The Yellow Wallpaper a Feminist Reading
Looking back at womens role in society, women in the late 1800s and early 1900s were usually portrayed as inferior and submissive to their husbands. These women were looked at to be objects rather than human beings. A woman was expected to cater to all their husband’s needs, such as cleaning and staying home all day with the children.
Comparing that to womens role today is completely different. Women in this society have a voice and an opinion, something women longed for in the 1800s. The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a short story about a woman who is psychologically ill and demonstrates how her husbands treatment toward her drove the narrator to her insanity.
Within the late 1800s and early 1900s in America, women struggled to gain equality and were trying to persuade American society that women were more than just housewives and were capable of much more. In this society, men were superior in every way to women, even in terms of morality. This time was full of, strict patriarchal hierarchy, men controlled not only wealth and political power, but also how their children were raised, religious questions, and all matters of right and wrong (Warder). This all led to a major event in this time period called the woman suffrage movement.
This movement began in 1848, when a womens rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. This meeting was not the first in support of womens rights, but suffragists later viewed it as the meeting that launched the suffrage movement. For the next 50 years, woman suffrage supporters worked to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other womens rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women. (Cooney). At the turn of the century, women reformers in the womens suffrage movement and in the settlement house movement wanted to pass reform legislation. However, many politicians would not listen. Women came to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote. For these reasons, the woman suffrage movement became a huge movement.
In the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the readers are introduced to the main character, whose name is never revealed. What we do know though is that she loves to write, and she was also diagnosed with a depression condition. John, who is the narrator’s husband, consistently refers to her depression as slight hysterical tendencies (266). John undermines his wife’s illness and just portrays her to sound as if she is crazy so he will not have a bad image or make it seem as if he is in the wrong. This eventually angers the narrator, who knows she is not crazy, and she also shares with the readers that she gets defensive when people talk poorly of her emotional state of being.
This causes animosity toward John, which soon turns into her insanity. To the narrator, Johns sister, Jennie represents the perfect Victorian housewife. John has a high demand at work seeing different patients, which makes it difficult for him because he does not trust his wife to take care of herself. Jennie is a great housekeeper though and does anything and everything that is expected out of the Victorian society. She is an example of how an ideal woman in that period was supposed to act, which annoys the narrator. This was the type of life the narrator was supposed to have, but instead she is living with her husband not being able to truly be herself because he is completely oblivious to how she feels, and he would never be able to understand how she truly feels.
In The Yellow Wallpaper John, from the start, uses sexual oppression towards his ill wife to keep her immobilized. The concept of females being nothing more than objects has demonstrated that these male and female gender roles that have been accepted as the time periods social norms.
There was no equality in Johns and the narrators relationship at all. As time passes, Johns wifes insanity spirals downwards into self-reflecting hallucinations of her true self and how she longs to be free from her husband and from her depression. The narrator ultimately ends up tearing off the wallpaper which represents her freedom from her marriage and from just a male dominated society. This short story demonstrates perfectly how women in this time period were treated and how the male dominance affected women negatively, which ultimately leads into todays society, where women finally have a voice.
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