Gender Roles in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 598 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 598|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Gender Roles and Oppression
  2. The Impact on Autonomy and Mental Health
  3. Conclusion

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," is a compelling exploration of the restrictive gender roles imposed on women in the late 19th century. Through the protagonist's descent into madness, Gilman exposes the damaging effects of societal expectations on women's mental and physical well-being. This essay will analyze the gender roles portrayed in "The Yellow Wallpaper," highlighting the oppressive nature of these roles and their detrimental impact on women's autonomy and mental health.

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Gender Roles and Oppression

The protagonist of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a married woman who is confined to a room with yellow wallpaper due to her supposed nervous condition. This confinement symbolizes the domestic sphere to which women of that time were confined. The narrator's husband, John, assumes the role of the dominant male figure, making all decisions for his wife, including her treatment and isolation. This power dynamic reflects the prevalent gender roles of the era, where women were expected to be submissive and obedient to their husbands.

The yellow wallpaper itself becomes a symbol of the narrator's entrapment and the oppressive gender roles imposed upon her. She describes the wallpaper as "dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves... they suddenly commit suicide." This description mirrors the societal expectations placed on women, where they were expected to conform to a certain standard, even if it meant sacrificing their own well-being.

Furthermore, the narrator's feelings of frustration and powerlessness are exacerbated by the lack of agency she has over her own body and mind. As a woman, she is expected to suppress her emotions and conform to societal norms, which ultimately leads to her descent into madness. Gilman's portrayal of the protagonist's gradual unraveling serves as a critique of the damaging effects of gender roles on women's mental health.

The Impact on Autonomy and Mental Health

The gender roles depicted in "The Yellow Wallpaper" greatly limit the narrator's autonomy and agency. She is denied the opportunity to engage in any meaningful activity or pursue her own interests. Instead, she is treated as a fragile being in need of constant supervision and control. This lack of autonomy not only stifles her creativity and intellectual growth but also contributes to her deteriorating mental state.

The yellow wallpaper, which serves as a physical manifestation of the narrator's confinement, plays a crucial role in her mental deterioration. As she becomes increasingly fixated on the wallpaper, her mind becomes consumed with irrational thoughts and hallucinations. This can be seen as a metaphor for the destructive consequences of denying women agency and autonomy, as it leads to their mental and emotional suppression.

Moreover, the narrator's struggle to express her own thoughts and feelings showcases the detrimental impact of gender roles on women's mental health. She is constantly dismissed and invalidated by her husband, who believes that his authority as a physician gives him the right to dictate her thoughts and emotions. This lack of validation and understanding exacerbates her feelings of isolation and contributes to her eventual breakdown.

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"The Yellow Wallpaper" sheds light on the oppressive gender roles imposed on women in the late 19th century. Through the protagonist's experience, Charlotte Perkins Gilman exposes the damaging effects of these roles on women's autonomy and mental health. The confinement and powerlessness experienced by the narrator, as well as the symbolism of the yellow wallpaper, illustrate the detrimental impact of societal expectations on women's well-being. This story serves as a reminder of the importance of challenging traditional gender roles and striving for equality and autonomy in order to promote the overall well-being of women.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Gender Roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
“Gender Roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper”.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Gender Roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jul. 2024].
Gender Roles in “The Yellow Wallpaper” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 22]. Available from:
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