The Yellow Wall Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a chilling study and experiment of mental disorder in nineteenth century. This is a story of a miserable wife, a young woman in anguish, stress surrounding her in the walls of her bedroom and under the control of her husband doctor, who had given her the treatment of isolation and rest. This short story vividly reflects both a woman in torment and oppression as well as a woman struggling for self expression.
The story starts out with a hysterical.woman who is overprotected by her loving husband, John. She is taken to a summer home to recover from a nervous condition. However, in this story, the house is not her own and she does not want to be in it. She declares it is haunted and that there is something queer about it (The Yellow Wall-Paper. 160). Although she acknowledges the beauty of the house and especially what surrounds it, she constantly goes back to her feeling that there is something strange about the house. It is not a symbol of security for the domestic activities, it seems like the facilitates her release, accommodating her, her writing and her thoughts, she is told to rest and sleep, she is not even allow to write. I must put this away, he hates to have me write a word(162). This shows how controlling John is over her as a husband and doctor. She is absolutely forbidden to work until she is well again. Here John seems to be more of a father than a husband, a man of the house. John acts as the dominant person in the marriage; a sign of typical middle class, family arrangement.
Although the narrator feels desperate, John tells her that there is no reason for how she feels, she must dismiss those silly fantasies(166). In other words, John treats her like a child and gives her reason to doubt herself. Of course it is only nervousness(162). She decides. She tries to rest, to do as she is told, like a child, but suffers because John does not believe that she is ill. This makes her feel inadequate and unsure of her own sanity.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.”(162). She feels that she should be “a good girl” and appreciate the protective love John offers to 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 a blessed little goose. . . . He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well(162-167).
In telling her to keep well, John expresses more doubt about her having any real illness.
She tries to discuss her feelings, but this brings only a “stern reproachful look”(167) and she goes back to bed. “Really dear you are better,”(167). John says over and over. “Can you not trust me when I tell you so?(167)”. John is the man of the house and also a doctor. John believes she should put complete faith in him as all children put complete faith and trust in their parents when they are small. The reproachful look, the constant reassurances, and asking for her trust only put her down, forcing her to depend on John for her survival, demeaning herself further.
In addition, John enforces the inactivity that pushes her deeper into madness. John, the “loving” husband-doctor, imprisons her in a room that has no escape. This room has bars on the windows and a “great immovable bed” which “is nailed down.”(164). John has made her a prisoner in their marriage. Her opinions are pushed to the side as if they are not important. Her developing insanity is a form of rebellion and a crucial turning point towards her own independence. It also shows that when an animal is caged, when it is backed into a corner, it tends to fight back. Her fight for and with the woman in the wallpaper symbolizes her fight for independence, her struggle to survive.
This story also portrays the violent anger that accompanies the narrator’s fight to free herself. She sees the wallpaper as something that is strangling her, restraining her, and she acts out wildly. “I wasn’t alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper” (171).
She begins to creep and crawl within her madness. She detaches herself from the perceptions of others. In the final scene John faints and she creeps over him and says,
“I’ve got out at last. . . . And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (172). This says that once independence is achieved, no ones need to rely on someone else for survival; every one backs up by herself or himself. She has achieved her independence from her submission to John as his “blessed little goose,” but at what price? She has traded her sanity for her independence.
The image in the wall-paper is not another woman, it is herself as well as all women in general and therefore all the women trapped by society. Women must be treated equally as men, for the more pressure they face the more struggle they get. They can only gain their independence by freeing themselves and working it out their minds.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins The Yellow Wall-Paper Litterature, Reading, Reacting Wringting. 3rd ed, Eds Laurarie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, . Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1997. Page 163-173
Ed. Kirszner, Laurarie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. 160-173.