The Yellow Wallpaper, Repression of a Woman in 19th Century,
She Was Not Mad The Charlotte Perkins Gilman, said the reason she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” was, “To save people; women, from being drivencrazy” (“Why I wrote” 7). As she said, this famous and marvelous story has also deeper meaning in terms of feminism. Furthermore, it is based on her own experience of going through a postpartum depression. On the other hand, if she did not comment upon it, this grotesque fiction might be regarded as a horror tale. Thus, this creepy and horrible story on the outside could be summarized as the narrator going crazy and being abnormally obsessed with the wallpaper. So then, what does her insanity and obsession represent inside? Given the period background and the author’s commentary, we arrive at the inference that her apparent insanity is an escape mechanism to cope with her repressed situation.
First of all, the author shows men’s attitude toward women and the social position of a woman in the 19th century through the characters. John, the husband, is a rational and logical physician. He is very kind husband, but he is also an authoritative and dominant man, “But John would not hear of it…and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman, 423) (quote need some content). Hence, John is described as a typical man of 19th century. He also calls his wife, the narrator, “a blessed little goose” and “little girl.” He treats her as a child or a weak person. This shows how men thought of woman as weak and needing care during the 19th century. The nameless narrator symbolizes a woman of that time. She is an obedient person. Even when she has a different opinion about her status or a selection of a room, she does not insist on her opinion in the end. She just accepts her husband’s decision, “But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things” (Gilman, 424). The author also refers to John’s sister as an idle woman in 19th century, “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession” (425). However, the narrator shows self-reproach, because her behavior was thought abnormal, “I am a comparative burden already” (424).
Early in the story, the narrator is not mad (need clear topic, why is this important to know?). She is suffering from just depression. She thinks the treatment for her illness is not right, “Personally, I disagree with their ideas…Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (Gilman, 422), but she doesn’t get the refreshment and change that she desires. In addition, she hates the grotesque wallpaper, and wants to leave the room which has “barred windows” and “a nailed-down bedstead.” However, John considers her thinking as delusional, and ignores that, “You know the place is doing you good” (Gilman, 424). She is virtually locked-up in a room where she does not want to stay, and is repressed in every possible way. So, she is recognizing that she could not leave the room, and then tried to adapt to stay there.
Quite contrary to what the doctor ordered, the narrator getting more insane while staying within the room. Hence, it is wrong to say that she is being cured. She starts to like that room, but still hates the wallpaper, “I’m really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper” (Gilman, 424). However, since she can’t avoid the wallpaper, she begins to develop an obsessive interest over it: “It dwells in my mind so!” (Gilman, 426), “I lie down ever so much now” (Gilman, 429). She gradually loses all hope of escape from the room. She is forced to find another way of escaping from the wallpaper. That way is getting away to an imaginary world, not real world. She even starts to enjoy the imaginary world: “Life is very much exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch”, “for it is so interesting to watch developments” (Gilman, 429). In other words, as we read through the short story, we slowly realize that her prescriptions are what drive her toward insanity, and that her condition was not very bad at the beginning. In the environment she is forced into, the narrator spends more time with the wallpaper, which means she is pushed further from the real world. This unfortunate situation was brought upon her by so-called ‘learned doctors’.
Finally, the narrator does not want to leave the room anymore because if she leaves the room, she is uncertain what will be the result: “I don’t want to go out…you don’t get me out in the road there!” (Gilman, 432) She chooses to desert her repressed physical world, and take a free world of mind. By this way, she could find the escape way from her repressed situation, “I’ve got out at last” (Gilman, 433). On the other hand, her choice means she is totally insane. Even if she does not recognize her husband, “Now why should that man have fainted? …I had to creep over him every time!” (Gilman, 433).
As mentioned before, this fictitious story was a product of the author’s own experience. Gilman also got the “rest cure” the same as the narrator for her depression. She refers to her own experience thus: “near the borderline of utter mental ruin” (“Why I wrote” 5). Actually, her health improved and she regained a sense of normality after she started writing again. So, she might get an originative idea, like she showed in this story, because she was the person directly involved in the period of sexual inequality. However, this brilliant story is like an onion because it bringing out many layers of meaning. Gilman published this story at 1892, but it was ignored until 1973 due to inside meaning and its feminism. Though the story is not directly mentioning such purposes, considering the narrator’s defiance of her husband, it is possible to say that this story contains feminist thought fairly well.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “Why I wrote the Yellow Wallpaper.” The Forerunner Oct. 1913.