What Is The Theme Of The Yellow Wallpaper?

Updated 30 September, 2023
In the Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman establishes three key themes: mental health, oppression of women in marriage, and importance of personal expression.
Detailed answer:

The Yellow Wallpaper has used the key theme of the oppression of women. This theme is manifested throughout the story on the wife who is forbidden to work, unable to choose the room in which she was to stay in, “but John would not hear of it” and also unable to write a word as “John hates it”.
The wife suffers from a nervous disorder and depression however John doesn’t ever allow her to do anything without specific direction; and that she can only do what he tells her to do. This demonstrates the oppression of women in the patriarchsl society; this was what was occurring around the world even before the first wave of feminism in 1850.
The conditions the wife lives in ultimately drive her insane due to the lack of mental stimuli from being stuck in one room. The wife’s treatment is organized by her husband, who is of a high standing position within society as a physician. The author has been concise in reinforcing the fact that the wife is unequal and doesn’t have a voice. The only voice and opinion that truly matters is that of the patriarch (John), who is forever calling the shots and laughing of the opinions and suggestions of his wife.
The theme of conformity versus self-expression can be seen in the relationship between the narrator and her husband John who has decided that she must remain inactive and in her room. Since he is both her husband and a respected physician, she has no choice but to obey as a wife and a woman; she must conform to society's norms. The narrator accepts her role with little outward dissent but her need for freedom of expression reveals itself in her private journal. She writes secretly and stays awake at night to have time to herself, however, the overall trajectory of the story shows that her need for healthy self-expression goes unmet. Instead of engaging meaningfully with those around her, the narrator comes to see a confined woman behind the bars of the Yellow Wallpaper and creeping women outside her windows. Gilman in this way shows us how unhealthy forced conformity can be. Confinement is a constant theme in the Yellow Wallpaper in the form of the secret journal, and in the narrator's overall descent into madness.

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