In "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the gothic element of confinement serves as a powerful reflection of the prevailing societal attitudes towards women's mental health during the late 19th century. The short story, written in 1892, delves into the experiences of a woman suffering from postpartum depression and the oppressive treatment she undergoes.
The protagonist's confinement to a room with barred windows, its prominent yellow wallpaper, and her eventual obsession with the wallpaper's patterns are symbolic of the societal confinement of women to prescribed domestic roles. The passage where she says, "The windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls," demonstrates her sense of being trapped both physically and metaphorically. This reflects the societal norm of restricting women's autonomy and confining them to limited roles within the home.
Furthermore, the protagonist's mental deterioration mirrors the lack of understanding and proper treatment of women's mental health issues during that era. The story highlights the dismissive attitude of her husband, John, who is also a physician, towards her condition. His authoritative approach, as evidenced by his statements such as "Bless her little heart, she shall be as sick as she pleases," underscores the lack of empathy and agency afforded to women in matters of their own well-being.
The gothic elements in the story, including the eerie atmosphere of the room and the protagonist's descent into madness, function as a metaphor for the way society confines and suppresses women's voices, desires, and agency. Gilman uses the gothic genre to shed light on the dark underbelly of societal attitudes towards women's mental and emotional struggles during her time.
In conclusion, the gothic element of confinement and the portrayal of the protagonist's mental deterioration in "The Yellow Wallpaper" reflect the societal attitudes towards women's mental health during the late 19th century. By employing these elements, Gilman effectively critiques the oppressive treatment of women and raises awareness about the importance of acknowledging and addressing women's mental well-being.
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