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Yellow Wallpaper

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In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman shows that the American principle

of liberty did not apply to all Americans in the late nineteenth and

early twentieth century. Specifically it shows that this principle was

not given to women. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman shows that

American society at the time was oppressive toward women and

that it was dangerous for women to fight back. She establishes a

female narrator that is oppressed literally and symbolically by the

men in her life and the society she lives in. This oppression causes

the narrator, who is suffering from what is probably a post-partum

depression, to sink lower and lower into the depths of insanity. Her

cries for help go unheeded by her husband and she eventually loses

sanity completely. On a symbolic level, this failure of the narrator to

survive in the face of societal oppression can be seen as a warning

to society. Gilman was warning the men of society that they could

not continue to deny women opportunities for equality without

suffering the consequences.

Gilman's female narrator, who either chooses not to fight for her

rights or was unable to do so, loses her sanity at the hands of her

well-meaning husband. Her depression is unexplainable to her and

her husband, who is a doctor. In fact, neither her husband nor her

brother, who is also a doctor, believes that she is even sick. The

narrator feels certain that the "rest cure" prescribed by her husband

is not working. She says that the men in her life are wrong to limit

her activity. She feels that she could escape her depression if given

the chance. "Personally, I disagree with their ideas . . . I believe that

congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good".

But despite this knowledge, the narrator does not act out against

what she believes to be the incorrect ideas of the men who confine

her and make her mental illness worse. Her husband's numerous

attempts to restrain and confine her only serve to worsen her


Throughout "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman shows not only the

restraint and confinement of the narrator, but also, symbolically, the

restraint and confinement of females in American society of the

time. The narrator is imprisoned in the room that contains the

yellow wallpaper. The house that contains it is surrounded by hedges

and "gates that lock". At the top of the stairs is a gate that keeps

the narrator from leaving the top floor. The windows of the room

itself are barred. The narrator is kept in this room without possibility

for escape, much as women of American society at the time were

kept in "their place" without possibility for escape. She is kept to a

rigid schedule each day that she is not allowed to deviate from. Both

the narrator and women of the time were often considered to not

know enough to make intelligent decisions for them. Women in

general and the narrator specifically, were considered to be childlike,

hysterical and physically weak. The narrator is placed in a child's

nursery. She is considered to be suffering from female hysteria. Her

husband has to physically carry her up the stairs at one point. She is

considered to be silly and unintelligent. ". . . he . . . called me a

blessed little goose . .". These thoughts were extended to many

women of the time period and were not just confined to the

narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper."

The wallpaper itself is representative of societal oppression of

women. The pattern on the wallpaper represents to the narrator and

to the reader the male dominated society that is depriving the

narrator of her freedom. ". . . by moonlight, it becomes bars," she

says, ". . . and the woman behind it is as plain as can be". For the

narrator, on a personal level, the pattern on the wallpaper

represents the actions of her husband, doctor and her husband's

sister to keep her locked in the room and idle. While these people

are supposedly attempting to aid the narrator, they are in effect

imprisoning her in the room.

Gilman represents this imprisonment symbolically through the use of

the woman's image behind the pattern in the wallpaper, which she

describes as "bars." The narrator feels that these bars imprison the

woman and choke off her life. To the narrator this is seen through

the image of broken necks lolling



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"Yellow Wallpaper." 12, 2010. Accessed 12, 2010.