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“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman

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    Is sad story of the repression that women face in the days of late 1800’s as well as being representative of the turmoils that women face today. Gilman writes “The Yellow Wallpaper” from her own personal experiences of having to face the overwhelming fact that this is a male dominated society and sometimes women suffer because of it. The narrator, being female, is suffering from a “temporary depression”. She states right from the beginning that “John is a physician, and perhaps–(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)– perhaps that is the one reason I do not get well faster.” The narrator sets up the story to convey a certain opinion of the repercussions a woman faces in the care of a man. She obviously loves her husband and trusts him but has some underlying feeling that maybe his prescription of total bed rest is not working for her. The story mentions that she has an older brother who is also a physician and concurs with her husbands theory, thus leaving her no choice but to subject herself to this torment of being totally alone in this room with the yellow wallpaper. She stares at this wallpaper for hours on end and thinks she sees a woman behind the paper. “I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.” She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind that pattern and what it is doing. “I don’t want to leave now until I have found it out”. The narrator with absolutely nothing else to do is reduced to staring endlessly at a pattern in a wallpaper, thus creating some image that she feels is necessary to find out. Perhaps to save her own sanity? Once the narrator determines that the image is in fact a woman struggling to become free, she somehow aligns herself with the woman. In the story she mentions that she often sees the woman creeping outside. “I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden…. I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.” This shows the narrator seeing herself in the woman and when she sees the woman creeping outside, she sees herself. When she creeps outside she locks the door. She is afraid her husband will take away the only comfort she had know since she was subjected to this “rest cure”. She continues to pursue this obsessive project of getting the woman out. The narrator wants the woman to be free of the paper but does not want to let her go. The woman is her sanity; “I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up her that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!” After peeling all the paper within her reach in hopes of getting the woman out, she states, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try. Besides I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.” The narrator appears to have no knowledge that this very obsession might be misconstrued as well. As if everything is fine in her world as long as she gets this woman out. She goes on to say, “I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is so hard!” It seems she has released the woman and it is indeed herself. As if she enjoys being out and doing as she likes but at night her husband will be around and she mustn’t creep around her husband. He might find her mad. But at last she finds the courage to confront her oppressor and stand up for herself. “‘What is the matter?’ he cried. ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘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!’ Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time! Jane is undoubtedly, (in my opinion) the narrator herself. She not only fought the struggle of her male dominance of a society but also of herself. She had been a product of a society that puts woman in the lowest segment, but she triumphs over her husband as well as herself in freeing her soul. Now she creeps openly. In order to read and understand this story, we must consider many things. First the time frame in which the story was written, and that society’s attitude of the story content at that time. Written in 1892, a woman suffering from depression was not clearly understood and was treated with isolation. This would clearly drive any person mad. The narrator made attempts to bring to her husband’s attention what she felt was a better way of making her better but he refused to listen and ignored her wishes to involve herself in more activity. The movie does an incredible job illustrating the narrator as completely insane from day one. It didn’t allow the reader or in this case the audience to decide for themselves. When we make clips of the movie we do indeed imprison the woman because you have no way of knowing what has happened before or what is to come. We imprison her more because we make judgments of a thirty second clip that could possibly affect our bias for the movie or the story itself before we have a chance as an individual to read the story or watch the movie. As a female in 2001 reading this story, I had this overwhelming desire to free this narrator from her husband and the rest of the males in her life. She wanted company, activity and stimulation. Which any woman of that time or this time should be freely allowed to have. Gilman did an outstanding job of illustrating the position that women of that time, and to an extent, of this time as well, hold in their society. This story should hold a place in every woman’s heart who is struggling to find her place.

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    “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman. (2019, Feb 13). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What is the main idea of The Yellow Wallpaper?
    Freedom and identity is probably the most important The Yellow Wallpaper's theme. In the story, John, the husband, puts restrictions on the narrator's freedom to make her feel better. However, this has the reverse effect, although the physical limitations hurt her less than the emotional ones.
    What is The Yellow Wallpaper short story about?
    "The Yellow Wallpaper" details the deterioration of a woman's mental health while she is on a "rest cure" on a rented summer country estate with her family. Her obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom marks her descent into psychosis from her depression throughout the story.

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