The Yellow Wallpaper: Relationship of Gender Roles

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ took place in England in the nineteenth century in the bedroom of the haunted rented mansion by the narrator named Jane and her husband. There’s yellow wallpaper in the house that Jane swears to see a figure in the walls eventually makes her scared and upset. The setting in the story helps the character’s invisible feelings and attitudes become unique and clearly.

From the beginning of the story, it is obvious that the main character and narrator, a woman, is acting as her husband’s inferior. She goes on and on about John and everything he has to say about her illness or, as he seems to think, her lack thereof. John does everything he can to take care of her, but doesn’t let on that anything is seriously wrong with her. He “assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency.” John encourages her to not think about her illness because he believes that will only make it worse, and the woman seems to take everything he says as gospel. This gives in to the stereotype that all women are crazy, especially at the point in time this story was written. Many women were considered hysterical and given treatment as if they were insane. It seems strange to me that John “allows” her to do things rather than giving her the opportunity to do things of her own free will, and she is okay with that. Most women in today’s society would have a problem with having to ask their husband’s permission to do something or having their husband boss them around. This just goes to show that women have evolved over the last century. They have come into their own and developed significantly more independence from men.

Not only does the narrator conform to her gender role, but John does as well. His occupation as a physician puts him in a position to act superior to others, including his wife. He isn’t rude or forceful about it, but he knows that he is the man of the house, and is basically in charge. The story doesn’t make it seem as though this is abnormal in the least. This shows that in the era this story was written, men and women had very different relationships and statuses in society. John almost seems more like a father figure toward his wife rather than a husband; he belittles her and treats her like a child at times. For instance, in response to the narrator awakening in the middle of the night, he says, “What is it, little girl? Don’t go walking about like that you’ll get cold.” His use of words in this quote gives the idea that he plays a more paternal role in their relationship.

Often times opposite types of people attract to one another however it is important that they acknowledge each other’s point of view. John and his wife do not do communicate. This arguably also contributes to the narrator’s emotional state, and does explain why she confesses to become unnecessarily angry at times (Hume 478). Her so called nervous condition is more likely a result of her husbands tendency to not so much as show any interest in anything she may say. Almost every time the narrator attempts to share any of her ideas or thoughts with John he immediately dismisses them rather than searching for the root of the problem. For example; the narrator told John that she felt a ghostly presence throughout the household, he told her that it was a draught, instead of questioning her as to why she felt unnerved by the house (Hume 478). This is another way the narrator is forced to share her ideas only with herself. It is possible that Gilman intended the narrative to be viewed as a diary written by John’s wife as a way to vent her thoughts.

As the story progresses signs of the narrator’s impending madness become more and more clear; and her imaginary world begins to overpower the natural world. She is forced more and more to stifle her active mind. She begins to develop an artificial feminine shell, a wife that fits to the characteristics of her husbands expert diagnosis. She mentions her attempts to “refrain from crying” in front of her husband. Quite clearly her emotional state has become very fragile at this point. The way that the story is told becomes far different after she claims to have been locked in her room for two weeks. She begins to talk only about the wall paper and what John says to her (Hume 478). She is left home alone most of the time since her husband works all day and sometimes has to stay for overnight shifts. When left alone the mind can become a prison which is exactly what happens to our main character. She begins to slowly decline in mental health. All the while, hiding her mental decline because every time she brings it up to her husband he denies it by telling her not to put to much thought about it. Her mental decline is shown throughout the story by her disgust and complete infatuation with the yellow wallpaper in their room.

It seems that by this time a large part of her world is taken by John, Jennie and the wallpaper. Shortly after she claims to have been in the room for two weeks her writing becomes less and less believable. The narrator begins to talk about patterns of the wallpaper and the temperament of those patterns. It is more likely that these observations are more based on her own creativity than reality. It is not long before the narrator becomes aware of her own impending insanity. She admits to the reader that she cannot finish a statement to John before she starts crying (Treichler 73). She later admits that it has begun to require great effort for her to think straight. This is the point in the story that the reader should realize that not everything written should be taken at face value.

The narrator creates fantastic delusions to occupy her mind. She seems to suspect that John and Jennie have been looking at the wallpaper and trying to discover a “secret behind it.” At this point she could be considered completely delusional. One can gather from the story that she has no factual basis behind this claim. It is entirely based on her imagination. This is the first thing that she says in the story that is entirely derived from her own delusion. Her mind may be attempting to stay occupied to protect itself from the damaging lack of stimulus she suffers. She begins to hallucinate and see women crawling and creeping behind the patterns of the wallpaper. Her mind creates images and even repeating images of women who do not exist. She later sees women in the window as well as the wallpaper. She even begins to seek repetitions of the same hallucination and characterize the women as if they were real.

Overall, the use of gender roles in The Yellow Wallpaper may not be the first thing a reader notices, but it is something that definitely stood out to me. It adds to the historical context of the story and gives the reader a little more insight into the relationship between the two main characters. The narrator conforms perfectly to her role as the weak woman who looks to her husband for her every need, and John expresses his dominance as the man through his superiority. Reading this story provides readers with a look at how gender roles have evolved over the last one hundred years, women especially. Women have developed a strong sense of independence, and in today’s society, women are much better at making their own decisions.

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