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Charlotte Gilman’s literary piece “The Yellow Wallpaper” is set in a period where women were oppressed and restricted from their true potential. Gilman was a fervent believer in women’s rights. She believed that women had a right to exercise their intellect and talents that were constraint behind the rules of a man driven world. The themes in the Yellow Wallpaper go beyond confinement, loneliness, depression, and madness. Her goal in this story was to go against the beliefs of her time period. She goes against men and traditional women’s beliefs on diagnosis in women’s health and their beliefs about a woman’s intellectuality. She sets out through her story to denounce the medical treatment available to women and also the misogynistic ethics and sexual politics of her time, which are the main themes of Yellow Wallpaper.
In her time period, women were expected to stay home, refrain from overstimulation and most were unable to occupy jobs. Men also believed that any sign of distress, anxiety, fainting or anything mentally wrong in a woman was due to hysteria. In this short story, the narrator has recently given birth and is suffering from postpartum depression. She is mentally ill and is unable to receive proper treatment due to her husband’s lack of belief. It can be analyzed from “The Yellow Wallpaper” that in Gilman’s time men did not see women as individuals but regarded and treated them as juveniles. It is clear when taking into consideration the way the narrator’s husband talks about her and the issue of her health in the text. In the story, the narrator mentions what her husband said to family and friends about her mental state and health. She stated, “If a physician of high standing and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do?”. She accentuates in this quote that no matter what she says to her husband about her illness, he shrugs it off. He acts as if only he knows best and she is logically impaired. He constantly degrades his wife and pushes his beliefs on her causing her to be a conformist. Women in the Victorian era were meant to be subservient to men and men made sure to make women know their place. The narrator states that she feels like a burden to her husband, John, due to her being ill. She believes she is meant to be a “help”, a “rest and comfort” to him but instead she is a burden. Gilman uses the dialogue of her narrator’s husband to work as an example of how truly oppressed and confined to image the women of her time were. All due to the unjust superiority of men.
In Gilman’s lifetime, the argument for women to become full citizens and have the right to vote was one of many primary issues debated. Women suffered a major backlash that, for a while, effectively put a stupor in their advancement in the women’s rights movement. Psychological theories became known as they theorized the proof of women’s developmental immaturity intellectually, and emotionally. These theories argued that the origin of women’s inefficiency was the womb. They claimed that the womb made hysteria and madness. The main treatments for hysteria and madness were isolation and confinement to bed. As follows as a man, the narrator unsurprisingly treated her accordingly. Her husband decided to treat her hysteria by forcing her to bed rest away in a room. Thus, stars that obsession with the yellow wallpaper.
When analyzing the symbolism in the story, it becomes clear what representation the room has. This story can be interpreted from the perspective of the narrator or from Gilman’s. From Gilman’s perspective, the room is meant to be the confinement and isolation that comes with being a woman in the Victorian era. The symbolism of the room alone is the idolization a woman is so inured to. Women usually didn’t leave the house much and had very few interactions with the outside world. Gilman makes it clear through her narrator her distaste for the isolation forced upon women. The narrator of her story constantly tells her husband how much she hates the room, the wallpaper, and the house. The wallpaper represents imprisonment and the women she sees within it can represent women as a whole or simply the women in the story herself. The narrator is constantly urging her husband to remove the wallpaper which can signify the women’s rights movement. As the narrator pushes for the wallpaper to be removed, women push for their rights and equality. From the perspective of the narrator, the room represents her illness. She is confined not solely by the room and her husband’s ignorance but by her mind. She is constantly tormented by the making of the wallpaper and the woman she believes is trapped behind it. The woman trapped behind the wallpaper can symbolize the narrator’s need to get better, to escape her sickness. Regrettably, she’s trapped behind her husband’s disbelief in the reality behind her state of health and her confinement to the yellow-papered room.
So what is the theme of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman? It can be interpreted as a support story in the push for women’s rights. This story during the Victorian era would be considered daunting and frowned upon among men, and women who enjoyed a man driven world. For women, this would be a powerful story of a woman overcoming her confinement and restrictions. Through this story, Gilman does not only show a woman who is truly mentally ill but also intellectually bright as is she in her writing. Both concepts were entirely disbelieved by men. Women were not mentally ill just simply hysterical. Both she and her narrator broke through their boundaries and overcame the misogynistic ethics and sexual politics of the Victorian era.
The essay contains a lot of information and flows well. It would benefit from section headings, better grammar/mechanics, and citation of evidence with the author’s last name and page number.
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