Gilman is an author whose writing is based on individuals making up America’s collective identity. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is from the vantage points of being a woman, at a time when women were not supposed to have individual thoughts and personalities. At this time in history, the social roles of women were very well-defined: mothers and caretakers of the family, prim and proper creatures that were pleasant to look at, seen but not heard, and irrational and emotional. The identity of women were presupposed on them by men.
At the time this story was written, social criticisms were on the rise and writers had more of an outlet to express themselves. Women’s suffrage provided by many female writers, such as Gilman, the means to air the wrongs against women. The main character (a sort of parallel to Gilman herself) experiences post-partem depression, and at this point in time, there was no knowledge of this condition. It was generally thought that the nervous condition suffered by women after birth was caused by a weak moral/mental state.
The narrator’s husband, John takes her to an old, gothic house, away from all the care and stress of the world. This is supposed to be for her own good. To get some rest and to heal her “weak” mind, she lies in bed, almost locked in her room, left to stare at this ugly, yellow wallpaper. The ugliness of the wallpaper begins to consume her mind as the room turns more into a prison than a place of healing. The main character’s though processes become apparent as the story progresses.
When she first talks of the pattern, she only describes the pattern and the color briefly: “I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling, flamboyant pattern committing every artistic sin… The color is repellent, almost revolting… ” But the pattern becomes more detailed– in a sense, she has given the pattern life: “Looked at in one way, each breadth stands alone; the bloated curves and flourishes- a kind of ‘debased Romanesque’ with delirium tremens- go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
As she begins to pay more attention to detail, her mind starts becoming more and more unstable. However, with this deterioration comes her realization of the situation she is in. At the end of the story, it is evident that the woman trapped in the wallpaper represents the main character– she has started to talk in first person: “‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back! ‘” Her mental breakdown is understandable. She cannot be the woman she is because of the standards set by society at the time.
Gilman gives the indication that the narrator’s identity is purely that of which her husband wants it to be– her creativity and thought are pushed aside. The narrator, Jane, is not entrusted to do anything or make any decision for herself. Gilman’s belief of the importance of being an individual is apparent. The ending of “The Yellow Wallpaper” shows what a lack of individualism can to do the mental state of an otherwise sane person. Jane seemingly goes insane because of the lack of an individual spirit.
The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman’s story of a woman’s mental breakdown caused by society’s expectations, was influential in creating America’s national identity. The main character ultimately symbolized women at the time, and the wallpaper represented the position of women in society. Women had very prescribed social roles at the time, and for them to do anything uncharacteristic of the role meant that a nervous breakdown was taking place. The universal role of a woman’s place being in the household resulted in a woman’s loss of identity for oneself.
Gilman influenced national identity by providing insight to the effects of society’s impact on gender. Jane was not allowed to be an individual. The community’s (society’s) lack of recognition and its dismissal of her experience contributed to her demise. Self-reliance was never allowed, and Jane’s ideas of independence therefore had to be suppressed. Gilman believed that individualism was important in creating the national identity, and in order for that to be possible, women had to have the physical and mental freedom to do what they wanted to do– without social restrictions.