In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, thedominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and hissubmissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity. Flawed human natureseems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, isunwilling to admit that there might really be something wrong with his wife.
This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician. While thisattitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to herbreakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhapsunconsciously she seems determined to prove them wrong. As the story begins, thewoman — whose name we never learn — tells of her depression and how it isdismissed by her husband and brother. “You see, he does not believe I amsick! And what can one do? If a physician of high Kelly Flynn pg 2 standing, andone’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothingthe matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hystericaltendency — what is one to do?” (Gilman 165). These two men — both doctors– seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her conditionthan than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when a summer in thecountry and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept that shemay have a real problem. Throughout the story there are examples of the dominant- submissive relationship. She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom,supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health. She is forbidden towork, “So I . . . am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I amwell again.” (Gilman 165). She is not even supposed to write: “Therecomes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word.”(Gilman 167). She has no say in the location or decor of the room she isvirtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted . . . ButJohn would not hear of it.”(Gilman 166). Kelly Flynn Pg 3 She can’t havevisitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionshipabout my work. . . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-caseas to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 169).
Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline.
“I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything. .
.” (Gilman 169). It seems that her husband is oblivious to her decliningcondition, since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of thestory — at which time he fainted. John could have obtained council from someoneless personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was for thehouse and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was awayat work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.”(Gilman 168). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the house. “She isa perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 170). Kelly Flynn Pg 4 Hedoes talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up fasterhe shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as athreat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother. Herfriend was under his care at one time and was telling her terrible stories aboutthe place. Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping her virtually aprisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind,let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell onher problem. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close tobeing a prisoner. Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as shepleased her depression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I wereonly well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and restme.” (Gilman 169) It seems that just being able to tell someone how shereally felt would have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lackof an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “. . . I must say what I feeland think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort Kelly Flynn Pg 5 isgetting to be greater than the relief.” Meanwhile her reaction is to seekto prove him wrong. “John is a physician, and perhaps . . . perhaps that isone reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! Andwhat can one do?” (Gilman 165). It seems to me that while putting on anappearance of submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’sorders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move herbed, but always keeps an eye open for someone coming. This is obvious throughoutthe story. It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressivebehavior, she wants to drive her husband away. “John is away all day, andeven some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is notserious!” (Gilman 167). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks himout of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into thefront path. 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.” (Gilman 179). I see no reason forthis other than to force him to see that he was wrong, Kelly Flynn Pg 6 and,since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to drive him away. At the end ofthe story she goes completely nuts and wants to be locked in the room so thatshe can free the woman from the bared walls. She wants to be kept inside theroom because outside you have to creep around and everything is green instead ofyellow. So she continues to creep along the walls dragging her shoulder so thatshe does not loose her way around the room. When her husband sees what she isdoing and faints, she gets mad because he is in the way of her path and she hasto creep over him. The ending quotes just go to show how messed up she reallyis, “I’ve got out at last,” “in spite of you and Jane. And I’vepulled off most of the wallpaper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman180)Overall I thought the story was most interesting but slightly odd. It istruly original and I have never read a story like it. It just goes to make youthink what kind of state of mind Gilman was in when she wrote it.
BibliographyGilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892. Handoutfrom English class. Pages 165-180English Essays