The Yellow Wallpaper
“Personally, I Disagree With Their Ideas”
“Personally, I disagree with their ideas.” One of the opening statements of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, this quote sums up the point of the text. Gilman becomes incensed at the way doctors and society view women. This short story is an up-close account of a woman who suffers from mental illness. It is written in a way that makes readers relate to the experience of slowly going crazy. An important element in the story is the cause of her worsening condition; the narrator attributes it to the way her husband and brother stifle her and prohibit her from writing and having stimulating friends visit. Through this female character, Gilman personally disagrees with the social expectations of the late 19th century. She asserts that women should not be viewed as physically or intellectually fragile, but instead should have the freedom to engage in active pleasures like writing, reading, and scholarly discussion.
Though the narrator does become more and more mentally unstable throughout the story, her character is positively presented. The tone of the writing is light and playful. Many exclamation points are used to convey her excitement, and pleasant words constantly issue forth from her mouth like, “delicious garden,” “dear John,” and “blessed child” (48). Her narrative is directed at the reader, so that the reader feels as if she has been included in an intriguing secret. She confides to us “I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And I’ll tell you why?privately?I’ve seen her” (53). Her demeanor is so pleasant that it is charming even in the midst of her madness. Its light and inviting nature almost convince us that she is not really that demented. I believe Gilman portrays her like this to comment that she is really a normal, sane person who is suffering from an oppressive environment. The text suggests that if she were allowed to do the things that she wants to, like engage in “congenial work […] with excitement and change,” write with less opposition, and be allowed “more society and stimulus,” (42) her fits of illness would probably disappear. The amiable nature of the narrator’s personality is key in revealing Gilman’s desire to eradicate Nineteenth Century women of the responsibility for their illness by placing it on society’s repressive views of women.
The source of the narrator’s suppression is her physician husband, which Gilman uses as a symbol of larger society. This is why she describes her husband (as well as physician brother) as men of “high standing.” These men are supposed to remind us of all men who are professionally educated and respected as authorities during this time. She recounts that she is advised to”take phosphates or phosphates, […] and tonics and air and exercise, and journeys, and am absolutely forbidden to ?work’ until I am well again” (42). The nature of this prescription for healing is docile and passive. Upon close analysis, it seems that her husband probably believes that her extracurricular activities, like writing and discussing challenging information, has caused her to become sick; this is based on his assumption that women are inherently weak and not able to withstand activities at the same level as men can. The narrator explains that her husband is a physician and “perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster” (41). In other words, she thinks if her husband would just let her be and allow her to try to stabilize her mind in the way she senses is best, she would recover better. Gilman correlates the narrator’s increasing delusion with her husband’s advice. When she asks for more stimulation, he says “the very worst thing [she] can do is to think about [her] condition” (42). Interestingly, this causes her to transition into her obsession with the yellow wallpaper. Her immediate response is: “So I will let it alone and talk about the house” (42). Obviously, her husband’s advice is not effective, yet here, we see that it causes much harm. Gilman takes care to construct the novel in this way to say that the way larger society views and treats women’s issues is wrong and very damaging. They should not hold the view that women are fragile and in need of delicate care. Most likely, she would be happy to see women engaging in public discussion forums, participating in recreational sports, and writing novels and short stories.
One reason the husband has erroneous and destructive advice is that he refuses to listen to his wife’s thoughts and requests. On the other hand, he suppresses them. In the middle of the story, the narrator’s physical health begins to improve and her husband is happy at this progress. However, she alerts him that she is “Better in body perhaps–” But her husband condescends and rebukes her:
My darling […] I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so? (50)
This quote shows that Gilman believes that women will be healthier if their voices are permitted to speak and respected. She is warning society that their way of dealing with women is causing them to be sick, and their method to cure this sickness needs to be improved. She demands society to regard women as strong emotional and intellectual creatures who should be allowed the same freedoms as men. Thus, she warms society that it better listen to the requests of its women before it is too late.
Gilman creates this fascinating tale of a woman who slowly grows crazy so that readers can track the influence that her husband’s advice plays in worsening her condition. She writes it in the first person so that readers can experience a piece of her situation and be drawn to care. All in all, “The Yellow Paper” is a story Gilman writes to disarm society’s faulty understanding that women are fragile and incapable of intellectual stimulation. She subtly demands society to find another approach in viewing women, which in her view is strong, capable creatures who are entitled to creative capacity through writing and stimulating discussion.
Mood Comparison of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”
The literary element of mood portrays the atmosphere of the work through its words and descriptions in order to create an emotional response within the reader. This allows the reader to develop an emotional attachment and interest in the story, as well as to better understand the characters’ feelings or emotional situations and the work as a whole. Mood is one of the major literary elements which brings life and emotion to a story. There are several ways to portray the mood throughout the literary work – including the setting, tone, diction, and theme of the story. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” both use mood effectively.
One of the earliest ways for mood to be created in a story is through the setting. The setting can provide a background of the character or the events which take place. Since the reader will typically learn the setting early on, it provides one of the first key introductions to the story and overall mood. “The Yellow Wallpaper” starts out with a brief introduction to the setting; and later on in the story, the narrator describes their temporary home in greater detail. Through Gilman’s description of the upstairs bedroom and the wallpaper, the reader begins to get an understanding of the narrator’s unease and disgust with the wallpaper and a feel for its importance to the story. As the story progresses, the reader can sense an eerie and foreboding feeling of what will come. As in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the mood of “The Tell-Tale Heart” can also be expressed through the setting. The setting, although somewhat vague, plays a valuable role in the story’s plot and mood. Although the old man’s house is never described to the reader in detail, Poe uses descriptions such as “his room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness” so the reader can get an idea of the character’s surroundings to visualize the scene (284). Even though a minor description is given of the old man’s house in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, there is the common similarity of the setting between the two stories. Both narrators are at a house which isn’t theirs, and the role of the houses relate back to the character’s emotional state and apparent insanity. This occurrence could indicate one of the similarities between the two stories’ overall moods, as well as the feelings and actions of the characters.
Another method of creating the mood of a story is through the writer’s tone. The tone of a story and the attitude of the writer is what brings about the reader’s emotions and feelings throughout the work. The point of view of the writer can play a major role in how the reader relates to the story or characters. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” are told through first person as the events of the stories are occurring, so everything is being viewed from the character’s perspective. Through the first person perspective, the reader is able to better understand the character’s feelings and emotions than if it were being told through a third entity. In the two stories, it doesn’t take long for the reader to figure out the mood of the story and understand the narrator’s current state through their descriptions. Poe and Gilman wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” through the point of view of someone who comes across to the reader as insane (or one who is becoming insane). This sense of insanity and the overall writing style help add to the reader’s interest and emotional appeal to the story, along with fully developing the mood.
Mood can also be created through the use of diction. Diction is the writer’s word choice in order to convey characters’ emotions and depict places, events, and other characters. How the author chooses their word choice plays a large part in the reader’s feelings towards the character or event. In many of Poe’s works, he often uses repetition of words or phrases to portray the mood of the story and the character’s mental state. Similarly to how Poe often uses repetition of words and phrases in many of his stories, Gilman repeats numerous phrases expressing the narrator’s dislike towards the wallpaper. Both stories are written through first person, and both narrators sound more insane than sane. In “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the narrator constantly keeps insisting throughout the story that he is not mad and how he will calmly tell his story. Whereas in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman’s word choice throughout the story consistently make the narrator sound as though she is frantic and on the verge of going insane in that bedroom (if not already insane). The descriptions Gilman gives in relation to the setting and the narrator’s feelings toward the wallpaper also add to the overall effect of her word choice. Critics suggest that – rather than Gilman simply stating the artistic failure of the wallpaper – the way the wallpaper is described as a grotesque figure “transforms her narrative into a disturbing, startling, and darkly ironic tale” (Hume 477). Gilman’s detailed description of the wallpaper leads readers to become captivated by it while also leaving an ominous feeling in the back of the mind. The diction of the story is what allows the reader to get put inside the character’s head in order to understand how they think and feel.
Another common way for mood to be created in a story is through the overall theme. Theme is considered to be the main idea or meaning behind a story. Often times, the theme can be left to be determined by the reader since it is not typically stated outright. The two stories portray a dark and ominous theme, and there are several examples throughout “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” of the common theme of insanity. Among many of Poe’s stories and poems, insanity is a frequent reoccurrence. According to one critic, Poe creates a theme in his works “where the lines between sanity and insanity blur in a nightmare atmosphere” (Witherington 472). “The Tell-Tale Heart” creates an insane and nightmare-like feeling in the reader, speaking to the reader as though they have now become an accomplice to the murder the narrator has committed. Similar to the atmosphere of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Yellow Wallpaper” creates an atmosphere of fear and insanity which entertains its readers. This idea of insanity in both stories is a major theme since it would be considered a significant and repeated idea in both stories. The setting, tone, and diction of a story can all play a role in the reader interpreting the theme; and all of these literary methods help to create and determine the mood of a story.
Mood is one of the literary elements which has a major role in a story and the reader’s emotions and thoughts on the story. The mood ensures the reader’s interest and emotional attachment to the story, as well as their comprehension of any messages being conveyed from the writer. Similarities in the moods and ideas of two stories will allow the reader to make connections between the two, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”. A well-developed mood will add depth and value to the writer’s work. Both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” are memorable and stir up similar thoughts and feelings in the reader due to the frequent similarities between their settings, tone, diction, and theme.
Conflict in The Yellow Wallpaper
In Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s The Yellow Wallpaper, conflict plays a significant role in the narrator’s worsening physical and mental condition. The author has used a diary format to give readers incredible insight into Jane’s state of mind. Stetson inserts John’s voice into his wife’s confidential thoughts, emphasising the control he has over her. Stetson’s use of symbolism, as well as several other literary devices, successfully portrays the protagonists’ internal conflict.
Stetson has effectively used a diary format in The Yellow Wallpaper, to demonstrate the effect of conflict on the protagonist’s physical and emotional wellbeing. A diary is a book in which one records their significant experiences and emotions. The author did this to offer reader’s a personal and intimate look into Jane’s thoughts and feelings. This is particularly emphasised through the author’s use of tone, and how it changes as Jane’s psychological condition worsens. This is clear when the narrator expresses herself like “Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees,” (p. 649) at the beginning of the story. The term ‘riotous’ refers to something that is wild and uncontrollable; like how the garden is characterised. This contrasts with the nature of the nursey; from which the narrator observes the flowers and trees constantly growing. The language that Stetson has used is effective in highlighting the dichotomy between Jane’s desire for freedom and her life of confinement. However, towards the end of the story, the tone becomes hastened and desperate, through the author’s use of short and disconnected sentences. This is evident in ”I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again. How those children did tear about here! This bedstead is fairly gnawed! But I must get to work.” (p. 655) These four sentences; while they are loosely connected, are all separate thoughts and nothing like the aforementioned coherent expression. From this, it is clear that she is not as lucid as she was previously, Stetson has effectively used these literary devices to represent the obvious effect that conflict has on one’s wellbeing.
Following on from above, the diary entry is written from Jane’s perspective, however, Stetson has successfully used this to inject John’s voice even into his wife’s most intimate thoughts, emphasising the conflict between them. The author overshadowed the narrator’s voice as it illustrates the gender roles present at the time this story was published, in 1892. The control that John has over his wife is evident when Stetson juxtaposes, “He is very careful and loving,” (p. 648) which implies that John is a great husband and they have an amazing relationship, with “hardly lets me stir without special direction,” in which the hyperbole presents readers with an image of John’s controlling nature. This emphasises Jane’s submissive role within their marriage, further exaggerated through “Personally, I disagree with their ideas.” (p. 648) The uncertainty over “I take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again,” (p. 648) is Stetson’s way of showing readers that Jane has no say in how she is treated; she does not even know what she is taking, she is just doing what her husband says. Throughout the story, the author used one-line paragraphs and sentences with choppy rhythm, evident in “It is not bad – at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met,” (p. 654) to bring forth Jane’s agitated state of mind and the hurried nature of the writing in her secret journal. This helps to reiterate the conflict between Jane and John.
Jane’s internal conflict is most effectively represented by the yellow wallpaper discussed throughout the narrative. The wallpaper represents the structure of family, medicine, and society, in which the narrator finds herself trapped. Stetson has skilfully used this hideous and terrifying wallpaper as a symbol of the domestic life that traps so many women. This is evident in “There are things in that paper,” (p. 652) where the ‘things’ are a clear example of the author’s use of irony, as they represent both the mysterious woman that Jane sees and the disturbing ideas that she is beginning to understand. The quote “nobody knows but me” (p. 652) shows readers that the narrator is frightened of what her secret might imply, and through “the dim shapes get clearer every day,” (p. 652) she is again trying to deny her growing insight. From this we can see that Jane is being pulled further and further into her own fantasy, and like the woman in her imagination, is stuck in a situation where escape is inconceivable. In the quote “It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you,” (p. 653) the author’s use of second-person narration provides readers with a firsthand look at Jane’s descent into madness. Through the authors use of personification, words like ‘slaps,’ ‘knocks,’ and ‘tramples,’ help readers grasp the metaphorical pain the wallpaper causes the narrator. Using simile, Stetson compares the wallpaper to a nightmare, this demonstrates the amount of discomfort it causes Jane, evident in “It is like a bad dream.” (p. 653) So, in addition to symbolism, Stetson has used a combination of personification, second-person narration and simile to emphasise how the wallpaper tortures Jane, thereby, presenting the narrator’s internal conflict.
Despite being published over a century ago, many of the issues addressed in Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper, are still prevalent today, the main one being the major role that conflict plays in the deterioration of both a person’s physical and mental health. This is emphasised through the diary format in which the story is written, this gives readers an in-depth look into the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. Jane and John’s strained relationship is effectively depicted through the author’s ability to integrate John’s voice into his wife’s most private thoughts, this is also her way of critiquing late 19th century gender roles. And by using literary devices such as symbolism and personification, Stetson was able to clearly represent the narrator’s internal conflict.
Sanity and Insanity in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and The Yellow Wallpaper
The question of how to determine what is sane and what is insane is explored in both Kesey’s Novel ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1962) and Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1896). The terms “sanity” and “insanity” are often attached to a great amount of ambiguity; one definition states that sanity is “the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner”. It can be argued that one of the key themes of both texts is exploring the limitations of and challenging such a strict definition; the readers are led to question who has the authority to decide what constitutes as “madness” and what does not. At a glance, it appears obvious who is “sane” and who is “insane” in both texts, while Perkins Gilman’s novella may appear to focus on the deteriorating mental state of its protagonist and Kesey’s novel seemingly following the journey towards freedom from an institutionalised madness. However, when examining both texts further, this differentiation becomes much more indistinguishable.
The representation of insanity in Kesey’s novel is communicated to the readers solely through the eyes of the “crazy” Chief Bromden, revealing his past in a narrative of hallucinations and anachronism. Kesey uses the symbolism of the “combine” to portray the idea of dramatic irony throughout the novel; instead of being actually therapeutic, the ward has the machine-like intention of distorting the characters into the submission of conformity to social expectations by replacing “clarity of mind” with a “fog”. Due to this distortion, it is questionable to what extent the readers can trust the judgement of Chief Bromden when analysing what is and what is not sane. It is clear that with this symbolism, Kesey is portraying the idea that insanity can be looked at from more than a psychological perspective – the manipulation of people can make them believe they are insane and they can therefore be controlled. Looking specifically at the character of Harding, it is hard to tell whether it is his non-compliance with the social expectations laid out by the ward that makes him appear insane through such distorted eyes of the Chief, or if he is truly insane. Kesey tells us that Harding’s wife “gives him a feeling of inferiority” due to his “limp wrists” signalling the possible homosexuality that has forced him to seclude himself in a psychological unit to ‘recover’ from what, in 1962, was seen as illness. From a 21st century perspective, it is certainly hard in this case to distinguish between what is insane and what is actually manipulation of a character who failed to conform to what was expected of “normal.” Kesey’s use of this first person narrative successfully manipulates the readers’ own ideas of insanity. However, the idea of being unable to distinguish between insanity and manipulation resurfaces towards the end of the novel when the Chief speaks for the first time in 15 years to McMurphy about his ideas regarding the “combine” after always being seen as “deaf and dumb.” McMurphy’s response, “I didn’t say it didn’t make sense, Chief, I just said it was talking crazy”, actually breaks down the distinction between “crazy” and “sense”, implying that there is a great difference between what does not make sense to the society of the time and what is truly “crazy”. Therefore, it appears that as the characters themselves make the realisation of how mechanic the ward is, the distinction between sane and insane becomes much more obvious.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is an 1896 novella that follows the story of an unknown narrator and her struggle to escape from the constrained life enforced on her by her husband, John. In a similar way to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the journal- like narrative of Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ uses the motif of madness as a metaphor to oppose the attitudes of 19th century society. The novella portrays the status of 19th century women; we are told “He (John) hates me to write a word”, implying that were a woman to partake in typically male activity and have to think academically, it would be detrimental to her health. However, Perkins Gilman’s use of varied language and metaphorical speech regarding the wallpaper, such as how “flamboyant patterns commit every artistic sin”, implies just how educated the narrator is. Therefore, when she states how “it is such a relief!” to have an output for her feelings, it is much easier to trust the narrator’s judgement and conclude that the narrator’s eventual and arguably inevitable insanity it not because she has no ability of “rational thinking”, but because she is under the restricting control of a male dominated world; it is more the lack of public voice and isolation that is detrimental to her health and not the writing itself. However, literary critic Beverly A Hume has declared “female authors dramatize their own self division, their desire to both accept the strictures of patriarchal society and reject them.” This argument would suggest that it is questionable to what extent Perkins Gilman intended the narrator to appear truly “insane”, or if it is her uncommon yearning to contest social expectations that forces the narrator to simply believe she deserves the title of “hysterical”. In a very similar way to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the novella explores dramatic irony to contest how common beliefs of the time may have been much more manipulative and even exploitative than helpful for the mentally ill. This manipulation inescapably blurs the boundaries between how to distinguish between what is Sane and what is insane and suggests that while it may have been the author’s intention to portray how “division” from society leads to insanity, this is actually questionable.
Alternatively, it can be argued that in Kesey’s novel, while manipulation by the mechanics of the “combine” forces the characters to believe they are insane so they can be controlled, it may seem that McMurphy’s unmanageable influence allows the characters to reclaim their “sanity” and turn it into a level of strength. When comparing the men in the ward with the Big Nurse in part 4 of the novel and the Chief admitting, “maybe the Combine wasn’t all-powerful” it could be argued that Kesey is implying that it is much more “insane” of the Big Nurse to have had so much control; the realisation of Harding towards the end of the novel that “perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become” makes the readers question whether Kesey is really arguing that power is, or should be, the ultimate goal of the characters, or if it is just the strength to realise that no matter where or who they are, they can survive in reality. After the key event of the fishing trip in part 3 of the novel, Chief Bromden realises “you have to laugh at the things that hurt you…to keep the world from running you plumb crazy”. It is this moment where the laughter of the characters portrays that they can’t be truly insane and would suggest that this realisation allows the characters themselves to finally distinguish between sanity and insanity and escape from the distorted and “foggy” world the Big Nurse trapped them in. Therefore, with the fact that the characters themselves are able to eventually distinguish between sanity and insanity, it can be argued that the novel itself serves an overarching purpose of questioning the conventional meaning of insanity. Therefore, if we trust Kesey’s interpretation, making it uncomplicated too distinguish between the two.
In both Kesey’s novel and Perkin Gilman’s novella, characterisation and plot development is extremely important when making the distinction between sanity and insanity. In ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, the form of the novel, being split into four parts, portrays the gradual weakening of McMurphy as a character. The readers are led to question whether the protagonist McMurphy is actually psychopathic, or whether he pretends to be to escape from the “rigorous life on the work farm” he had been forced employment on for “fighting and fucking too much”. Upon his arrival in the ward, he declares himself “bull goose loony”- language that can arguably be seen to disregard the dangers of mental illness and portrays McMurphy’s initial misunderstanding of how the ward is progressively oppressive the more “crazy” a person is. It is clear that his deviant behaviour and “hassling” of Nurse Ratched is represented in a comical way, almost as though it is a game to him to defy “the combine”. Throughout the novel, it appears McMurphy is a “martyr” to the other characters; the fact that he is not affected by the “fog” that the other characters are so terrified of perfectly symbolises the power, or strength, he holds over the carefully constructed system. It is clear that his purpose is to allow the other characters to realise they are “no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the streets”, suggesting that Kesey is trying to explicitly make a differentiation between sane and insane. However, the final part of the novel presents McMurphy’s “exhaustion” escalate into what could arguably be seen as him truly having psychopathic tendencies. While it can be argued that his death portrays the idea of his strength saving the other characters, the final attack on the Big Nurse, “after he’d smashed through that glass door” seems to be driven by a violent madness where McMurphy had gone past “rational thinking” and much further than what was solely a fight against her domination.
“Who Run the World? Girls.” — An Exploration on Female Liberation, Selfhood and the Entrapment of Marriage through Symbolism, Imagery, and Irony in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Story of an Hour”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” explore ideas of female identity and selfhood, and more importantly, female liberation. These authors present their female characters as self-assertive in a positive manner; however, the characters also acknowledge that the journey for ideal feminine freedom, liberation, and selfhood in the oppressive environment of a patriarchal society is extremely difficult due to societal scrutiny, self-scrutiny, the entrapment of the convention of marriage, and other social establishments. Gilman and Chopin utilize specific literary tools, prominently symbolism, irony, and rich imagery to reveal the inner themes of female liberation, patriarchal oppression, and the female identity.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator and her husband retreat to a vacation home to treat her “nervous depression” and “slight hysterical tendencies” (Gilman 1184). Gilman’s story immediately begins with the narrator’s point of view that men, specifically men’s ideas, are more valuable than women’s ideas. Immediately revealing the oppression that the narrator’s husband exerts on her, she states, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary depression — a slight hysterical tendency— what is one to do? My brother is also of high standing, and he says the same thing. Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (Gilman 1184)
This immediately reveals to the audience that the narrator is oppressed by men; her husband’s and brother’s professional opinions are enough to silence her, and make her submissive to their rules. In this time period, men were superior; their ideas, beliefs, morals and regulations ruled everything.
Paula A. Treichler, a Women’s Studies scholar and professor at the University of Illinois, touches on this in her article about “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
It is the male voice that privileges the rational, the practical, and the observable. It is the voice of male logic and male judgement which dismisses the superstition and refuses to see the narrator’s condition as serious. It imposes controls on the female narrator and dictates how she is to perceive and talk about the world. It is enforced by the “ancestral halls” themselves: the rules are followed even when the physician-husband is absent. (Treichler 66)
Gilman expresses this patriarchal oppression, and lack of control through symbolism throughout the story.
The first major symbol Gilman utilizes is the yellow wallpaper itself; Gilman repeatedly emphasizes the wallpaper and how the narrator responds to it. The first time the narrator mentions the yellow wallpaper, she states, “The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight… I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long” (Gilman 1185). The color imagery within the passage mirrors the narrator’s mental state, sickly and ill. Little knowing that she would be prisoned in the room for long periods of time, the narrator slowly begins to see an “object behind” the wallpaper. She states, “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. By daylight she is subdued, quiet. It is the fancy pattern that keeps her so still. It keeps me quiet by the hour” (Gilman 1191). The narrator also states that it seems as if the woman behind the wallpaper is entrapped by “bars,” revealing that the woman is in a prison of sorts; this woman behind the wallpaper symbolizes the narrator.
Gilman employs the symbol of the wallpaper to show the lack of freedom the narrator has. Just as the wallpaper—with it’s imprisoning pattern—entraps her, so does her physician-husband; he entraps her body and mind, restricting things such as writing, and even going outside of the home. Gilman also uses the bed as a major symbol within “The Yellow Wallpaper” to express the narrator’s entrapment. The narrator says, “I lie here in this great immovable bed— it is nailed down, I believe” (Gilman 1189). This bed, unmoving, heavy, and destroyed, represents the narrator’s lack of freedom. The bed is unmoving, just as the narrator is; she attempts to move the bed, and the bed is steadfast— mirroring the activity of the narrator. This “rest cure” prescribed by her husband, brother, and general physician render her useless; she cannot work, she cannot paint or write, and she cannot move from the house, this causes a major deterioration of her mental state.
In addition to the bed, Gilman uses a window to symbolize the narrator’s liberation, or lack thereof. Within the story, the narrator constantly mentions windows, beginning in a positive light and slowly morphing into a negative light. She mentions the windows provide “air and sunshine galore,” and she enjoys looking at the garden and the wharf (Gilman 1188). The window initially is a happy, joyful thing within the room; it allows access to a small chunk of freedom. However, as the story progresses, she then begins to hate the barred windows because they allow her to see things she cannot have. She states, “I can see her [the woman behind the wallpaper] out of every one of my windows! … I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once” (Gilman 1193). In the end, the window symbolizes the narrator’s inaccessible freedom. She says, “I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be an admirable exercise” (Gilman 1194). The window is her access to freedom; however, being barred and unescapable, it also symbolizes her oppression, her lack of free will, and her unreceived liberation.
The controversial topics within“The Yellow Wallpaper” caused a literary uproar, so Gilman responded with a letter entitled “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”. Within the letter, Gilman explains that the short story is semi-autobiographical; Gilman herself was diagnosed with “nervous breakdowns tending to melancholia and beyond” (Gilman 1203). A famous physician prescribed her to stay on the “rest cure” and sent her home with the advice to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours of intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch a pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as she lived (Gilman 1204). Gilman states, “I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near to the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over;” Gilman eventually went to work shortly after her mental ruin, ultimately recovering some measure of power.
At the end of the letter Gilman states, “[“The Yellow Wallpaper”] was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked” (Gilman 1204). Within “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman gives light to mental illnesses and the importance of free will, and the female identity. Using the symbolism and imagery of the wallpaper, the nailed-down bed, and the barred windows, Gilman creates a strong theme within the story, and reveals the importance of female freedom and identity. Within the same societal message as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Story of an Hour” revolves around themes of female liberation, identity, and the entrapment of marriage.
Just as Gilman does, Chopin utilizes symbols throughout the piece to explore these themes; however, she utilizes much more irony and imagery to express the themes than Gilman does with “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Emily Toth, a noted Chopin scholar, states that “among Chopin scholars there have always been gender gaps. Chopin’s male critics of the early 1970’s in particular were prone to claim that Chopin’s works are “universal” rather than feminist, about the human condition rather than the women. Virtually all of these claims are wrong” (Toth 16).
Critical analyses of Kate Chopin’s works readily evoke a note of tension between women and the society surrounding them. This connection between women and society, more specifically women and their husbands, is apparent within Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”. The story begins with a third person omniscient narrator stating that Mrs. Mallard suffers from “heart trouble” and great care was needed to break the news of her husband’s death. Mrs. Mallard immediately weeps, as one expects, and then quietly goes to her den to be alone. As she is admiring the spring day, she suddenly begins to exclaim “free, free, free!” (Chopin 67). Mrs. Mallard revels in this new-found freedom, little knowing that she would soon be startled dead by her husband walking through the front door.
The first major symbol within the story is the heart troubles Mrs. Mallard experiences, specifically referring to the heart itself. The heart is, societally speaking, traditionally a symbol of an individual’s emotional core. Her physical heart troubles in life symbolize her emotional turmoil in her marriage. It is likely that Mrs. Mallard’s heart troubles also represent the peril of the entrapment of marriage in the 19th century — completely based around inequalities and the imbalance of power. Mrs. Mallard herself is a symbol within the story, as well. She is an exhausted woman, young and pretty, but with “lines that bespoke repression” (Chopin 67). She represents women within this time frame— trapped in marriage and unable to find happiness within it, constantly battling the thoughts of society vs. selfhood, and what ultimately makes a person happy.
Upon returning to her den to collect her thoughts, Mrs. Mallard sinks into an armchair. The narrator states, “There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy arm-chair. Into this she sank, pressed down by physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul” (Chopin 66). After sinking into this arm-chair, her revelation begins— she can be free. This arm-chair symbolizes rest from the societal expectations of marriage, she can find solace in this arm-chair just as she will find in life.
Chopin also utilizes rich imagery to express Mrs. Mallard’s need for independence from her husband. While in her study, Mrs. Mallard sinks into an arm-chair and sits with her thoughts of her husband’s recent death. She weeps for a short period of time; however, contrary to societal expectations, she begins to enjoy this time in her study. The narrator says:
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was int he air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves. (Chopin 66)
Chopin is making a direct correlation between the new spring day and her new quivering, awakening life. The rich imagery such as “aquiver with the new Spring life,” “delicious breath of rain,” and “sparrows twittering,” expresses the new found freedom Mrs. Mallard will have— just as a Spring day is often a fresh start, or the start of something new, Mrs. Mallard’s life reflects this Spring day. Chopin’s use of imagery is also reflected in the description of the “patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing window” (Chopin 66). These are images of happiness; the blue patches of sky reveal her new, happy life peaking through the oppression of her marriage.
Chopin’s use of irony in “The Story of an Hour” is weaved throughout the entire story, but is more present at the end of the piece. By then:
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years: she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have the right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination. (Chopin 67)
Mrs. Mallard, near the end of the story, is undoubtedly free. She is chanting of freedom, she is quivering with freedom, she has finally been released from the chains of marriage— the constant struggle between loving a spouse or being complacent with a spouse. Mrs. Mallard “suddenly recognized her self-assertion as the strongest impulse of her being,” (Chopin 67). As Josephine kneels at the door, she hears Mrs. Mallard crying, little knowing it is not because she is weeping for her husband, but because she is enthralled with new-found liberation. This scene reiterates the social expectation that women are weak, over-excited, “nervous,” or overall a hysterical mess. On the contrary, Louisa is chanting “Free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 68).
Toth states of Chopin, “Like many writers, Chopin used her stories to ask and resolve questions— in her case, about marriage, motherhood, independence, passion, life, and death. Where she seems to make choices, she favors solitude, nearly always in a positive context” (Toth 24). In lieu with Toth, Chopin makes it clear that Mrs. Mallard is absolutely reveling in her new-found solitude; there is nothing but hope and joy of her new life ahead of her. Josephine eventually coaxes Louisa out of her study and, when walking she’s down the stairs, Brently Mallard appears; Mrs. Louisa Mallard dies instantly. The narrator states “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease— of joy that kills” (Chopin 68). This irony in this statement is clear to the audience: Mrs. Mallard did not die from happiness or joy of seeing her husband alive, but from shock of her new-found liberation immediately ripped from her grasp.
Gilman and Chopin’s stories explore ideas of female oppression that are still relevant in today’s society. These authors utilize literary devices such as imagery, irony and symbolism to express critiques on the convention of marriage, and the negative effects that this ritual can have on women. Chopin and Gilman illustrate ways in which marriage and female oppression can lead to insanity; women need to work, to create, to live and breathe to be successful and healthy. The critique on marriage is obvious to the audience through the authors’ diction and syntax within the short stories, and flourishes with the rich imagery, strong symbols, and situational irony.
Bauer, Margaret. “Chopin in Her Times: Critical Essays on Patriarchy and Feminine Identity”.
Durham: Duke UP, 1997. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.
Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. Fourth ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 66-68. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. ”The Yellow Wallpaper”. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Seventh ed. Vol. C. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 1184-1197. Print.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. ”Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper”. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Seventh ed. Vol. C. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 1184+. Print.
Toth, Emily. ”Kate Chopin Thinks Back Through Her Mothers: Three Stories by Kate Chopin,” Kate Chopin Reconsidered, ed. Lynda S. Boren and Sara deSaussure Davis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1992), p. 24. JSTOR. 7 Oct. 2014. Treichler, Paula A. “Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 2nd ser. 3.1 (1984). p. 61-77. JSTOR. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.
Jane’s Postpartum Depression in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Proof Is in the Paper
Imagine being locked in a room, with no outside interaction, except for the rare conversations with a housemaid or husband. Add in a bout of postpartum depression and an overbearing husband to have the story of Jane, a woman in nineteenth-century America. She is the main character and narrator of the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” written by Charlotte Perkins Stetson. Jane is also a new mother who falls into a case of baby blues, and is put into isolation by her husband to try and treat her. Unfortunately, his attempts have an adverse effect and she spirals into insanity, becoming unhealthily obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in the room she is trapped in. This obsession stems from a variety of factors, including her postpartum depression, her isolation, and her husband’s misdiagnosis.
The main cause of Jane’s warped perception is her postpartum depression, which is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as: “a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth… [those suffering] experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities” (NIMH). Her husband, John, is a physician and describes it as a “temporary nervous depression,” and claims that it gives her a “slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 648). Jane’s depression is most debilitating at the beginning of the story. Her mood is unstable, as she states that she would “get unreasonably angry with John…I was sure I never used to be this sensitive” (Gilman 648). Her mood swings show that her emotional health is starting to worsen. Later on, she develops an intense anxiety and it becomes apparent when she describes her interactions with her baby. During the nineteenth century, postpartum depression was not recognized as a legitimate health condition, so Jane’s confusion with her baby blues is completely understandable. She relates her experiences surrounding her infant stating, “Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous!” (Gilman 648). Jane’s anxiety with her child obviously distresses her which adds to the mental weight on her.
Jane’s ability to think logically begins to deteriorate once she discovers the yellow wallpaper. She seems to get irrationally bothered by the inconsistency of the pattern to the point where she says: “I positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness” (649). Her behaviors in the first two examples can be considered as those of an anxious person and do not fall too far outside the realm of neurotypicality. However, in the last example, it is clear that her grasp on her emotions is starting to slip. Her irrational irritation with an inanimate object proves the idea that Jane’s moodiness may be linked to something deeper.
Eventually, Jane’s depression gives way into psychosis, a more sinister path. She develops an unhealthy obsession with the yellow wallpaper in the room that she is living in. From the beginning, Jane does show an unusually strong distaste towards it, describing its color as, “repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others” (Gilman 649). After a long description of the room she lives in, she shares that she can see a being in the wall. She states: “But in the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so – I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (Gilman 650). At this point, it is obvious to the reader that Jane is falling into a bout of psychosis. Her fall into this dark hole is not caused by her depression. As her time in the room progresses, so does her obsession. Jane’s time in the room is lonely, and with no stimuli except for the occasional conversation with John or his sister. Besides that, she has no interaction with anyone for twenty-four hours a day. Jane’s depression may have begun her mental illness, but it is not what caused her hallucinations. She loses her grip on reality because of under stimulation.
Because Jane is not interacting with anything or anyone, her imagination becomes hyperactive and she starts to hallucinate, and the strange figure from before is identified as a mysterious woman. Jane continues to see the imaginary woman more frequently, describing her as, “always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight” (Gilman 654). Eventually, the weeks of isolation push Jane past her breaking point and she falls into complete psychosis. She rejects the outside world because “for outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow” (Gilman 656). She continues on, narrating her erratic behavior by saying: “But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way” (Gilman 656). These two sentences destroy any doubt that Jane still has a sliver of sanity left. The relationship between the amount of isolation Jane suffered through and her insanity is not a coincidence. Rather, their relation is cause and effect; Jane’s time alone in the room is the cause, and her mental break is the effect.
Despite the above reasons, the true problem that causes the narrator, Jane, to fall into her mental degeneracy is her husband, John. In the beginning of the story, Jane is diagnosed with hysterical depression by John. She describes his idea of treatment by sharing all the medicine she has to take, such as: “phosphates or phosphites whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and I am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again” (Gilman 648). In the nineteenth century, women’s mental health was disregarded and most legitimate conditions were brushed off as a short episode of hysteria. This caused many women to be treated incorrectly, oftentimes under one blanket treatment of isolation which tended to be extremely detrimental to their health. Two psychologists from the University of Wisconsin confirms this in their paper, describing the treatment the women in the nineteenth century endured. They state, “Between the years of 1850-1900, women were placed in mental institutions for behaving in ways that male society did not agree with. Women during this time period had minimal rights, even concerning their own mental health” (Pouba and Tianen 95). Some could say that John is a symbol of the patriarchy in this story. It is not a far stretch to believe this, as his actions towards Jane indicate that he may be overbearing in their relationship. John does not seem to value Jane’s opinion about her own health, as she states that, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman 647). She seems to have experienced a lot of ridicule from her husband as she normalizes it as a regular part of marriage. He does show a lot of affection towards Jane; she shares an interaction she had, stating, “He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake” (Gilman 652). Although he is sweet to Jane, he still shows selfish reasoning behind his desire for her to be well. It is showing of his character, as it reveals him to be self-centered and misleading. John may have thought he was helping the situation, but like the patriarchy, he ended up becoming an overbearing presence to Jane and ignored her well-being, all of which only pushed Jane into a poor mental state.
Overall, Jane’s fall into insanity is not her fault. Her postpartum depression, her isolation, and her husband’s poor understanding of her condition all contribute to her psychosis. Her baby blues are what cause her to be in a unwell mental state, and it is only perpetuated by the under stimulation she experiences through being locked in her room. All of this could have been avoided if her husband had taken her opinion into consideration in the first place. As a whole, this story, although fictitious, demonstrates the mistreatment of women and the negative effects it can have.
Female Marginalisation Embodied in The Color Purple and The Yellow Wallpaper
Female marginalisation is a major theme in The Color Purple, with Celie’s emancipation from repressive male patriarchy being the culmination of the plot. When discussing the way narrative method and perspective are used within the novel to address these themes, it is useful to make comparisons and contrasts with a different text. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper was written almost a century before The Color Purple but shares similar themes of female repression by men, the major difference being that whilst Celie overcomes her restrainers, the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is overwhelmed by them. Both authors tried to express this marginalisation through the form and style of the narrative; not simply through the development of the plot.
When looking at narrative method in The Color Purple, we are immediately drawn to the fact that it is written in epistolary form. Novels being made up of a series of letters has historically been a popular style with women authors, having been used by some of our earliest women writers including Aphra Behn and Mary Shelley. It offers a female author the chance to express the thoughts and actions of her characters without the medium of an omniscient narrator. This is a very important thing when discussing female marginalisation, as the expected narrative voice of the omniscient narrator (at least before and during the nineteenth century, if not today) would have been expected to represent the prevailing masculine voice of society. By employing the epistolic method of novel writing, the female author is able to freely reject the ‘objective’ male voice of an omniscient narrator, in favour of the subjective voices of the characters. But the text is still considered mainstream and acceptable because it does not openly reject accepted social mores by subverting the objective masculine narrator, or by claiming the superiority of the female narrative voice. Readers expecting the familiar masculine narration do not reject a female narrative when in epistolic form because it works within the expected position of women in society, as especially sensitive to the personal and familiar.
But one could say that in The Color Purple this convention is used ironically. Walker uses the form traditionally thought of as best suited to female authors and manipulates it in order to portray a character that breaks her bonds to abusive men. Celie starts her letters as an address to a masculine God (although not specifically stated, one assumes the patriarchal biblical god), which shows her total dependence on, and belief in, the superiority of men. The continuation of such a view is evident throughout the beginning and middle of the novel with her refusal to name her husband Albert, instead referring to him as ’Mr______’. Its only after the arrival of Shug Avery and then the discovery of Nettie’s letters, that Celie begins to refer to her husband as Albert; this occurs as she switches the object of her letters from the father figure of God to her sister, representing a growing awareness of her part within, and solidarity to, the feminine.
One of the most successful ways in which The Yellow Wallpaper achieves a true understanding of female marginalisation in late nineteenth century New England is through its use of stream-of-consciousness narration. It isn’t through direct omniscient revelation of desire that we learn of her repression, but through the presentation of her conscious through the medium of her reasoning. These thoughts are still very restrictive and only allude to the male domination that she is being put under; her thoughts being in line with what would be expected of her outward speech: ‘I get so unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.’ It is possible that Gilman used the stream-of-consciousness method in this way in order to show that the reason why the narrator has totally broken down by the end of the story is that even in their minds many women have no freedom of thought or expression, but are unconsciously subject to a male orientated and dominant view of themselves.
The Color Purple arrives at the opposite conclusion. This is because a fully emancipated (open to debate of course, but in comparison to Gilman there is no doubt Walker can be called emancipated) author gives her character Celie far more freedom of thought than might have been the case for a real person in Celie’s position, as such a person’s thoughts would most likely be far more in accord with those of their social superiors. If Celie did not have this freedom of thought (and expression through her letters) then she may never have gradually freed herself from reliance on men in a healthy manner (as opposed to the freedom born of madness that Gilman’s narrator finds). It could be possible to suggest that the voice of Celie within the letters is in fact the voice of Alice Walker within the character of Celie; as such a character would be unlikely to express themselves in the way that is presented to us.
It is useful to note the portrayal of the social perspectives of the characters in the two texts. They are both faced with female marginalisation, but they are not both from the same social environment. The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is suggested (by the description of her lifestyle and her style of language) to be a white middle-class woman, her thoughts and opinion being held secondary to those of white middle-class men. Beyond this single repression there is very little evidence to suggest any other forms of social marginalisation. The case of Celie in The Color Purple is much more complicated; there are a host of different reasons why she is inferior to those around her. Not only is she a black woman in nineteen thirties Georgia (reason enough to feel marginalised), but she was a physically and sexually abused motherless child. Walker presents Celie’s social position by using informal colloquial language in Celie’s letters, through this we immediately learn in the first letter that she is poorly educated (through this we assume financially poor also) and from a black community in the American deep south (although only those that are familiar with the particular geo-social dialect might be able to glean this from the text): ‘But I don’t never git used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. My mama she fuss at me an look at me. She happy, cause he good to her now. But too sick to last long.’ By using such stylised language in the narrative not only do we come to comprehend Celie’s marginalisation through simple understanding of the text, but through the very sound (phonology) and look of it (graphology).
Both texts make use of symbols. Obviously, the colour purple is a key symbol in The Color Purple, representing the beauty and love of god in a less than perfect world. There are other symbols within the text, like the making of patchwork quilts and Celie’s career in trouser making (‘people’s pants’), which represent the traditional outlets of female creativity. In The Yellow Wallpaper we are confronted with a myriad of symbols that could be read in numerous ways; the colour of the wallpaper, the pattern and the illusions that the narrator sees within to name a few. The importance of symbolism within both texts lies in their ability to engage directly with the readers’ problem solving skills, which in turn leads to a development of thought concerning the subject of the symbolism. When the symbol is related to female marginalisation the reader is encouraged to view the issue in an abstract fashion (as colour, shape, sound etc), often challenging the assumed opinions of the reader and hopefully (for the author) bringing about a reappraisal of their views.
As we can see, there are many different methods within prose narration that can be used in order to bring the issue of female marginalisation to the attention of the reader. The important thing that we can see is that the very act of writing itself is heavily influenced by issues of gender; any text can be discussed with gender on the agenda, even if the subject of the text has little or nothing to do with such themes. But both The Color Purple and The Yellow Wallpaper are explicitly about these gender issues, and both authors have addressed their subjects using innovative and subversive narrative methods, so that the reader becomes aware of the difficulties women have had in expressing themselves and their female perspective when bound to a patriarchal society.
Goodman, Lizbeth. Literature and Gender (1996) The Open University
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) The Open University
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple (1983) Penguin Classics
Postpartum Depression In The Yellow Wallpaper By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In the article, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, author Charlotte Perkins Gilman introduces a young lady, Jane who gives birth then goes through postpartum depression. Through her characterization, setting, and symbolism of isolation Jane begins to spiral downward while trying to keep herself together when around her husband and sister in law. Although, postpartum depression appears to be a struggle with women during this era, it symbolizes that women live by patriarchy, and disorders have no room in their lives.
The setting in this writing compiles to the diagnosis of having postpartum depression. A person should almost be secluded in isolation if such a diagnosis of PPD happens. Author, Gilman, made this setting simple; a rent house about 3 miles outside of town quiet vs the quaintness of city life. The countryside of a peaceful, yet sensible treatment scene for postpartum depression is the elite setting. According to Gilman, the house is vacant due to the previous owner’s family’s heirs whom did not want to keep the house up. In this article, “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman stated, “There is a delicious garden!”, Jane seemed to like the outside, this simulates that she would possibly want to be out more within the garden. The house itself has a different feel from the home she left, she says, in Gilman’s article “The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village.” Jane wondered how her husband was able to find such beautiful vacation spot. The location of being in the country, quiet, and an older home gave a romantic yet haunting effect. The natural effect of the home grew on Jane. She begins to think and wonder the reason she is brought to the home; she trusts that her husband, knows what is best for her. Jane begins to think she can get some relief by writing in a journal, however her husband the good doctor does not want her to do so, he only wants medications and rest for her, this is now repetitive in Janes life. The young lady notices this yellow wallpaper in one of the rooms in which she hated. The wallpaper spoke volumes to Jane, she disliked the awkward designs, which became an obsession, she feels it signifies women and their domestic attributions that they endure in their household for this era. Jane felt she could secretly write in her journal with feelings of the life she left and new feelings of detachment from her husband. This setting is one that Jane will never forget, the feeling it gave her, and the freedom in which she gained from it by losing herself in the wallpaper; a trapped woman that she freed by tearing the paper off the wall. Jane’s insanity from the wallpaper eventually ventured to the surface when her husband John came home to find a locked door, he then questioned if this quiet, somber setting was the best for his wife’s recovery after all.
During this modernistic time, the characterization of men meant women did not have a voice. In this era women tended the home, the kids, and cooking; while the men hunted, built things, and took charge of the household. Jane being a new mom, now suffering from postpartum depression, is not able to continue her role as woman of the home. In the article, “Role of Attachment Patterns and Partner Support n Postpartum Depression”, the author stated, “Transition to motherhood is an important process of change for women and this process represents an emotionally quite difficult and unsteady period.” Jane apparently finds it quite difficult to begin her role as a new mom and still being lady of the home. John, her husband is a physician as well as her brother both have great positions in the community. In the reading, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Jane says that her husband John was a well-known physician, she stated, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do? Jane makes this statement because her husband feels that nothing is wrong with her; she just needs temporary rest and she will be fine. He does not want his reputation tarnished throughout town with talks of his wife being depressed and he could not help her. John planned this vacation spot so that he was closer to work but his wife would not be conformed to the hectic city life. John’s, character, speaks volumes making a statement that men are superior to women and women are inferior to men. John does constant checks on Jane all the while belittling her illness and silencing her writings. According to Gilman he hired his sister to be her nurse, to administer her medications on a scheduled basis and monitor her sleeping/resting patterns, which further drove her insane from constantly being monitored.
The ugly yellow wallpaper symbolizes family, and medicine, then there is her illness that she remains trapped in. The definition of postpartum according to Bintas, Zorer is, “atypical depression following birth. Postpartum depression includes symptoms of major depressive disorder such as depressive mood, loss of interest and diminished pleasure”. Jane knew she had an illness; although, she disagrees with her husband whom treats her like a child; she is also wise enough to know that she has a new role to take on as mom and needs help. In the article, “Role of Attachment Patterns and Partner Support in Postpartum Depression,” it says, “The changes in the life roles of individuals are considered as one of the situations that cause stress.” Jane and John’s strenuous relationship is because of the way he dismisses her wants, like writing and being outside, or just having their bedroom downstairs with open windows. Jane wants to be heard by her husband and her caregiver. The wallpaper also symbolizes medicine, she feels she is ambushed into taking medicine to feel normal. John wants to keep his wife medicated on a routine schedule in hopes that this along with rest will cure her ailment. Isolation is another symbolic representation of the ugly wallpaper that has Jane in a ruckus. Jane is in this home alone resembling an insane asylum with only recollections of medications and her caregiver telling her to rest, no affection from her husband and not being able to enjoy her stay at what is supposed to be a summer vacation home.
In conclusion, Jane knows for sure that she is not at a vacation home, but a place for medical discernment with isolation. Author Bintas Zorer Pelin, makes a claim in his article, “It has been determined that social support is a very important and protective factor in postpartum depression”. The author is merely saying that when a person is going through an illness such as postpartum depression, they should not do it alone, in order to obtain progress. If one has a spouse one needs all support systems that they can get. Bintas Zorer also says, “Research shows that inadequate partner is an important risk factor for developing postpartum depression in women.” This statement proves that isolation, and having an absent spouse, does not help with a psychiatric illness; however, the symbolism of love from family can lead to recovery.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” By Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Use Of Symbolism, Foreshadowing And Irony To Show Female Oppression
Female oppression has always been a great problem back in the years. Females were asked to live under the shadow of their spouses and not have an idea of their own. Females were suppressed treated like an item and not like humans and equals as their partner. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” we can see how Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses symbolism, foreshadowing and irony to express how female oppression was in the late 1800 early 1900.
Nowadays we have Feminism but things have not always been the same. Today we live in a world were females can work and have the same right to speak as men we are somewhat equal to men except in salary but it has not always been like that. in the early 1900 we see thru many short stories how females were living under their husbands rules and commandments. Females didn’t have the right to vote nor make any house hold decision. Men tough that “Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a fundament to sit upon, keep house and bear and raise children”. No one ever realized that all this behavior rules were causing females to go into depression and live unhappy like if their life had no sense and they were just an item. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story that Gilman Wrote to try to inspire woman in that time to come out and have a mind of their own.
To Begin with Gillman uses symbolism to express how the female is the story was nameless which meant she didn’t have an identity, that she was someone who was not worthy of a name. The character was a child in her husband’s eye were she had to we watched and have someone take care of her. John the Husband places the character in a room were she notices that “It was nursery first and then playground and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls”. Research suggest “that the nursery room, with its barred windows and rings in the wall, was designed for the restraint of mental patients, but other critics assert that these were in fact common safety precautions used in Victorian nurseries and that such interpretations are extreme”. We can start to conclude from research the Character later starts to become a little insane due to the oppression her husband John was giving her.
Foreshadowing occurs later in the story as John tried to be a “helpful” husband and a great physiologist thinking he is giving his wife everything she needs. The character expresses that ”The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smoldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight”. Articles express “When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect; it is known that babies cry more in yellow rooms”. So why would the husband put his wife in a color were is prone to sicken her more instead of making her feel happy and get better. The color yellow is used as a sign of insanity of how a color that is so bright and so colorful can actually cause more pain to someone that has nothing to do but sit around and stare at the wall while the mind plays games on them.
Last but not least we see how the author uses irony throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper” we see how the character starts as a social person with friends and taken care of her child. Later we see that the character is getting more ill that what she started off as. As the main character reaches insanity we learn what her name ” I’ve got out at last, ” said I, “in spite of you and Jane””. Research indicated that “There is a dramatic shift here both in what is said and in who is speaking; not only has a new “impertinent” self-emerged, but this final voice is collective, representing the narrator, the woman behind the wallpaper (P. Treichler). ”
At the end of the story is when we realize that the woman in the yellow wallpaper was her and she had gotten out and was not willing to go back in. Now known as Jane refuses to go back to the person who once was and wishes to stay insane.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses different types of symbolism, foreshadowing and irony to get her point across on female oppression in the early 1900. Today her stories are viewed as how far females have come out of a cruel stereotype were the only thing they were good at was to bear children and take care of house duties. Woman today are independent they are able to have a job, make money, be the head of the house, vote and most important their voice has a value one that never in the 1900’s people thought could be possible. How important it is to realize how much the world has changed for woman and how mucho more there is for them to be considered equal as men 2000 plus years and counting one day we will all be equal.
Mental Illness In “Yellow Wallpaper” By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
‘Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Mental illness is an issue that is all too familiar. However, it is perturbing that a significant section of the society still experiences difficulty in accepting mental conditions. Mental illness currently represents a significant proportion of the global disease burden and is considered by physicians to be a common health problem (Beer 197). Unlike the evolving medical practice, the society remains obsolete in its perception of mental health conditions as victims are still met with stigmatization and rejection. The general reception of the society on the matter serves to deteriorate further the conditions of patients who are mentally challenged.
In the ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ by Gilman, the main protagonist who is a married woman is diagnosed with a mental condition. However, her condition only gets worse as time gradually elapses. Similar observations may be attested in the modern society as the community refuses to be informed and instead maintains an unwelcoming attitude. Patients with mental illness have a fair chance of recovery, but the oldfangled presumptions and beliefs of the society curtail any possibility of treatment and recovery.In ‘Yellow Wallpaper,’ Charlotte Perkins Gilman addresses an issue that was and continues to be a concern primarily because its outcome could be fatal.
The theme of mental illness is not one that many authors prefer to integrate into their literature due to its controversial status amongst the society. The narration is made from a series of diary entries by the protagonist, therefore, giving the reader a first-person experience (Hall 118). Unlike other narratives, the reader is welcomed into the personal thinking and creative mind space of the main character. As one indulges in the riveting confessions and thoughts of the writer, they witnessed the evolution of her thoughts and accelerated the descent into madness. The protagonist suffered from a severe case of depression after the birth of her son, and her condition only got worse after she began experiencing a series of paranoia, obsession, and nervousness (Gilman 265).
Her husband, John, who is a physician, diagnoses her with hysteria and takes full liability for her treatment and recovery. After the realization that his wife’s condition did not seem promising, John opted to take her to a beautiful country house for her convalescence. Therefore, it is rather unfortunate that the house would be the trigger of the narrator’s mental illness (Martin 737). Before the arrival at the house, the narrator’s mental condition was foreshadowed by incidents of nervous breakdowns, fatigue, and constant paranoia. Upon arriving at the house, the narrator is quick to acknowledge that the house was haunted, a possibility that she hinted to John who quickly dismissed it. The narrator describes her husband as a realist who viewed the world from a different angle as hers (Gilman 652).
Her description of her husband reveals that the narrator felt isolated and misunderstood by her companion which contradicts with the foundation of a marriage. Consequently, the protagonist felt detached from the reality and often indulged her imagination for relevance. Hence, the attitude of those close to a mental illness patient directly impacts the treatment process.In the journal entries, the narrator reminisces of her childhood and how different it was. She identifies with the fact that she was not like the other children who sort enjoyment from playing with toys. The narrator explains that she obtained a significant amount of thrill from just staring at walls and the ceiling and watching how these inanimate objects came to life (Gilman 653).
While one may merely overlook the peculiar ways of her childhood, it is evident that the mental health problems she is suffering from were not a result of postpartum depression. The narrator portrayed signs of mental illness from a tender age and being in the 19th century, mental illness was perceived as taboo. Parents would lock their children in the cellars and basement of their houses to hide them from the world (Hall 124). Thus, it is unsurprising that the parents of the narrator chose to look the other way. One can only speculate that had the protagonist received help in such an early stage of the ailment then maybe her condition could have improved.Mental health illness is often compared to a ticking time bomb. The implication elaborates that one cannot hide mental illness for eternity since a moment will arrive when the condition will reveal itself (Beer 198).
The narrator had been wrongfully diagnosed by her husband to have hysteria. John did not have an in-depth comprehension of her mental illness history and thus concluded that the narrator’s condition was as a result of postpartum. However, judging from her confessions and flashbacks to her childhood, the narrator portrays symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that reveals itself later on in the adolescence stage or like in this scenario, early adulthood. The mental condition is intrinsic meaning that a child is born with it, but it stays hidden only to manifest itself later on in life (Gilman 265).
Children suffering from the condition usually have an introverted personality and relate better with animals and other inanimate objects than with fellow humans. Therefore, another factor that could have led to the deterioration of the narrator’s mental condition was the wrong diagnosis.When a disease is wrongfully diagnosed, then the treatment process is equally not practical since the ailment being treated is not the pertinent one. John’s perception of his wife’s condition played a significant role in his wife’s outburst (Martin 738). The narrator explains that the husband compelled her to give up writing which has been scientifically proven to have a therapeutic effect on individuals. Additionally, John had brought the wife to the country house to isolate her from the real world purposefully (Gilman 650).
The narrator acknowledges to having missed her son and family during her three months stay at the house. Contrary to common fallacy, patients who have mental illness are not all violent and hence should not have to be separated from their loved ones (Hall 117). The connection of the patients to the real world is maintained by the proximity to their loved ones who serve as a conduit. Isolating these individuals from the world, only activates their imaginations further. John’s role as her de facto doctor is undeniably overstated.Prohibiting the narrator from writing may as well have been the propellant that pushed her to the brink of madness. As indicated before, writing is more than mere art. It serves as a creative outlet for emotional and psychological stress amongst individuals. Even though John had good intentions for his wife and probably assumed that the treatment method he used would be useful, it is evident that his actions aggravated the situation (Martin 736).
Compelling the narrator to spend time idly sitting alone in their bedroom, only gave a window to the illness to manifest itself. The narrator began to complain about the yellow wallpaper and how she hated the patterns and its smell. This implied that the protagonist spent a long time staring at the walls in the room mainly because she had no other way to occupy herself (Beer 211). Therefore, when she began to see the figure in the wallpaper move, her imagination and hallucinations had taken a toll on her. Her rationality and attachment to reality had escaped her. The enforced idleness initiated her mental breakdown. When the narrator began seeing the image behind the wallpaper, it was not initially clear who it was.
Nonetheless, as time went by it became more transparent to her that the person trapped behind the wallpaper was a woman. The vivid vision of the woman trying to break free behind the wallpaper is a mental depiction of her reality (Hall 125). The narrator felt trapped, helpless, and isolated which was a result of her forceful confinement by her husband who had become elusive during their stay at the house. Despite John’s expertise in the profession, he still treated mental illness with the same retrograde approach as the rest of the society. One would expect a doctor to have an open mind as far as mental illness is concerned, but instead, he blatantly refuses to accept that his wife may be seriously ill and instead hides her away from the public eye (Gilman 649).
Denial has been a significant cause of fatality amongst critical illnesses and it worse when a patient’s support system is the afflicted party. Towards the end of their stay at the house, the narrator becomes accustomed to the wallpaper and even makes a rather exciting discovery of the “yellow” smell that she claimed emanated the whole house. The narrator explains the woman’s fidgeting and creeping behind the wallpaper as an effort to break free (Beer 199). She sees her creeping to the window that faced the garden in anticipation.
The narrator’s description of the mystery woman’s behavior was a mirror reflection of her actions as she crept into the room and occasionally peered through the window watching the garden. At this point, it is apparent that the mystery woman behind the yellow wallpaper was the narrator. Just like the figure trying to break free, the narrator felt constricted and limited. She felt a strong urge to be free, hence the reason she looked at the garden (Gilman 265). In her mind, the garden represented a free existence where she was not bound to a bed and an unproductive and a beautiful world where creativity would be appreciated. The narrator had a better understanding of her mental condition than John and occasionally brought it up in her diary. For instance, she stated, “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 649).
The entry shows that the narrator felt her sanity slip away with every passing second but could not tell her husband because of his apparent denial. She even states at one point that John did not allow her to talk about her condition because it would only make her sad (Gilman 650). The reality of the matter was that the narrator was already unhappy and talking about her condition would have been the more refreshing contrast to what her husband upheld. Therefore, when she eventually accepted her condition, the narrator began to free the woman trapped behind the wallpaper by tearing it up in one night. In essence, the narrator felt she was freeing herself.
In conclusion, mental disorders are diseases just like the rest. However, pleas for removing stigmatization from the midst of the society have fallen on deaf ears. From the 19th century, mental illness was viewed as a taboo and victims often isolated from the world as evident in the “Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman where the narrator was taken to a country house away from her family as part of her treatment. Factors such as denial and stigmatization have been portrayed in the story to be one of the major causes of failure of treatment. Mental illness patients have been wrongly perceived to be violent and as a result, are often taken away from their loved one which only causes them to be detached. The society’s reception and attitude towards mental illness possess the ability to make the treatment and recovery process more effectual.