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The Yellow Wallpaper: Male Oppression Of Women In Society

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The Yellow Wallpaper: Male Opression of Women in Society Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a commentary on themale oppression of women in a patriarchal society. However, the story itselfpresents an interesting look at one woman's struggle to deal with both physicaland mental confinement. This theme is particularly thought-provoking when readin today's context where individual freedom is one of our most cherished rights.This analysis will focus on two primary issues: 1) the many vivid images Gilmanuses to illustrate the physical and symbolic confinement the narrator enduresduring her illness; and 2) the overall effect of, and her reaction to, thisconfinement. The Yellow Wallpaper begins with the narrator's description of thephysically confining elements surrounding her. The story is cast in an isolatedhereditary estate, set back from the road and located three miles from town.The property boasts protective hedges that surround the garden, walls thatsurround the estate, and locked gates which guarantee seclusion. Even theconnecting garden represents confinement, with box-bordered paths and grape-covered arbors. This isolation motif continues within the mansion itself.Although she preferred the downstairs room with roses all over the windows thatopened on the piazza, the narrator finds herself relegated to an out of the waydungeon-like nursery on the second floor, appropriately equipped with "rings andthings" in the walls. Windows in each direction provide glimpses of the garden,arbors, bushes, and trees. The bay is visible, as is a private wharf thatadjoins the estate. These views reinforce isolationism; they can be seen fromthe room, but not touched or experienced. There is a gate at the head of thestairs, presumably to keep the children contained in their play area.Additionally, the bed is immovable as it has been nailed to the floor. It ishere that the narrator secretly describes her slow decent into madness.Although the physical confinement drains the narrator's strength and will,the mental and emotional confinement symbolized in the story play an importantrole in her ultimate fall into dementia. By being forced to be her own company,she is confined within her mind. Likewise, part of the narrator's mentalconfinement stems from her recognition of her physical confinement. Thedepression the narrator has experienced associated with child bearing ismentally confining as well. Specifically, she cannot control her emotions ormanage her guilt over her inability to care for her child. These structures ofconfinement contribute to the rapid degeneration of her faculties. As the wife of a prominent physician in the late nineteenth century, thenarrator's assumption of the typical female role illustrates one aspect of thesymbolic confinement present within both the story and the society. She issubservient and deferential to her husband John who enjoys the powertraditionally associated with his sex and additional authority afforded him byhis status as a doctor. Jean Kennard notes, "By keeping her underemployed andisolated, John effectively ensures his wife's dependence on him" (81). John'scontrol over his wife is typical of the control most men had over women in thelate nineteenth century. He decides everything on her behalf, including whatroom she will stay in and who she will be allowed to see. He diagnoses herpostpartum depression as a "temporary nervous depression--a slight hystericaltendency" and in doing so, diminishes her complaints and demeans herindividuality. His prescribed treatment is worse than the disease; every houris scheduled, she is forbidden to write, told what to think, and prohibited fromacting as mother to her child. John's behavior illustrates his covert efforts to control his wife aswell. He looks to the narrator's brother, who is also a physician, to validatehis diagnosis and prescribed cure, making it even more difficult for thenarrator to challenge the prescription herself. He repeatedly diminishes her bylaughing at her and not taking her grievances seriously. The narrator complains"John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason tosuffer, and that satisfies him." John's contempt for his wife's ideas isblatant; he refers to her as a "little girl," and when she requests that she bemoved to a different room downstairs, he "took [her] in his arms and called[her] a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if [she]wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain." That he is only willing tomove her into the basement, instead of allowing her a room of her choice,epitomizes

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