The Yellow Wallpaper
Summary and Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson
The theme in this story is freedom and women being trapped in relationships with their significant other. The message for change in the story is that women can break the stereotype and do not have to be forced into a marriage. The message for change starts when she writes behind her husband’s back even though he doesn’t want her to. It finishes with the last day of the treatment and John is coming back to check on her.
The narrator was moved into an old abandoned nursery home by her husband who is also her physician. He takes care of her in the house, but he tells all of her loved ones that she will be fine and that she isn’t really sick. However she thinks otherwise. She was diagnosed with temporary nervous depression. The room that she was in had hideous wallpaper that she hated so much she wanted to move downstairs, however John, her husband wouldn’t let her. She continues to show her displeasure towards the wallpaper. She explained how the wallpaper had scratches all over as if “boys school had used it.” She continues to say how ugly the wallpaper is saying “I never saw a worse paper in my life” and “one of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.” She wanted to john to redew the wallpaper, but john said that she’s letting her imagination get the best of her. The thesis in this story is that women don’t have to follow the societal stereotype and marry early or at all, they can do what they want with their life.
The inciting moment in The Yellow Wallpaper is when the narrator disagrees with the mental treatment that her husband has her doing. She believes that if he would allow her to do a little bit of writing it would help her take her mind away from what she’s going through. “So 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. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” This shows her displeasure for what John has her doing and the fact that she beliefs that if she could work, her mental state might improve.
The rising action in this story is when the narrator starts to write journals despite of john and his sister. John believes that if she writes she’s letting her mental fancies get the best of her and it will only make her condition get worse. In these personal journals she first wrote about how they first moved into this place, then about how something just wasn’t right about the house. However it quickly switched to her explaining how ugly the wallpaper is. As you move through the story, she starts to talk more and more about this wallpaper, it seems to turn into more of an obsession. She talks about how she thinks she sees someone through the wallpaper. At night she believed that there was someone behind the wallpaper shaking it and that’s why when she woke up in the morning the patterns were in different spots.
It was the last day of them staying in the house as part of her treatment. John was gone overnight with a client so he wouldn’t be back until the evening. She waited for night time until the person would start to shake the wallpaper. As soon as it started shaking, she ran over to the wall and started peeling as much of the wallpaper as she could to try to free whoever was behind it. She finally broke out the women on all fours and realized that she is now free. She saw all the creeping women outside and wondered if they had come out of the wallpaper just like her. She continued to creep around the room. Then John came knocking, she told him that the key is under the leaf, that silenced him for a few minutes. He finally got the key and walked and he asked what she was doing? She replied that she had finally got out in spite of you and Jane, and that she had pulled of the wallpaper and you can’t put her back.” Falling Action When john walks in he sees her creeping around and that she has escaped the wallpaper and got her freedom back, he cannot believe it. So, John faints in front of her in disbelief. She continues to creep around the room stepping over John every time.
She breaks free of the wallpaper and starts to creep around the room. After john has fainted she steps over him multiple times and refers to him as young man. Referring to the fact that he cannot control her anymore and that now he is the one who is mentally fragile not her.
The mood in the story is mostly sad and depressing because she can’t do anything due to her mental state and the fact that for the treatment to work, she isn’t allowed to do anything that may cause her distress or exhaust her. Due to this, the narrator for most of the story is sad and depressed about her situation. The atmosphere is mostly eerie, this is reinforced by the house that they are staying in. She even says that “there is something strange about the house, i can feel it.” This helps reinforce the fact that she is suffering from mental illness and how this abandoned house is a symbol of how women were treated in this time period. The house shows that women weren’t taken very seriously especially when it came to mental health.
The narrator reinforces the message for change by not listening to john. For example, she keeps a secret personal journal that she writes in everyday when John isn’t around. At the end of the story when she breaks out of the wallpaper, she shows her freedom by creeping around and not caring when john will do or think about what she is doing.
John doesn’t quite understand how sick the narrator is, but the reader knew the whole time. This shows how John wasn’t taking her case very seriously which was very common with women in this time period. They were thought to be mentally fragile so most of the time men didn’t think they were actually sick. It also shows how John was taking his other patients way more seriously then his loved ones. Foreshadowing- “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.” This is showing that she is clearly very sick and it’s only a sign of things to come. This foreshadows to the fact that she is slowly becoming mentally insane and things will only get worse.
“I wish I could get well faster.” This shows that she assuming that she will get better eventually not realizing what could happen. It also makes the reader feel bad for the narrator because she is mentally sick, which most of us can’t relate to.
The house that they are staying in is a symbol of how women back in the day were treated with mental illness. In this story, she is put in an old abandoned house, her room and the wallpaper were scratched and are very ugly which displeases her a great deal and doesn’t help her mental state. This showed what women went through when getting treated for mental illness in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.
The story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Stetson demonstrates a feminist perspective because it reinforces the fact that women are free individuals with a choice and they do not need controlling husbands to guide them through their struggles and accomplishments. Stetson shows this through the main character, the narrator who at the start of the story always obeys her husband, she begins to rebel from what he wishes her to do once she realizes that there is no one she can really talk to and how he isn’t taking her case very seriously and focusing on other patients. For example a lot of time he would stay overnight with patients, helping them get through their struggles. However he rarely did this with his wife. “John is kept in town by serious cases.” This shows that John doesn’t believe her case is very serious. That demonstrates that since he thinks he’s mentally fragile, she’s not really suffering from a mental illness. “There comes John, and I must put this away, he hates for me to write a word.” This shows how her husband, John dictated what she did on a daily basis and only allowed her to do certain things. Once she realizes that there isn’t really anyone to talk to, she lets her mind and imagination be free, which is exactly what John didn’t want her doing. “And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I do not like it a bit.” She is referring to the wallpaper and there isn’t anybody behind the wallpaper but her imagination is getting the best of her and taking over her mental state. Finally at the end of the story when she finally breaks out of the wallpaper and John comes in and faints. “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled of the paper, so you can’t put me back! Now why should that man have fainted?” This shows that now she has escaped, she believes she is finally free from her controlling husband. She refers to him as that man which means that she believes that he is now the mentally fragile one not her, breaking the societal stereotype. The author believes that women were oppressed due to the patriarchal society, and the beliefs and norms that men had within our society.
The Yellow Wallpaper, a Feminist Manifesto
The Yellow Wallpaper is an indication for change within the patriarchal culture of society. The want for change is seen through a semi autobiography detailed by Charlotte Perkins Stetson. In the story, Stetson showcases the readers an occurrence comparable to what she had experienced during her time of being “sick”. During Stetson’s life, she had experienced post-partum depression, a type of mental disorder associated with childbirth. The symptoms of post-partum depression include, but not limited to, sadness, exhaustion, anxiety, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, and arbitrary crying. These symptoms were seen within the fictional character of Mary, our main protagonist with, exhaustion, sadness, and anxiety being some of the major problems that Mary faces with her life. The story makes clear indication of this illness at the beginning of the story “…with one but temporary nervous depression…”. Mary is suffering from depression, and does not get herself treated since, during the time of both the story and reality, men thought of these mental illnesses as ordinary after childbirth and made little to no concern of such illnesses. This is due to the patriarchal culture, during the late 1800s, when the story was published. The theme is general, is found within the beginning of the story, depression, sadness, oppression, seclusion, and ignorance of people during the 1880s.
We are introduced to a very secluded woman, her husband, a physician and Jennie, a maid as well as her sister in law. We are brought to this large house filled with the void of space. We see through the perspective of Mary as we dwell through her life, and her issues.
Inciting moment: We are introduced to this hideous yellow wallpaper, a representation of her mental illness, and with the introduction of the yellow wallpaper, Mary’s symptoms start to appear. Rising action: With each thought, and physical contact with the yellow wallpaper, we see Mary’s sanity start to decline with her symptoms worsening. Mary also begin to see a woman in the wallpaper, a direct representation of herself being caught in the depression of herself. Climax: The climax begins at page 653. Once she begins to take interest of the wallpaper and the mystery behind the woman in the wallpaper, her personality starts to shift. She becomes to become mentally unstable as she starts drastically going insane. She starts hallucinating about a “creeping woman” creeping about at night. She starts bickering back at her husband, which is unheard of during the patriarchal culture of society during the late 1800s. Falling Action: During the last day at being the house, Mary begins tearing down the yellow wallpaper, trying to get the woman out of the wallpaper. Indications of her being psychotic include “I bit off a little piece at one corner…” and “To jump put of the window would be admirable exercise…. Her personality has clearly changed and is no longer her sane self. This falling action is also in sync with her mentality falling.
Resolution: The resolution comes about with Mary calling out to her husband who is on the other side of the locked door. With his slow reactions and response, once he can open the door, he faints soon after. These indications all point to Mary committing suicide by being hanged. These indications include the husband being shocked, to the point of fainting, as well as Mary carrying a rope “But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope…”. Presuming that Mary had committed suicide, we can see the reasoning with her deteriorating sanity, and neglecting from her husband, as well as seclusion from society.
The mood and atmosphere provide a sense of reality to the story itself. The story is seen through a character who is struggling with depression, as we see her strive for something to try to better this illness. The emptiness of the house sets up the atmosphere of alienation of the main protagonist, which forces her sanity to fall further down. We that our protagonist tries to find enjoyment within the seclusion of her home, with writing and napping, but son gets the sense of excitement due to the enigmatic wallpaper that is left unattended for many years. With each passing journal entry, we see the through her perspective, the broken life in which she fills, as each day proves to be the same as before, but with the inclusion of this bizarre yellow wallpaper, her life seems to take a turn for the better, but really, this creates a false sense of hope for our character, as she begins to watch the wallpaper, and find enjoyment out of it, demanding her life to be better for her husband’s sake. As we approach the resolution, we can see that the mood shifts in sync with our characters personality. It begins to fall into darkness and despair, as well as our protagonist does. We then reach the conclusion of a character’s act of desperation of a better life, but results in herself being in shambles. We can see that the mood and atmosphere shifts with the story and characters, and as we reach the conclusion, we see that the mood and atmosphere had change drastically.
The main characters of The Yellow Wallpaper reinforce the message because of how Stetson had experiences with depression, and with that experience, provided our main protagonist, Mary, with a realistic standpoint of what depression really is. We can see that Mary is the character of need and is obligated to do what she is tasked to do. This is due to her husband who enforces his opinions onto her, forcing her to be abandoned and chained down, only obeying to his commands. The message of gender equality is seen with the fact that that the story is heavily influenced on parochial culture of the 1880s and how there needs to be change within society. Jennie is introduced as the opposite of Mary, someone who is obedient, and capable, as well as not mentally sick like herself. Jennie is also there to showcase to Mary of who she should become, in which Mary rejects with doing activities that both the husband and Jennie do not approve of. The woman in the wallpaper represent herself, a neglected, broken woman who cannot recover from her illness since she cannot leave the wall in which she is held up in. Although Mary tries to help, she just sealed her own fate, by ripping the wallpaper down, she allowed for herself to become that neglected person, who cannot stand up to her husband on what he says. It shows how powerless women were at that time and that there should be change within the equality of both males and females.
Stylistic devices reinforce the main message because it details the story in a way that allows for readers to think. “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars!” This stylistic device is a symbol of herself, and women during the nineteenth century. These women were sheltered in houses, usually by themselves, like bars in a jail cell. This symbol also represents the fact that women were oppressed and enslaved by the men during the 1800s due to the inequality of genders. “It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.” This simile, and second person point of view indicates the fact that the wallpaper is torturing her and making her insane with each passing day. This builds up her shift of personality and is important later in the story. “The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions –why, that is something like it.” This metaphor is a direct comparison of the wallpaper with mushrooms. This metaphor indicates the appearance of the wallpaper, and its atrocious appearance of yellow. “Round and round and round – round and round and round – it makes me dizzy!” This repetition of the word “round” gives us a glimpse of how broken Mary is at this point of the story. Her insanity has taken over her and she thinks and talks different from the Mary we knew at the beginning of the story.
The story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, demonstrates a feminist perspective because it elaborates on the ideology of empowerment of women and how society needs change. The text reflects this through the idea of depression and anxiety and how women are mentally dying due to the inability of doing any tasks outside the house. The character Mary embodies the complex nature of a typical female wife, who has fallen quite ill. Her husband, a physician takes little note of her illness and shakes it off as “a slight hysterical tendency”. The neglection of such a destructive illness on a fragile frame of mind, causes her to rampage into madness near the end of the story. The mistreatment of women is shown as a significant stand point of gender inequality, and how this man driven world needs change. Women during the 1880s strive to gain equal status, and the only way of doing this is through the pen and paper. As seen with this short story, we can see that personal experiences of the authors play into the story heavily and create a realistic tale in which women are weak and incapable of doing much. Depression in this story, is implied to be a force applied to the females due to their husbands. We can see that application through this within the story with Mary believing “…that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” But is unable due to the power in which men hold upon society and on their wives. Near the end of the story, we can see that the depression becomes too much, that she becomes insane, and through disparity tries to “…To jump out of the window….”. This indicates the fact that women are unable to live their lives normally under heavy stress and anxiety from their lower status as women. The ethics of change in society, during the time, slowly become more coherent with each passing page of the short story. It shows that status inequality can affect people in ways more than one.
House of Horror: the Poisonous Power of Charlotte Perkins
“The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman gains its most critical attention for symbolism and gender roles merely for woman in the 1900’s. The focus on distractions that becomes obsessions can show how a woman innermost realm of mind, will, and emotion, can be capped down by society ways of gender roles causing detrimental situations even till this day. “The Yellow Wallpaper” presented numerous of examples of gender en-quality, conformity and lack of ownership throughout the passage. Which lead two of the characters in a state of mental illness, which was frowned upon and wasn’t properly treated in the 1900’s.
The story followed a married woman during the 1900’s who mental illness gets the best of her. As much of her days were spent being cared for by her husband it often left her alone in a room where life came from a wallpaper. As the wallpaper starts to take life of its own, you’ll begin to see the woman character has lost its life as if the wallpaper was trading places with her within the story. In her journal, the woman writes: ‘John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.’ It appears it never occurs to her husband john how dehumanizing the situation can be, but only how much the situation can be better if you just let it, morally blaming it on the woman perspective and her view of life. Timely the woman begins to get even more discouraged, by doing anything that is not her husband’s decision first even for the things that she deeply cares about.
The idea of conformity from the woman projects that women aren’t superior to men. Which leads to her consciously blaming herself for not being able to cope to the wallpaper that her husband deemed ok. Also, with presenting solutions to her husband that might could have helped the situation, once reiterated her husband didn’t see them fit. Not being heard and respected demonstrates the struggle for women in the 1900’s .Feelings of being trapped by your love ones confines the women ,even almost like a child .Being secondary to the men of the household was the normality and was seen as natural .By refusing to accept the woman mind as independent and an individual factor her dear husband aggravates the situation more, confiding her to an outbreak and outburst of mental illness.
As the story goes on the women illness takes even more turns rapidly. Becoming a product of her own environment, and no longer being herself mentally. Constant isolation and depression drives her to complete insanity, and eventually into believing she and the so-called wallpaper have now traded places. In her journal the woman writes: “I’ve got out at last, despite you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’. It would lead you to believe the old imprisoned woman is now on the outside looking in, with complete victory for “The yellow paper”. Yet it wasn’t the woman would now have to creep over her husband who has now seen that the woman has completely gone mad. Woman of ambition in the 1900’s challenges the very core of the story. While woman was seen vulnerable and expressed confidence that contradicts what the norm would be the for female role would put them at risk for mental illness. When actuality the woman perspective was never heard, her thoughts, her ideas were being misconstrued and her intellect would never match the men in society.
The freedom that was given at the end was a fight for all women. Believing that her husband despite trying to believe that the husband had her best interest at hand. The husband was the only one who asked her to remain in the room from her baby and from friends and family. That alone creates ambition for the woman break of freedom. The woman wanted free thoughts, being able to express herself and be creative. In the end both the women and her husband both lose in the end because they are trapped in fixed gender roles. Without limitations to society standards or her husband choking love. Even the woman not gaining freedom in a normal way, it was still enough freedom just for the moment.
In conclusion, ‘The Yellow paper” depicted society norm at a time where it made the woman seem crazy. Her surroundings and struggle for freedom was causing her all these problems after all. As we observe fixed gender roles through the easy, we can clearly be shown the time and era for women. Society oppressive nature crippled mental illness for women causing lack of self-belief, ownership and conformity. Women where underappreciated, not allowed to have voice, isolated and dehumanized. Taking only simple steps of true love from the husband. Perhaps could have saved the woman from mental illness. We must remember mental illness shouldn’t play no roles when it comes to gender, but as you can see you have a long way to go before women of the 1900’s could make situations better for themselves.
The Yellow Wallpaper: Feministische Analyse
Marley 1 Micaiah Marley Ms. Fisher Honors College Composition 25 January 2018 Feminist Rights: “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “An Obstacle” In Charlotte Perkins Gilman short texts “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “An Obstacle”, there is prejudice against women. Throughout these stories, two women are struggling to get past the men who are being prejudice against them, and both of the women are carrying a heavy load that they are forced to face. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the speaker has partum-depression following the birth of her child. Her husband John, who is her physician, belittles her illness and treats her almost as if she is a child. John gives her no treatment as he believes it will not help her so he does not let her work or write. As time goes by, the narrator gains interest in the wallpaper, and she the becomes possessive and secretive, hiding the fact she has deep feelings about it. The yellow wallpaper resembles a jail-cell and that is why the narrator feels connected to it because she feels trapped. In the other story “An Obstacle”, the speaker of the poem climbs a mountain to reach her destination in which she gets stopped by a man that does not want her to pass.
Both of these short stories share the same message: Men believe that women are weak but they can succeed just as much as men can. As the stories begin to climax, the narrators end up standing up to the prejudice men. While men seem to get in the way of women’s rights, the main characters have to overcome their fears and struggles to meet their end goal. In the beginning,men who were prejudice stood in the way of women being able to move forward and achieve their goals. As the speaker starts walking through the memories of her past Marley 2 she states, “I was climbing up a mountain-path; With many things to do, Important business of my own, And other people’s too, When I ran against a Prejudice; That quite cut off the view”. Since the man sees her as a women, he blocks her from moving forward because he does not want her more successful than him.
Climbing the mountain-path resembles the speakers success, and the man does not want the woman to have anymore power than she already does. The woman explains how her husband is strong part of her post-depression to which she announces, “John is a physician. John wants her to stay depressed because, if she stays in that state of mind she remains weak and follows his commands. The men treat women as they are children and cannot get things done unless they are helped. Since women of Gilman’s time were seen as weak, men would over/power them and get in their way. Society believed that women are supposed to stay housewives and not be able to go out and achieve their goals. Men are not letting women work and allowing them to be successful because women are seen as weak. In “An Obstacle”, this women gets belittled by her prejudice thoughts she explains, “My work was such as could not wait, My path quite clearly showed, My strength and time were limited, I carried quite a load”. She had carried all the stress she had in life and felt like it was something she could not ignore. Her husband’s refuses to let her work and this is expressed in lines twelve through fourteen when she says, “So 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. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good”. She disagrees with her husband when Marley 3 he believes that she should not do anything and should be solely dependent on him. Here, women did want to go and work big jobs but men were against the idea of letting them work since they were seen as “weak”. The man who did not want the speaker to pass was being prejudice over the fact that seeing a women being more successful than him could not work.
Also in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, John the speakers husband, told her she could not work due to her partum-depression. She felt that if she works she would feel better but John disagreed making her feel more closed out in the real world. The speaker is forced to face a man that is prejudice when it becomes unavoidable. The women tries to plead with the man to move ” So I spoke to him politely, For he was huge and high, And begged that he would move a bit; And let me travel by”. Even as she asked him to move politely, he still was not willing to move for her. The women want to go see her family members, but John is against it ” Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia”. He restricted her from being able to see her family and even her friends, no matter how hard she had cried and begged.The speaker tried so many times to talk things out nicely with the men but they ignore them. The women are getting slowly fed up in how they are being treated and how the men are not letting them move forward, so they finally take things up in there own hands. Finally the woman are able to surpass the the prejudice man. The women had an idea and she finally decided to move past him, “I approached that awful incubus with an absent minded air- And I walked directly through him as if he wasn’t there!”. As she begged and pleaded to get pass him, she finally moves by him without his notice and becomes more successful than Marley 4 she was.
The women finally had enough so she decided to pull off the wallpaper herself, “I’ve got out at last”. Said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”. She was finally able to pull back all the yellow wallpaper showing that she can do what she wants to do without John’s permission. The yellow wallpaper symbolizes the pattern of oppression that women in that society followed. Like the pattern, its continuous, it makes hardly no sense. The continuity of the all of this follows the set pattern of sexism. Finally, the speaker had enough of how they were getting treated so they decided to push past the prejudice men on their own making them more happier in the end. While men seems to get in the way of women’s rights, the main characters have to overcome their fears and struggles to meet their end goal. Ultimately, Gilmen’s symbols to show how women are not weak but can do anything a man can do. While the men could easily have been a negative symbol, it is overpowerment that allows the narrators to achieve their end goals. Throughout the short stories, the immerse strong will within the narrators and the symbols provide a feminist outlook for women to be more empowered.
Character of the Story Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Stetson is recognized as one of the important figures in the social reform movement of the late 1800s to early 1920s. Pieces of her life experiences are woven into the plot of her most recognized fictional short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Stetson’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” demonstrates her distrust in the patriarchal dominance hierarchy that was common in her time, and deals with the theme of dealing with a mental illness.
Stetson created a character that is also the main narrator and they cope with daily stress by writing down their thoughts in a journal, hidden from the prying eyes of John, their husband and husband’s sister Jennie. As a reader we do not know if the narrator is aware we are able to see the contents of the journal. In the plot exposition Stetson’s main character poses the question of what to do when two of the people that she holds close to her heart downplay the seriousness of her condition. Her husband and her brother are both physicians of high standing and they told not only her, but also her friends and family that she has temporary nervous depression. They both claim that her condition is a “slight hysterical tendency” meaning it’s a trivial matter and not one of importance. Our main character feels this is a serious understatement and disagrees with them. The plot of the story revolves around the narrator’s interactions with her husband and the sister that is absolutely loyal to him. This is an example of the classic patriarchy structure that dominated the 1800s and 1900s and is what Stetson fought against as a women’s rights activist before writing this story. The husband is at the top of the hierarchy which is why his sister, the only other female character in the story, follows his direction to the letter. Her husband dictates which room in the mansion she sleeps in, when and what medication to take, and how often the narrator sleeps. The narrator’s refusal to accept the patriarchal structure set in place is similar to Stetson’s real views on men and the fact that Stetson attributed the ills of the world to the dominance of men(Britannica). It is easy to see the correlation between the traits assigned to the male characters and specific plot elements in Stetson’s fictional story, and her real world views of men.
At the rising action point of the plot, the narrator gets into an argument with her husband and starts crying. It is after this moment that the narrator starts writing about seeing a figure in the Yellow Wallpaper that adorns their room. It is safe to assume that the argument affected the narrator deeply, deep enough that they started hallucinating. The diction of the narrator also changes after the argument. It takes on a more serious and dark tone. The narrator gives off the impression that they are scribbling down their thoughts into the journal while looking over their shoulder. The scribbles are frantic and the narrator admits to cultivating deceitful habits in the aftermath of the argument such as pretending to be sleeping when her husband or husband’s sister is near her. The climax of the plot comes when the narrator doesn’t finish writing out her thoughts in the journal because “it does not do to trust people too much.” The narrator is no longer trusting her own journal entries, she is no longer trusting herself. This is a troubling indicator of the decline of their mental health. There is reasonable evidence that points to the narrator’s descent into madness starting with the hallucinations and no longer trusting the journal.
Stetson’s narrator descends further into madness when she stops talking about the figure in the yellow wallpaper in the third person, “I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down.” The narrator replaces the pronoun “her” with “I” and essentially becomes the woman in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator is unable to separate the actions of the woman stuck in the yellow wallpaper from her own and instead molds them together. At one point the narrator notices that the bedstead has teeth marks and blames it non existent children, a few lines later the narrator writes “I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner – but it hurt my teeth.” Furthermore, another instance of the narrator confusing reality and descending further into madness is when she writes about successfully hiding a rope from her husband’s sister somewhere in the room and how they intend to tie up the woman hiding in the yellow wallpaper if it tries to escape. A few lines later the narrator writes “I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope…I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night…It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!” The narrator has completely stopped observing the woman in the yellow wallpaper and now exclusively writes from the perspective of the woman they have hallucinated into existence.
The final act of insanity done by the narrator is when they lock out the husband from the room. The husband eventually makes his way into the room to find the narrator creeping around the room, stuck to the wall. The narrator tells the husband, “I’ve got out at last…and I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” The husband promptly faints as he at last realizes the extent of the narrator’s mental illness. The deterioration of the narrator’s mental state could have been stopped before it reached this point if it wasn’t for the arrogance of her husband. The husband was distracted by their ego and high position in the hierarchy and ignored every single call for help by the narrator. If the husband hadn’t held themselves up on a pedestal and instead had placed themselves on the same level as a woman, it is possible that they would have been able to keep the narrator’s mind intact.
Taking a step back from the atrocities wrecked upon the mind of the narrator, one could laugh at the situation. It is very ironic that Stetson portrayed man as the tyrant and villain in her short story. It is ironic because Stetson is one of the first public feminists in U.S history(Britannica). Stetson started the first wave of feminism in America. Every single one of her non fiction works, save her autobiography, heavily criticized man, especially her book Does a man support his wife? To conclude, the short story titled The Yellow Wall Paper is a fictional story that highlights the faults hidden in a patriarchy and exaggerates the effects they can have on women by utterly destroying the mind of the main character who is a woman.
Review of a Short Story the Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper
In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator is suffering from a nervous depression which was a slight hysterical tendency. John, which was her physician and husband did not believe that there was anything wrong. Of course, during the 19th-century mental illnesses were not fully understood at all, so John felt as if there was nothing wrong. To overcome her depression, John decides to rent a house for three months and keep her in a room in order to get perfect rest. Unfortunately when she sees the room, the first thing she notices was the uncleaned yellow wallpaper. Throughout the story, I noticed how John was always away on days and even some nights when cases were serious. Sadly, the narrator felt as if John didn’t too much care for her, so she was glad her case wasn’t as serious as his others. The fact that John didn’t realize how much she suffered just because he was basing it off of his opinion made him look bad during the story. All she wanted to do was get well faster and return to her normal self. If it was me being trapped into a room, I would be willing to occupy myself the best way I could, but instead the narrator decided to obsess with the room’s yellow wallpaper.
Moving on, she did notice that the wallpaper had a smell to it that went through the entire house. As a reader, the first thing I did notice was how mentally the narrator was suffering from problems due to the fact that she was trying to free a woman in the yellow wallpaper. Once their three months were almost up at the house, the narrator and her husband noticed that her life was becoming so much better to the point where she was eating and having more to expect. Jennie, which was John’s sister asked the narrator if she could sleep with her, which was obviously weird after the fact that she saw Jennie touching the wallpaper. With under one week left to stay, the narrator was demanded to peel the wallpaper until John walked in and caught her. He was so shocked that all he could do was faint, but that didn’t stop her from creeping around the room because she realized that she finally got out at last. Overall, during the beginning of the story I was a bit confused about what was going on. As I continued to read, the details were coming together making the story somewhat interesting. Honestly, I didn’t get what the writer was trying to accomplish during the story.
The technique that was used didn’t explain the situation thoroughly, and caused it harder to understand. In my opinion, I don’t believe the wallpaper was the cause of her depression to increase. Before she got into the room she was apparently already sick mentally, but her obsession with the wallpaper forced her mind to open. Since John chose to leave her in the room alone, she felt as if she was locked away in her mind to the point where she was never going to be free. When she caught eyes on the women in the wallpaper, she noticed that it was her opportunity to live by setting them free, even if they weren’t real. Basically, the women that were trapped in the wallpaper were a representation of herself, so that meant she could only free them and taste their freedom, instead of her own. In conclusion, this story involved a lot of thinking outside of it, but I would love to read more stories like this one because I felt like it was a mystery story, but mainly it was based on the author’s real-life and treatment.
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 exertson 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.
Thecontroversial topics within“The Yellow Wallpaper” caused aliterary 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 thesethemes; 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. Mallardsinks 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 withher 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 thenew 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 areweak, 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 thisstatement 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 illustrateways 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.