“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Analysis
Critical perspectives on Charlotte Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper” have been wide and varied. The main themes that dominate the arguments of many critics are a feminine struggle. Other themes that have also been explored by critics include the psychological impacts of women oppression, the domestic space as a tool for patriarchal dominance and women struggle against the restrictive and suppressive systems imposed by a patriarchal society. In this story, the narrator describes the psychological turbulence that resulted from her obsession with the yellow wallpaper in the bedroom (Gilman 5).
In this description, the reader gets a glimpse into the state of mind of the narrator and the kind of relationship that the narrator shares with her husband John. John has been trying to treat and manage the narrator’s mental ailments in ways that the narrator disapproves. It might be argued that the abnormal obsession of the narrator with the “Yellow Wall-Paper” illustrates the kind of disturbance that affects her because of the gender biases and hierarchies by which her society is ruled. She observes the image of an oppressed woman struggling to escape from a cage in the patterns of the yellow wallpaper. Later she does not see just one woman but many trapped women in the formless patterns of the wallpaper. She even identifies herself as the trapped woman at the point in time when her psychological state appears to depreciate even further.
These images and near lunatic obsessions that shape up in her mind are important connections to the dominant social realities in the external world. The narrator is trapped in the domineering control of her husband. In the text, she expresses her dismay in the manner in which her husband attempts to control and dominate her life. She feels that she should be left to make decisions that are in tandem with her own tastes. Her actions and attitudes towards her husband are clear demonstrations of the kind of her awareness of the subconscious complicity between John and the wider patriarchal superstructure that systematically oppresses the women in the society.
The formless pattern of the wallpaper in the bedroom represents the complex networks in which the patriarchal system operates. The narrator engages in a psychological battle against the system by tearing up the yellow wallpaper in a fit of extreme psychological impairment (Gilman 8). In essence, it might be argued that the manifestation of the struggle takes the form of essential feminism. The fainting of her husband might be considered as a symbolic representation of a moment of ultimate feminist triumph in the sense that the patriarchal system is awakened to the ills that it systematically subjects to the womenfolk. The destruction of the wallpaper is a symbolic gesture of tearing up the patriarchal edifice of domination. On this score, it would be appropriate to imagine the actions of the narrator as both rebellious and redemptive.
In her state of psychological maladjustment, the narrator represents the possibility of alternative forms of reality other than the dominant oppressive system that is designed to nourish the tastes of patriarchal power. The psychological state of mind might be deemed as a state of rebellion. This is particularly so because the narrator sees many alternative forms of existence and possibilities of freedom that she would have seen in a normal state of mind. Therefore, the narrator’s psychological condition offers a convenient escape into alternative mental worlds of reality and freedom that are beyond the comprehension and reach of patriarchal control.
Gilman, Charlotte, P. The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories. New York: Filiquarian Publishing, LLC, 2007.