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Representation of Female Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, and Wide Sargasso Sea

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As written by Jules Verne “solitude and isolation are painful beyond human endurance”, females are removed from reality and overwhelmed by the male patriarchy. Oppression lies at the heart of the institution of marriage; restraint placed upon females and rejection of identity ultimately cumulates in madness and insanity. Charlotte Perkins chiling psychoanalytic feminist novella Wide Sargasso Sea explores the effects female oppression, giving a new perspective on female struggles of physical and mental confinement during Victorian England. The effects of male dominance and female confinedment assist Perkins representation of female oppression. In contrast, Jean Rhys postcolonial novel set in the 1800’s is an alternative response and prequel to the issues that arrise in female presentations in Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel ‘Jane Eyre’, portraying the racial and sexual exploitation of women as well as the oppression of females within the colonized world As an attempt to break down the facade of the isolated Bertha Mason, Rhys’s character Antinnete gives an inside perspective into femal oppression. Setting is used by both authors to create a distancing from reality to emphasise the females separation within the marriage. Drawing upon conventions of Gothic Romances, The Yellow Wallpaper narrative takws place within a “colonial mansion”.

The nursery at the top of the house connotes imprisonment with bars and barriers. This notion is ironically juxtaposed through the yellow colour of the wallpaper, which has meanings of happiness, positivity and clarity. However this ultimately emphasises the female distancing from reality as she is unable to experience these positive emotions. Furthermore, as a nursery, the reader infers that the narrator is being treated as a child, inferior to her husband, and isolated at the top of the house. Images of mental asylums are also created and the treatment of women in psychiatric hospitals emphasises the idea that the narrator will dwindle to insanity. In contrast, Wide Sargasso Sea is set on a colonized Island. Isolated from society both physical by the sea and metaphorically by Rochesters control, Antoinette is set in an unfamiliar racial tension setting. Geographicals history and conflict. Once in England, she is trapped in the attic, imprisoned. This imprisoning and locking away features in both texts and is symbolic of males attempts to remove females from their lives. Neither could gain a divorce as this was illegal and a wife offered them social status, however they could not deal with the consequences and believed their wife was their responsibility and they owned her. Consequently female oppression is explored through unfamiliar distancing from reality through an attic.

The complex narrative structure of both texts allows the author to explore the characters descent into madness and different aspects within their oppression. In The Yellow Wallpaper the form of a journal is employed where the narrator can express her true voice. This is her only creative expression within her life and follows her descent into insanity. Treated as inferior in a world ruled by males, the structure of a journal allows the reader a deeper insight into the female’s downfall. Journals are also used in Watsons 2011 novel “Before I go to Sleep”. In both texts, the journal acts as a catalyst for emotional reminders and allows both oppressed females to understand their identities and their situations. Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe is told from the perspective of an insane narrator. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhyse creates intimate insights into her character which emphasises her intertwined relationships through the narrative voice.

Rochesters narrative voices the core of the story, emphasising the total control he has over her. It is through him that we follow Antoinette’s descent into madness. The consequences of female oppression are represented through depression, anxieties and fears. In a world controlled by males, both protagonists must conform to societal norms. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the male doctor prescribed the treatments. In Victorian England. There was an increasing awareness towards medicine for the mentally ill, however there was still limited understanding. Madness was viewed as a “disorder of the brain and a social phenomena”. Gilbert and Gubar believe she is made mad only by societies standards.

The narrator was forced to hide her anxieties and depression in order to preserve the facade of a happy marriage however these feelings grew deeper inside of her. However due to the social climate, the narrator was unable to express these viewpoints. Charlotte Perkins suffered depression after the birth of her daughter and was forced into inactivity. Parallels can also be seen for both Perkins and the narrator had a nervous breakdown due to their anxieties. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester had complete domination over Antoinette. This was expected; history of suffering and cruelty that lies behind the home of the West’s accumulated wealth. Following the customs of a typical Victorian Gentleman, Rochester had power over his wife. However when this novel was released, ideas had changed and Antoinette would be given more power. The effects of female oppression within marriage are irreversible and are caused by a sense of inevitability. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator’s only escape from the reality of her situation is her final descent into insanity.

Through the imagery of the women in the wallpaper, this creates a cycle of women trapped , and of which there is no return. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette is trapped forever. Her final act of insanity is seen through the dream vision of the fire. She cannot escape. The “dark passage” at the end of the novel is infinitely long, there is no true escape from female oppression except from death. The metaphor for life being like a dark passage reveals that Antoinette can never be cured. This is her final emergence from behind the Shadowy Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre and is Rhys dramatic representation of the silence of the repressed in a society of noise. Overlay we can see that whilst Rhyse and Perkins explore different aspects of female oppression, they both come to the overall conclusion that it leads to an inescapable madness that is ultimately “beyond human endurance”.

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Representation of Female Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, and Wide Sargasso Sea. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from
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