of her husband and society.
The wallpaper represents the search for truth and advocates for the liberation of women. Like the truth, the wallpaper is “dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough constantly to irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide…destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions” (234). The wallpaper gives insight to how the searching for truth may seem to an obscure viewer: confusing, irritating and contradictory. However, from analyzing it, she found that there are patterns to this wallpaper. It “has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularity irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.” She is motivated to “follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion.” Like the truth, the patterns on the wallpaper can only be seen “in certain lights,” moreover, she notes that “the front pattern does move– and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it. Sometimes I think there are a great women behind, and sometimes only one”(239). She finds the truth of the women behind the pattern, who “in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard” (239). The women she discovers is one who is fighting for liberation, shaking the bars of understanding, in hopes to find justice and recognition of the truth she has uncovered. Like a yellow wallpaper, the failure to accept women continues to exist in our society. Women are portrayed as feeble minded, are disrespected by men, and are not treated as equals. Gilman strives to expose the disparity among men and women, and aims to reform the representation of women in society.
After reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, it was absolutely clear to me that this story depicting a subordinate “sick” housewife, depicts the paradox’s in our everyday life. Although Gilman’s book depicted a woman who was restrained from pursuing her motives, goals, ambitions, and ideological beliefs, it clearly shows how an entity with clear authority over another entity, can mold that subordinate entity’s life path.
The narrator who was perceived as being “sick”, was treated as a subordinate by her husband who ironically was her doctor. Although her husband’s intentions were to relieve her from her sickness, his actions and motives were the main causes for the narrator’s decreasing mental and physical health. This paradoxical result shows how hegemonic values and beliefs such as the “resting cure” do not always fit every individual. That many times an entity with authority always pursues what is in their best interest, often neglecting the aspirations of individuals that their authority rests upon. Unfortunately for the narrator, she in this book was treated as the “other”, “the second sex” as Simone de Beauvoir would call it. De Beauvoir believed that a woman is not born female, but becomes a female due to her being shaped by historical socio-political processes.
This “molding” is also relevant in society today. We as individuals are shaped by economic, social, and political processes. When viewing the film inside job, it is clear to me how our economic aspirations are molded by our society’s obsession with the accumulation of wealth. This accumulation of wealth directly leads us to greed which allows us to exploit other individuals, without any regard to their feelings or aspirations just like the narrator in Gilman’s book. These financial moguls were the ones that directly caused the financial crisis in the late 2000s, fueled by the idiotic idealistic views of Alan Greenspan.
The repercussions have led to changes in the political spectrum. A large shift in the House of Representatives has led to our country having immense political instability. creating a stagnant political agenda, and a polarizing democratic America. As you can see, we at times are the narrator looking at the yellow wallpaper wondering how we can escape the nonsense and stupidity that our world “leaders” and innovators have caused. We to want to escape this sense of hopelessness as our aspirations are to climb the social ladder and achieve our versions of the American Dream. It is just sad to see the paradox’s of society, and the importance that authority has in our political and societal agenda.
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?