Emerging Feminism in The Yellow Wallpaper The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is about a woman who is suffering from temporary nervous depression. Her husband, a doctor, has taken her to a summer vacation home for rest therapy; however, the woman’s condition worsens and she sees images of faces in the wallpaper of her room. She believes the images are of women creeping behind the paper and she cannot help but to fixate on them. She tries to tell her husband without successful and with time sees the images more and more frequently. In the end, she locks herself in her room and tears off the wallpaper. The story is a depiction of the plight of women’s suffrage and the beginning of the rise of feminism, as well as a reflection of the author’s own life and experiences. The most apparent representation is the pattern on the wallpaper and the images of women creeping behind the wallpaper. “At night in any kind of light,…it becomes bars!…and the woman behind it is as plain as can be,… By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still” (1578). The bars are symbolic of the division of men and women and how the women are being held back. Because there is visibility in the daytime, the quietness during daylight is representative of feminism’s fear of being discovered. Gilman’s use of the word “creeping” is symbolic of the rise of feminism. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines creeping as, “developing or advancing by imperceptible degrees.” The images in the wall creep around at night, showing how the beginnings of feminism came about because it was not done visibly. As well, Gilman presents the behavior of society of the time. Throughout the story, the woman states her intentions, but then does not act upon them because of her husband, and says, “what is one to do,” as if she does not have any power or authority to do what she believes is best for her. This is further shown when she speaks of her husband and her brother, who “is also of high standing,” showing the high ranking of men in society. Jane is the representation of a typical woman, “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession!” (1574). The oppression of women is shown when the woman tries to tell her husband how she feels, but he quickly hushes her and assures her that his prescription of rest is all that she needs. In the conclusion of the story when she tears off the wallpaper and says, “‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!'” (1582) Gilman is showing the discovery of feminism by society. Her husband and Jane were symbolic of society and when the wallpaper is down and the images are out, feminism is also out.
The Yellow Wallpaper in the Context of Emerson’s Self-Reliance
Against a backdrop of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance we impose in the fore-ground a contemporary story entitled The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, both written in the last half of the nineteenth century: a responsive interpretation.
An allegory of several dimensions, Gilman presents a message, in the sublime, that the peculiarities and attributes of women collectively are subsequently imposed on women individually. Therefore, as an individual Gilman’s character is being treated by her physician-husband as an hysteric personality with no real cause for her illness. “You see, he does not believe that I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman, 1771) Perhaps the allegory represents a writing of personal struggle with the constraints of a psychologically abusive husband and her own biological depression. Instead of viewing Gilman as marginally insane, as both the writer and the character, she becomes verily ingenious. Her brilliance is expressed in the transfer of her characteristics by personifying the wallpaper. As wallpaper usually hides an unsightly wall, the wallpaper in Gilman’s story conceals and then reveals sordid personal circumstances.
Idealistically, Gilman has, it seems, many of the same literary foundations characteristic of Emerson. As an illustration: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” (Emerson, 616) Gilman’s character is profoundly misunderstood. Contrary to the husband’s assessment of his wife’s illness, she was rather great in her willful approach to reconcile her illness. Gilman is writing from a personal experience undoubtedly originating from, or at least eventually pertinent to, being psychologically misunderstood by her relatives and yet notable in the sense of hav…
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…e of character is cumulative.” (Emerson,617) Our nameless heroine is depending unwittingly on that very ideal. Her husband whispers sweet names to her, although never her own name, thereby belittling and reducing her to a child state, she’s wise to him: “-and [he] pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him!” (Gilman, 1780)
In The Yellow Wallpaper John, the husband, is untruthful. The reader is queried of his faithfulness to his wife, his whereabouts during frequent absences, and his refusal to allow her leave the room. All the while he disguises the abuse under a cloak of seeming protection and sweet talk. Already depressed and weakened she falls prey to the claws of confusion he creates. Truth is what his wife needed, truth is evaded at all turns. “Truth is handsomer than the affection of love.” (Emerson, 614) 5