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Social Criticism prevails throughout the narrative of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as she discusses aspects of male chauvinism and the feminist perspective in the 19th century. Throughout the story, it is possible to see the patriarchal structure set out by men in comparison to the subordinate status of women. Gilman’s idea for- “The Yellow Wallpaper” originated from her own life she was as patient, Gilman is even quoted saying, ‘the real purpose of the story was to reach Dr. S. Weir Mitchell and convince him of the error of his ways.’
In the story, women seem to have accepted their prescribed gender roles in the 19th century society. In this patriarchal society in which Gilman exposes, there are specific roles for men and women. “Jennie is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper and hopes for no better profession” reveals the satisfaction that some women have with their occupation. Jennie as perceived by the narrator, is happy as a housekeeper and believes that it is the role of a woman, and such gender roles are prescribed by 19th century society means that she has no hopes of a better profession. She does not desire to become better or delve into roles traditionally assigned to men.
Apart from gender roles, there are stereotypical behaviors associated with women, for example the narrator mentions her assertion, “It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight,” suggests that what there are some characteristic behavior of women. Such generalizations ultimately categorize the behavior of women as one, which undermines the sense of who they are, and without an identity, generalization means that the society expects women to behave in a specific manner.
The patriarchal society coerces men to act in a chauvinistic manner based on the structure of their gender roles, as demonstrated by John who portrays manly attributes of being rational and protective, he succumbs to the traditional and patriarchal expectations of a man being the ultimate decision maker. He constantly demeans his wife and brushes away her opinion because he belittles her as a “little girl.” He believes that his wife is incapable of making decisions because she is presumably irrational, as she asserts, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.” Which characterizes his level of disrespect towards her concerning making decisions. Just as the mysterious woman trapped behind the yellow paper, the narrator feels as if her home is a trap from life. The society forces her to abide to the structure of specific gender roles and feminine behavior.
Evidently, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Paper” is a social criticism of the nineteenth-century society. It discusses gender roles and professions traditionally assigned to women, exposes the behavior generalized to women, and the chauvinistic behavior portrayed by men. The attitude of society towards women coerces them to bend towards expectations such as being satisfied with their roles and not yearning for improvement in their career. In a similar vein, the generalization of their behavior, for instance, through the behavior of creeping, means the society expects all women to behave in a specific manner without a sense of identity. Finally, men in the narrative do not perceive women as competent decision makers. Decision-making is perceptibly the reserve for men, who presumably have a better brain capacity. Overall, Gilman presents a feminist agenda concerning the plight of women and offers a social criticism that begs readers to analyze gender roles in the society.
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