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The Woman Behind Bars

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While being a major influence in the early years of the Feminist movement, Charlotte Perkins Gilman led a not so glamorous life. She suffered from depression, nervous breakdowns, cancer, and the isolation that many women suffered from during her era. One of her most famous works is "The Yellow Wallpaper", which depicts the typical female role in the 1890's - a role in which the female is considered to be subordinate to the male. It is a story about Jane, a woman who suffers from isolation, mental deterioration, and obsession. Readers get a glimpse into her life as she secretly keeps a journal of her stay at the remote house that her husband thought would be good for her. However, this was not the case. Due to the treatment of Jane by her husband, and the living situations that she endures, Jane's mental condition steadily decreases throughout the story. Jane becomes completely obsessed with the yellow wallpaper and its representation of her own "locked-up" life.

Due to the nervous breakdown that Jane was experiencing, her husband and brother, both physicians, insist that the best treatment is rest and relaxation; however, the turnout ends up resulting in isolation and imprisonment for Jane. While the house itself seems beautiful to her, the room where she stays in is far from it, but John insisted that since it was the highest room in the house, she would receive the most air. The conditions of the room are hardly calming, though. Because the room was formally a nursery and a gymnasium, the bed is immovable and nailed down to the floor, and all of the windows are barred. It is as if Jane is more of a prisoner than a wife and mother who is trying to overcome her mental state. While being kept up in this room for so long, and the fact that she is forbidden to write or do any congenial work like she wishes to do, Jane begins to focus on the yellow wallpaper, in which she says has "one of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin"(577). As time goes on, the wallpaper begins to form shapes, and eventually, Jane makes out the shapes to be a woman - perhaps more than one - trapped behind bars in this wallpaper. Since both Jane and the trapped woman are imprisoned behind bars, the woman subconsciously reminds Jane of herself.

The obsession of the wallpaper causes Jane to think of it as her own personal paper and duty. She is determined to be the one that figures out the pattern on the wallpaper and the meaning behind it. In the story, Jane catches both her husband, John, and her sister-in-law, Jennie, staring at the wallpaper. As they stare, Jane watches them and makes excuses to come into the room to distract them from gazing at it. She catches Jennie off guard, causing Jennie to have a guilty reaction about studying the wallpaper so intensely. Excuses are made by Jennie, but as Jane says, "I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!"(584). She no longer wanted to leave the house, not until she figured out the pattern. Once the pattern in the wallpaper was figured out to be the imprisoned woman behind bars, Jane did not want anyone else involved with the wallpaper. She begins to feel that the responsibility now lies upon her, and she wants to be the one freeing the locked-up woman. Jane begins to relate more and more with the woman, and if she is able to succeed in freeing the woman in the wallpaper, then Jane will be free from the oppression in which she suffers.

At first, Jane can barely stand being in the room because of the horrid yellow wallpaper. Everything about the wallpaper disgusts her; she is repulsed by the yellow color because it reminds her of "old foul, bad yellow things"(584). Even the smell of the wallpaper sickens her. She finds that the smell reminds her of the repulsive color that the paper possesses. However, as she spends more and more time in this room, the wallpaper begins to do more than sicken her; it begins to fascinate and obsess her. Jane comments that she is "getting fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper"(580). The longer Jane is confined to the room, this fascination becomes more of an obsession with trying to tear the paper down, in order to free the woman who is stuck inside of the wallpaper. On the last night, as the woman behind the bars began to shake the pattern, Jane immediately got out of bed to come to her rescue. They both shook and pulled at the wallpaper until yards were finally pulled down. What was one woman turns into many women creeping around,



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