Have you ever thought of being a woman? Well, perhaps you already are, but how about a woman in an 1880s New England setting? One particular short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore, follows such a story of a woman during this time and place. She is neglected from having her own opinions, as with most women of this time, by her husband, John. She becomes driven into a nervous breakdown through his treatment of her condition. Thus, the narrator is forced to find her own freedom from societal and situational oppression through a yellow wallpaper.
During the time period of the 1800s, women’s roles in society were limited. This is a time when women were subjected to house duties, childcare, and nothing more. One article describes the thought process then as, “Socially, women were considered weaker hence unequal to their men counterparts,” even going on to say, “Some people would compare such a condition as slavery” (“Women’s Role in Society”). This is made apparent in the story when time and time again the narrator is neglected by the other characters in the story. Such an example can be seen when the narrator is being subjected to her “rest cure”, and she is being assigned her room by her husband. She describes a beautiful room they pass which made her illustriously excited, later telling how “…John would not hear of it” (Gilmore 648) or fancy the idea. A simple request she is asking is not afforded. Thus, she is left to a room where “the windows are barred” (Gilmore 648) and there is the wallpaper initially mentioned as, “It is dull enough to confuse the eye…pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves…they suddenly commit suicide” (Gilmore 648). This is not a room where someone who is respected would be placed for recovery.
Although there were many revelations and “cures” becoming hypothesized in the psychological world during the late 1800s, some of which made evident in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” none are helpful to the narrator. If anything, her condition worsens. The rest cure limits her to little or no stimulation. John assumes this will help as on page 649 the narrator says, “He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him” (“The Yellow Wallpaper). If John tried to understand the patient, his wife, more, he could understand stimulation is what she needs to stay sane. Her situation of being confined to a single room with no activity is not inflicted because she is mad, but it is the catalyst driving her mental state to madness.
With the wallpaper in her room being the only sense of stimulation within her life, this leads her to have no other options but to become fixated upon it. Throughout the story, there is progression from hating the wallpaper to becoming obsessed upon its existence. On page 650, she goes on to “see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly…front design” (Gilmore). The narrator was experiencing neuroses at this point and visualizing herself trapped in the wall as she is trapped in her life. Sigmund Freud, famous Austrian neurologist, has explanations for this type of behavior as, “Freud was convinced that neuroses…and other difficult-to-explain aspects of mental life were rooted in conflicting and usually unconscious desires rather than neurological malfunction” (“From Nerves to Neuroses”). Her desires become freedom manifested through the woman who,” in the very bright spots keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard” (Gilmore 654). This example of the woman in the wall could be compared to the narrator’s writing practices or also her unconscious desires to leave the confinement she has been subjected to. Afterall, at one point she mentions, “that I must take care of myself for [John’s] sake, and keep well” (Gilmore 652). This proves her conscious mentality is still set on pleasing her husband and not on improving her own mental stability. With her options limited and a maddening mind, her only solutions seem to be freeing the woman in the wallpaper, herself being that woman.
Through scarce resources and aid, the narrator found the liberty necessary to her through the only means imaginable by her because no one else was. This story teaches us the importance of the tender human condition through the story of a woman in the late 1800s. A woman with psychoanalysis needed but not received; a woman with respect deserved but met with neglect. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a necessary feminist piece that shows mistakes that should never be exercised again.
All Answers Ltd. “Women’s Role in Society in the 1800s.” Ukessays.com, UK Essays, 12 Aug. 2021, www.ukessays.com/essays/history/womens-role-in-society-in-the-1800s-history-essay.php.
“From Nerves to Neuroses | Science Museum.” Science Museum, 2019,
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. The New England Magazine, 1892.