The Yellow Wallpaper: Symbols In Gilman’s Short Story
In this class, we have read “Yellow Wallpaper” as our first reading material. This is a tragic and devastating story. “Yellow wallpaper” uses the first-person narration, and the narrator records her mental torture and destruction in her secret diary. The narrator is a young mother suffering from temporary neurasthenia, and her husband, a doctor, forced her to ‘rest’ only in the baby room. She was not allowed to read, write or even care for her baby. Throughout the whole article, I think there are several symbols standing out to me clearly which reflect the tragic destiny of the women at that time and also the unfairness the men did to the women in society.
The first symbol is the nursery. The woman was arranged to live in the nursery by her husband. She didn’t like her room. She always thought: ‘ I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! ‘(Gilman) But John didn’t take his wife’s advice. John chose the nursery as the bedroom for the woman, which in fact demonstrates that John didn’t treat his wife as an individual. He didn’t respect the idea of the woman, imposing his own opinions on the woman, treating his wife as a baby needed to take care of. He was also regardless of her personal will. John called the woman “a happy swan”. But in fact, he only used words to confuse the woman and make her obediently obey all his arrangements. The nursery is the bedroom of the woman. In here, she is no longer treated as a woman with independent personality. She was “ taken care of ” by her husband. In fact, her husband didn’t really love her, respect her, and also understand her. The woman discussed with her husband to change a bedroom to live when she was conscious, but her husband still didn’t care about her. He only did whatever he wanted the woman to do. John and his sister also ruthlessly deprived her interests and hobbies and didn’t allow her to take care of her own baby, which did a great harm to the woman. The reason for the tragedy of these women is that they don’t their independent ideas. They rely on men, serve them, and work hard for their will. They don’t even think it’s unfortunate.
The second symbol is the yellow wallpaper. The yellow wallpaper is the name of this novel, so we could say that the symbol of the yellow wallpaper is of great significance in the whole novel. The woman did not love this wallpaper from the first glance. She described it as a terrible wallpaper. The pattern on the wallpaper are in a scattered and gorgeous style, which is a violation of art in the woman’s opinion. Later, as the woman spent more time in the room, she noticed that there was a recurring spot on the wallpaper which made her nervous and anxious. We could assume that the woman was seriously ill at that moment and had illusion. With the development of the plot of the novel, we will find that the yellow wallpaper is a clue of the novel. The development of the novel follows the woman’s idea of the yellow wallpaper. In the later development, we will know that the woman’s almost crazy observation on the yellow wallpaper is actually a slow revelation of female consciousness awakening in her heart. ‘The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out’. (Gilman)When the woman realized that something was crawling out of the wallpaper, it is actually a reflection of her subconscious trying to resist this terrible bondage. It was the infancy of her consciousness. Later, the woman found that the yellow wallpaper smelled. At that time, the woman hated the house so much because of the smell she imagined and she even wanted to burn it down. Thus, the woman’s patience with the baby room had reached its peak, symbolizing her strong dissatisfaction with the status and indicating that she will take action, either patience or resistance.
The third symbol is daylight and moonlight. Sunshine is a symbol of male power in this novel. And the moonlight is softer compared with the daylight. People feel comfortable at night when the woman wanted to express herself. ‘ On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.'(Gilman) The daylight here symbolizes male chauvinism. Under the daylight, women hide their own thoughts and obey the will of men. Under the moonlight, women’s own consciousness slowly appeared, as if it is suppressed by the daylight for too long and hard to express. Comparing with the daylight, the moonlight is so tiny. Obviously, people live happily under the daylight and moonlight, but in this novel, the moonlight seems to be suppressed by the daylight. In the male-dominated society, it is so difficult for women to express their own thoughts. The woman can only express their own thoughts to their husband in the night and under the moonlight, as if the moonlight gives the power to the woman to express their own thoughts when there is no daylight.
As I listed above, we could know that in the “Yellow Wallpaper”, Miss Gilman shows the unfair treatment of women in the society to the readers by using a series of typical symbols and using symbolic techniques. At the end of the novel, the awakening of female consciousness of the woman gave us abundant spiritual power, which played a positive role in promoting the action of women at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In the meanwhile, it plays an enlightening role in the modern society.
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