The Yellow Wallpaper Is John The Real Villain Of The Story?

Updated 30 September, 2023
In The Yellow Wallpaper, John, the protagonist’s husband, is portrayed to be a caring, a well-educated individual who wants nothing more than for his wife to become healthy. Upon further examination of his actions, it is evident he is nothing but a villain. The husband depicts the typical male characteristics of power and repression. Every decision he makes demonstrates actions of masculine order. He demands domestic routine, as no action can be taken without his prior authorization.
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In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman makes it clear that the narrator is inferior to her husband John. We see this from the beginning when the narrator believes that she’s sick, but John “assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter… but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. Even though she doesn’t agree with his diagnosis, she knows not to go against him. Not only is he a high standing physician, but he’s a man and people will listen to him than her so, as she says, “what is one to do”? The treatment for the narrator’s hysteria is rest cure, which confines her to her bed, forbidden to work or have regular social interactions. Although this treatment was thought to be beneficial during this time, it had a darker meaning behind it.
According to Silas Weir Mitchell, the creator of the treatment, 'the rest-cure could be used to discipline women whose illness became a means of avoiding household duties'. This quote shows the exact status of women in the society of this time; Women needed to be cured not for their own sake, but so they could execute their expected roles. The rest cure takes place in the house’s nursery and like the treatment, the nursery is not what it seems. It’s described as having bars on the window, a chewed on bed that’s nailed into the floor, “rings and things” on the wall and an amazingly disgusting yellow wallpaper. The narrator assumes the room was a gymnasium, but to readers it seems like a room in a mental institution. John also tends to infantilize the narrator, which is common for husbands to do to their wives during this time and it only further shows that he’s superior to his wife.
It’s easy to paint John as the villain, but his intentions aren’t to hurt his wife. He is genuinely trying to help her from going into an abyss, but his ignorance of her needs and his beliefs in the patriarchal system only ends up harming her.

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