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The Subjugation of Women in The Yellow Wallpaper

The Subjugation of Women in The Yellow Wall Paper

In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. The Yellow Wallpaper presents the tragic story of a woman’s descent into depression and madness. Gilman once wrote “Women’s subordination will only end when women lead the struggle for their own autonomy, thereby freeing man as well as themselves, because man suffers from the distortions that come from dominance, just as women are scarred by the subjugation imposed upon them” (Lane 5). The Yellow Wallpaper brilliantly illustrates this philosophy. The narrator’s declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually destroying her.

The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where she can recover from severe postpartum depression. She loves her baby, but knows she is not able to take care of him. “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous” (Gilman 642). The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. In this story the opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are barred, holding her in. (Biedermann 179, 382). From the outset the reader is …

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…f the wallpaper . . . “(Gilman 647).


Anderson, Daniel. ** Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”? As it appeared in the October issue of The Forerunner, 1913.” 1996. (19 Sept. 1998)

Biedermann, Hans, ed. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism. Cumberland House: Hertfordshire, 1996

Cunningham, Iain and Holmes, Douglass. “Sensory Descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1977.* (19 Sept. 1998).

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Women’s Work – An Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Barbara Perkins, Robyn Warhol, and George Perkins. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994. 640-650.

Lane, Ann J. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990.

The Oppression of Women by Society in The Yellow Wallpaper

The Oppression of Women by Society in The Yellow Wallpaper

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a creative woman whose talents are suppressed by her dominant husband. His efforts to oppress her in order to keep her within society’s norms of what a wife is supposed to act like, only lead to her mental destruction. He is more concerned with societal norms than the mental health of his wife. In trying to become independent and overcome her own suppressed thoughts, and her husbands false diagnosis of her; she loses her sanity. One way the story illustrates his dominance is by the way he, a well-know and established doctor who should know better than to diagnose a family member, diagnoses her as having a temporary nervousness condition and what he prescribes for her illness, which is bed rest. Without asking her, he takes her to their summer home to recover from an illness that he doesn’t believe she has. He tells her there is “no reason” why she feels the way she does; she should get rid of those “silly fantasies.” In saying this to her, he is treating her like a child who doesn’t really know how she feels, thus making her doubt herself. When she tries to tell him what she needs, she is completely shut out and ignored. “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus-but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.” This statement has a two-fold meaning, in the first part of the sentence he reveals part of his insecurity problem. He is not interested in getting her help because he doesn’…

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…environment she was placed in, and to not look for outside influences to help strengthen her, which was an indication of his insecurity. She accepted the environment that she was placed in but begin to slowly change it into what she wanted. Even though her husband really believed that he was helping her, he was actually hurting her. He was stuck in society’s thinking that woman wanted to be taken care of and thought that, that’s what he was doing. He could not understand why she began to react violently and angrily to the environment in which she was placed. Only by confronting her fears of what society and her husband would think about her, did she allow herself to become free. Once she achieved her independence, she realized that she didn’t need to rely on anyone else but herself for her survival. By refusing to be submissive, she traded her sanity for independence.

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