The short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a woman’s cry for freedom. It is about a creative woman whose talents are suppressed by her dominant husband. His efforts to oppress her, in order to keep her within society’s norms of what a wife is supposed to act like only lead to her mental destruction. He is more concerned with societal norms than the mental health of his wife. In trying to become independent and overcome her own suppressed thoughts, and her husbands false diagnosis of her; she loses her sanity.
One way the story illustrates his dominance is by the way he, a well-know and established doctor who should know better than to diagnose a family member, diagnoses her as having a temporary nervousness condition. After diagnosis, he prescribes bed rest as the cure. Without asking her, he takes her to their summer home to recover from the illness he does not believe she has. He tells her there is “no reason” why she feels the way she does; she should get rid of those “silly fantasies. ” In saying this to her, he is treating her like a child who does not really know how she feels, thus making her doubt herself.
When she tries to tell him what she needs, she is completely shut out and ignored. “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. ” This statement has a two-fold meaning, in the first part of the sentence he reveals part of his insecurity problem. He is not interested in getting her help because he does not want her illness to be resolved with the right support.
However, in treating her with just bed rest, he is forcing her to dwell on her problems, which is just the opposite of what he wanted. In the second part of the sentence, it seems as though the woman does not want to believe what her husband is telling her hence setting the stage for her rebellion. All her husband wants her to do is rest and sleep: he even suppresses her creative talent by not allowing her to write. She is in constant fear of being caught by her husband; “I must put this away, -he hates to have me write a word.
It seems as though John is being more of a father than a husband and because of this, she feels that she should be a “good girl” and appreciate what he is doing for her even though she knows that his diagnosis is killing her. “He takes all care from me, and I feel so basely ungrateful not to value it more…He took me in his arms and called me blessed little goose…” This is a clear indication of someone trying to run another person’s life. By him not allowing her to write, he is causing her depression to worsen.
If she had been allowed to come and go as she pleased, her depression may have disappeared: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve, the press of ideas and rest me. ” Her husband is suppressing the one major outlet that will help her get better in her seclusion, writing. By absolutely forbidding her to work until she is well again he is imprisoning her and causing her depression. John has made her a prisoner not only in their home but also in their marriage. Her opinions are not taken into consideration she is not even allowed to take care of her child.
He imprisoned her in a room with bars on the windows and a “great immovable bed” that is “nailed down. ” She has no say in the location or decoration of the room, “ I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted…But John would not hear of it. The description of the room symbolizes what he’s doing to her. The room is striped of all beauty and creativity. Everything that might help her is deliberately kept from her. He has isolated her and is continuing to force his therapy on her without regards to her well being. His intentions may be good, but all that he has prescribed for her is choking the life out of her.
There is clear evidence in the text to support the theory that if he would have listened to her instead of trying to impose society’s views on her and treating her like an inferior child, she might have recovered. He is more concerned with how society would view him if his wife broke free and pursued her career as a writer, which was unheard of in those days. It seems as if he detested her work and was holding her back from her full potential. When she became comfortable with the room, she begins to tell John about the things she has been thinking.
He became terrified of the ideas she was having and pleaded with her to control all of her ambitions and act sanely. It seems as though the doctor is insecure. He wants to restore some of his security about himself. He is implying that she must think of herself as getting better both in mind and in body, for the sake of other people, rather than herself. This would not be taking place if she were a man, but because she is not, she does not know what is best for her; and this leads to her rebellion and an all-out attempt to prove him wrong.
Everything that the doctor told her not to do, from writing to going out, she does. Rebellion is a source of self-protection, for her sanity, and by writing and disobeying him, she is guarding her sanity. She does this by writing when there is nobody around to see her and by trying to move the bed. In trying to break free, she shows some of her creativity by creating the woman that she wants to be and placing her behind the yellow wallpaper, which symbolizes her husband and society. “She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind that pattern and what it is doing.
She refuses to leave until she finds out what the woman is doing under the wallpaper. This may be the narrator’s attempt to understand her own self and better understand what she wants to do before leaving her comfort zone. She obviously wants to walk out of the room a changed woman and is using a woman she created as her strength and test tool to accomplish this. She wants the woman to be free because in actuality, the woman she created is her sanity. Nevertheless, she does not want to let her go because she wants to be like her once she is free.
She tries to condone her actions because she knows that what she wants to do will not be excepted by her husband or society. Therefore, she enjoys being out and doing what she likes to do, but at night, her husband will be around and she cannot creep around her husband. In the final scene, she develops the courage to confront her oppressor without regards to his wisdom or the fact that he is a doctor. “What is the matter? ” he cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing! ” She figured that since she pulled off most of the wallpaper, she has freed herself from the submissive thinking that her husband likes.
He fainted because he was not prepared for her diagnosing of herself. He was suppose to be the healer and she turned out to heal herself with little effort from him. The roles switched and he could not understand why his therapy did not work. Her creeping over him symbolized victory from the struggle of the male dominance in society. It also symbolized her victory because she was a product of a society that puts women in the lowest category, but she freed her soul and now she can run freely.
To conclude, from the beginning, the narrator showed a sign of hopelessness but always questioned what her husband thought was best for her. What her husband wanted for her was the exact opposite of what she wanted. He wanted her to conform, to accept the environment she was placed in, and to not look for outside influences to help strengthen her, which was an indication of his insecurity. She accepted the environment that she was placed in but begins to slowly change it into what she wanted. Although her husband really believed that he was helping her, he was actually hurting her.
He was stuck in society’s thinking that woman wanted to be taken cared of and thought that, that is what he was doing. He could not understand why she began to react violently and angrily to the environment in which she was placed. Only by confronting her fears of what society and her husband would think about her, did she allow herself to become free. Once she achieved her independence, she realized that she did not need to rely on anyone else but herself for her survival. By refusing to be submissive, she traded her sanity for independence.