November 03, 2004

the yellow wall paper

The Yellow Wall Paper the Society in the late 1800's

Back round on the author
Charlotte Pekin Gilman was the intellectual leader of the women’s movement from the late 1890’s through the mid- 1920s. She believed that sex differences were overemphasized at the expense of a humanness common to men and women, and the at man kind had become debased by sexual over indulgence. For more back round knowledge on Gilman is informational.

The Yellow Wallpaper”, depicts one form of treatment for a woman’s insanity in the late 1800’s. "The feminist theme is evident in the way John, the husband, treats the wife. In many parts of the story, the author writes that John laughs at the woman's ideas or dismisses them Since he is a physician, his word is expected to be taken as gospel, and little concern is placed on what the woman feels would be best. Her idea to stay in a room that she finds relaxing is not considered, since John thinks the room with the yellow wallpaper is most practical. The woman knows that writing is one outlet to express herself, but John tells her he thinks it is "the very worst thing [she] could do in [her] condition". She continues to write but always feels guilty for disobeying her husband.
In the 19th century, any female complaint was likely to be considered a nervous disorder. The Yellow Wall-Paper” What is insanity? Insanity is a deranged state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder. 1. The state of being insane; unsoundness or derangement of mind; madness; lunacy. 2. (Law) Such a mental condition, as, either from the existence of delusions, or from incapacity to distinguish between right and wrong, with regard to any matter under action, does away with individual responsibility.
The woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the victim of what contemporary men labeled "hysteria" for which many hysterectomies were performed. Getting out from behind that male imposed wallpaper was a major effort of will for women. If she complained too much, a woman would most likely be subjected to the new hysterectomy procedure developed by Dr. Robert Battley, which had a very high mortality rate. Doctors like the husband in Gilman's story provoked a reactionary movement that included the efforts of Dr. John Kellogg and Dr. Sylvester Graham, part of the popular health movement that flourished from 1820-1870.

The narrator eventually realizes the source of her uneasiness by staring at the yellow wallpaper. She stares at the patterns of the wallpaper and focuses entirely on understanding the patterns. With this excessive focus, she is actually looking beyond the obvious features and into what lies behind the obvious. It is this ability to see behind the obvious that allows her to see that she is trapped by her role in society.

This is a reference to the women realization that women are trapped by their role in society. This madness continues to the point where the narrator tears off the wallpaper as a means of setting the woman, and herself, free. Overall, this is a story of a woman's depression and the way society ignores and trivializes her depression. Eventually, the women comes to realize that the real source of her depression is the way she is repressed by society.

When she becomes "quite sure it is a woman" that is behind the wallpaper that woman represents the independent woman that the narrator wants to become. "John is away all day" and "there is nothing to hinder [her] writing" so the women "write[s] . . . in spite of them". This is the first small push towards becoming that woman in the wall paper. She feels a bit of freedom from the oppression during the day when John is gone just as "the woman gets out [from behind the wallpaper] in the daytime". For her to realize that she wants independence is hard enough let alone to go through all the struggles within herself about defying not only her husband but all of society. At first when the she sees the "woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern . . . [she didn't] like it a bit . . . [and she] wished John would take [her] away".

At the end, the woman overthrows her dominating superiors. "Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!" The man who fainted was John. Using "fainted", a word strongly associated with weak women, shows that John has been overthrown and has become a weak feminine figure. By using "that man" instead of John shows that the woman is no longer familiar with John as she finally becomes the woman in the wallpaper. She also says "I had to creep over him every time!" This is showing even with John unconscious he still gets in her way. It is easily shown that she is annoyed by this as the point is highlighted with an exclamation mark. She has finally become free; but John, the symbol for male dominance and society, still gets in her way. She will never fully be free from them.


Was John a controlling character in the story?
Did the yellow wall paper make her go crazy?

Posted by AprilSantavy at November 3, 2004 08:18 AM


I would say that John was really a controlling character in the story. That's just how it was back in the 1800's. It was expected of men to act like that. Besides, I just like he was being more overprotective than controlling. He just wants her to feel better soon. Also, the yellow wallpaper was an addition to make the woman go crazy. She couldn't even write or to do anything, so naturally, if she was to stare at a ugly yellow wallpaper all day, it would make anyone crazy.


Posted by: NabilaUddin at November 3, 2004 05:43 PM

I am studying this short story in my english class at Memorial University in Newfoundland. I was wondering if you have any insight as to the use of first person point of view and the effectiveness of using it in this story. If you could e-mail me some thoughts that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :)

Posted by: Raychel at January 23, 2005 01:03 PM
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