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The Hidden Meaning of Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Gilmans work The Yellow Wallpaper is an incredible scheme that keeps the whole story the author wants to present behind the outer one the story of a demented woman kept in a nursing house. The fundamental idea about the outer surface and the inner essence covered by it is both implemented into the structure and expressed by the message of the story. The recount of the psychological metamorphosis that the character undergoes is hidden behind the matter-of-a-fact story about a mad woman and her visions in a gloomy room with yellow paper on the walls.

The understanding of the mental recovery the character experiences is contingent on the reader s ability to distinguish between the cover and the essence below it as applied in the structure of the story. The Yellow Wallpaper revolves as a monologue on behalf of the main character a woman suffering from a nervous breakdown and at times it looks like a journal. Fro many readers the character s condition seems to be deteriorating as she retells her visions in the nursing house.

This initial impression, however, is misleading because the story in its entirety is a perceptive analysis of one s own process of mental recovery, in which the character traces the stages through which she goes to restore her lost identity. Starting with the true-to-life depiction of a woman, staying in a nursing home, under the care of her seemingly loving and highly competent husband-physician, the story more and more looses its concreteness of action and plunges into the abstract pictures that are being born in the character s mind.

The information about the family relations between the woman and her husband, John, are interwoven into the monologue as small patches that add to the whole picture. Piece by piece we learn about the obsessive husband who tightly controls over his wife s life and mind. At various cases, the main character seems to present herself through her husband s eyes as if he is speaking through her voice. When the woman says Of course, it is only nervousness and later But I must not think about that the command in these phrases reveals that they are said by her husband and she has successfully internalized them as her own will.

As John prescribes every single minute of her regime her medicines, her diet, her sleeping hours and even the subjects that should preoccupy her mind the character has lost her own identity under the suffocating influence of her husband. Rejected the right to make any decision on her own, she gets used to being completely dependent on her husband s will and judgments. Although there are no clues in the story about what led the character to her nervous breakdown, the reader gradually becomes aware that if not directly caused by it, it was at least catalyzed by the suffocating control her husband exerted on her over the years.

Somewhere between the voices that interfere in the character s monologue her husband s and her own there is a streak of some inner voice that seems to evaluate what is happening in the narrator s life from a more distant viewpoint. This inner voice expresses opinions and gives judgments that the character would never dare speak out openly; it even comments on what the other two say like the thoughts of a child who secretly observes something and retells its own part in it.

Phrases like I personally disagree with their ideas and I must say what I feel and see it is such a relief are rare but they give a sense of personality and subjectivity in the narration, which is unusual for the character especially at the beginning of the story. Still, such thoughts are not spoken to anybody but only to the character herself as she continues to present her story with zealous observation of her husband s opinions. The distinction of these voices in the character s retelling creates the impression of the some inner struggle that will take place in the her mind.

The narration towards the end of the story becomes more and more personal as the account of John s viewpoint fades away. Through the manipulation of these voices, the author achieves the subtle sensation as if at the end of the story the character has dramatically changed in her perception of the events and influences in her life. But what is the character s real condition at the very beginning? An obedient wife, aware of her nervous weakness, the woman seems to have left her treatment to her husband the one who is ironically the cause of her illness to an extent of losing her own idea of reality.

She thinks of the nursing house they have moved into to be an ancestral hall, burying any suspicion of it into John s practical judgments; she thinks of the window bars in her room as the remnants of the gymnasium this room used to be in the past at least in her imagiination without realizing that these bars may still serve a purpose protecting deranged people from hurting themselves for example; she is completely confident of the reasons that keep her husband so often away from her. Having turned her back to the real world, the character lives instead in her perfect, childish reality.

Only there, she dares act like the mischievous child who enjoys breaking the imposed restrictions by writing secretly and by exposing at least to herself the obsessive presence of her husband and her servant, Jenny. The character s writing is her escape from their presence. Only there can she express her own opinion and reveal her small sins of not sleeping when prescribed or letting any silly fancies run away with her. Nevertheless, she never dares say all these things openly to her husband but rather prefers to indulge in her temporary escapes into writing.

Psychologists have unanimously acknowledged that writing as one of the most expressive outlet of human imagination, can be considered as a treatment of mentally unstable people. In the narrator s case, her need to express herself by writing is a way of protecting herself from reality but it also helps her overcome her passivity in life. During her stay in the nursing house, in the room with the yellow paper, after hours of writing down her impressions there is something dramatically changing within her mind.

We are never directly initiated to the development that she undergoes there since it is all masked by her visions provoked by the irregular pattern of the wallpaper. Initially repellent, it upsets her with its scratches and irregular shapes just as the unharmonious furniture moved into her room. Addicted to harmony, like the one established by her husband, the woman is now faced for the first time with something that perturbs her and something only she can change.

No matter how trifle this problem seems at first, it is a response to the character s desire to have less opposition and more society and stimulus to help her overcome her condition. So, she finally finds her little challenge the ugly, disrupted yellow wallpaper that will preoccupy her mind in her effort to find some rational regularity in its patterns. The very depiction of the stages through which the character identifies distinct images on the paper is symbolic.

It bears in itself the story about the process of self-identification and release taking place in the woman s mind. During her first days in the nursing house, she stares at the wallpaper until the first images take shape. These are images of curves committing suicide, destroying themselves in unheard-of contradictions , of strangled heads and bars just like the bars in her own room and those heads are nothing less than her realization that she is the one being strangled and suffocated by her husband s control over her life.

Time after time, when the moonlight falls on the paper, she discerns the mysterious woman creeping behind the bars, desperately trying to go out of her prison. In the daytime the paper seems to lose its shapes and sequence but in the nights it regains its expressiveness. Lit by the moonlight, the paper again takes the shape of a faceless woman behind bars, then fades again but with every day it seems to acquire new contours and images, and even senses. It even starts to eradicate a specific yellow smell so distinct and pervasive that it permeates the house but mostly the main character s mind.

Then, the woman from the wallpaper appears again, this time with many heads and while trying to shake and climb the bars, these heads get strangled again until the heads eyes become white and turn into a disgusting view. The character believes the woman creeps out in the daytime, hiding in fear of not being seen. During the night it is again imprisoned in the pattern of the wallpaper but this time the character wants to help her go out without allowing anybody else to see her creeping during the night.

She is growing more and more jealous in keeping the imprisoned woman out of sight for others she even wants to tie her with a rope and keep her for herself when she gets put of the bars again. All of a sudden, the pattern produces a host of creeping women in the garden. I wonder if they all came out of that wallpaper as I did? The abrupt merge of the character and the woman from the wallpaper wraps up a completely new individual the story s main character unified with her regained personality.

The woman from the wallpaper represents the character s mind before she recovers from the nervous breakdown and before losing her freedom of mind to her husband. The different stages through which it passes being imprisoned, then going out secretly, and finally the desire to never let it back behind the bars the progression all of these suggest the first signs of recovery for the sick woman s ability to express her own will and oppose the authority of her husband.

At first she is able to relish her freedom only secretly as the creeping woman hides during the day but still takes pleasure of her wandering in the garden until the night falls and she can go out without fear. We see that at that period the narrator starts opposing the prescriptions and opinion of her husband in her thoughts until at the end of the story she dares oppose him with actions. As she realizes that she is becoming more and more independent, she wants to preserve this new sense of freedom symbolized by the haunting yellow smell of the wallpaper.

She wants to tie her newly-found personality with a rope as she fears that once again John and Jenny her tyrants now can obsess it again, leaving her in the same passive and impersonal state of mind in which she was until this moment. As the narrator depicts the curious way her husband and her servant look at the paper, she alludes to their suspicions that some changes are taking place in her mind. Her outburst at the sight of their staring at the wall was provoked by the fear that they may uncover her independency before she feels strong and confident enough to protect it.

She is also jealous of her newly-found personality that at the end she doggedly opposes her husband in an outburst of madness as he would possibly describe her actions. Locking herself in the room with the yellow wallpaper and throwing the key out is her symbolic liberation. Continuing the analysis of her visions, this act of staying all alone with the paper that actually represents her subconscience serves to show us that she has finally found strength in her to rise against her husband and overcome his influence on her life.

Later in her article Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper? Charlotte Gilman reveals that there are some personal features of the author identical with those represented in the story s character since she herself suffered from similar nervous breakdown. As she declares, however, this wallpaper actually saved her from her illness. In her visions from the wallpaper she discerned her own imprisoned mind trying to escape the bars that her husband has imposed on her.

No matter how disconnected and how irrational this plot may seem after the first reading, it is a perfectly constructed symbolic recount of the unnoticed changes that take place in people s minds rather in their explicit actions. Thus through a system of symbols with constant connotations, the author conveys a detailed description of her recovery from the realization of her state to the open act of opposition against her husband. Gilman s work is unique not only because of its complex subject such as a deranged person is but mostly because of the subtle inner structure of the plot that reveals the essence of the story.

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