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- What would it be like to live in a world where men treated women as property, as something to be belittled and patronized? Unfortunately, this was the case in America until very recently. Women weren’t allowed the vote before 1920, so they were often treated as second class citizens, especially in the late 1800’s. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an outspoken feminist, fought long and hard for women’s suffrage and equality in a blatantly patriarchal society. She often times did this by writing politically charged stories, such as “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In this short story, our narrator, who is never named, is trapped inside of an ancestral mansion, diagnosed by her husband as having a nervous disorder. Her only escape from her entrapment is to write her secret journal, the contents of which are the story the reader is reading. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, through her story "The Yellow Wallpaper, “ talks about the historic entrapment of women in gender roles using both her own personal story and feminist ideas.
- "The Yellow Wallpaper" is in fact an autobiography of sorts, since Gilman went through similar situations herself which shaped her and shaped her ideas. Gilman married at the typical age and served the typical role a wife would in a relationship, just as the narrator does in the story. In addition, Gilman experienced postpartum depression, which her husband interpreted as a nervous disorder. According to Stone, “Within a year of marrying, and after having given birth to a daughter, Gilman entered into a profound depression. [...] [She] undertook a cure consisting largely of bed rest and minimal intellectual stimulation.” She eventually realized that this supposed cure was really worsening her condition and ended her treatment herself (Stone). This scenario can also be seen within “The Yellow Wallpaper,”
- Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,--to dress and entertain, and order things. 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)
- It can be seen that the Narrator also suffered from postpartum depression, so badly that she couldn’t be with her child.The only difference between these two scenes is that Gilman managed to escape her prescribed treatment, thus saving herself from certain insanity. The Narrator unfortunately was not, and was driven to insanity by her imprisonment within gender roles that were enforced within the time period.
- During the time that Gilman lived, women weren't empowered to dare to live outside certain gender roles imposed on them by male society, and this often led to negative consequences to women. The narrator, instead of being treated as an equal, is forced to take upon a role of lesser importance within the marriage. She states simply in her journal, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Gilman). It can be guessed that this belittlement of the narrator has led in part to her disease, as Gilman supposed it had before she left her own husband. “She [Gilman] also separated from her husband, for she had become convinced that the stifling domesticity of her marriage had contributed, if only somewhat, to her chronic despair" (Stone). This was a radical step for Gilman to take, because women were dependant on their husbands, and it meant the difference between her recovery, and her insanity. The reason why the narrator didn’t recover was because she failed to step outside of the gender role imposed upon her.
- The Yellow Wallpaper talks about the eternal struggle women face when limits are imposed on them because of their gender,and how these limits harm them in the end. Everything surrounding the narrator represents a society run by men. “She is living in ‘ancestral halls’ (9), has just given birth to a boy, is surrounded by men, [...], and even the females in the house seem to be cardboard figures cut out by the patriarchy”(Ford, 390). The family’s housekeeper is even named Jennie, which means a female donkey or beast of burden (Ford), and she is described as “a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession” (Gilman). These are the people who are supposed to be taking care of her, but they only further her disease by not taking her point of view into account. “‘What is it little girl?’ he [the narrator’s husband] said, ‘Don’t go walking about like that--you’ll get cold’ [...] ‘Bless her little heart![...] she shall be as sick as she pleases!” (Gilman). Not only is her husband treating her like a child, he also doesn’t believe that she’s actually sick with anything. By being disregarded this way, the narrator is trapped within the diagnosis her husband has given her, a diagnosis which ultimately leads to her insanity.
- The yellow wallpaper itself can show how women’s attempts to communicate their struggle with their gender roles were often times misunderstood and met with hostility by male society. At the beginning of the story, the narrator describes to her journal the seemingly atrocious wallpaper found in her room.
- [It has] One of those sprawling, flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
- It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly
- irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a
- little distance, they suddenly commit suicide--plunge off at outrageous angles,
- destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions (Gilman).
- This description is also one that is commonly used to describe women’s writing. “From a conventional perspective , it first seems strange, flamboyant [...]The very act of women’s writing produces discourse which embodies ‘unheard of contradictions’” (Treichler, 62). When men view a woman’s way of describing herself and her emotions in this way, it leads to men thinking women’s thoughts are illogical as a whole, and then they disreguard them. If a woman cannot express her emotions, how can she expect others to be able to understand her problems.
- Before reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I thought that there really was no point for feminism anymore in the modern world. I mean, we have the vote, and equal employment opportunities. But, as I started writing this paper, I received negative feedback from my father about the subject of my paper. He told me that there was no real entrapment of women in their gender roles at any point in history. My father has always been more conservative in gender politics, but his blatant denial to my face of this seemingly obvious fact reminded me of Iran’s denial of the Holocaust. He went to the extent of telling me that my paper’s scholarly value was that of The National Enquirer. At that point, I knew exactly how Charlotte Perkins Gilman and other female writers of her era had felt like. A work of writing I had worked really hard on had been belittled by someone who really didn’t understand what they were reading to begin with. A man cannot truly understand a woman’s perspective, and therefore her writing, because of the simple fact that he is not a woman. However, that did not give my father an excuse to judge my writing the way he did.
- Works Cited
- Ford, Karen. "'The Yellow Wallpaper' and Woman's Discourse." Tulsa Studies in Woman's Literature 4.2 (1985): 309-314. JSTOR. Web. 21 Oct. 2010.
- This article discuses the relationship the narrator's writing in the story has with the images she sees in the wallpaper. I would use this journal to discuss the metaphor of the wallpaper. Does it have a meaning about woman's struggle against a patriarchal society? Or is it a deeper meaning about woman's writing? This source is a good source because I got it off of JSTOR.
- Haney-Peritz, Janice. "Monumental Feminism and Literature's Ancestral House: Another Look at 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'." Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Woman and Her Work. Ed. Sheryl L. Meyering. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989. 95-107. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed.
- Janet Witalec. Vol. 62. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Oct. 2010.
- In this source, Haney-Peritz talks about how most people view “The Yellow Wallpaper” through a strictly This source will be useful for even more information on woman’s discourse versus man’s discourse. I can also use it to talk about different groups’ perceptions of Gilman’s story. This is a good source because I got it off of the Literature Resource Center.
- Perkins, George B., Barbara Perkins, and Philip Leininger. "Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1860-1935)." Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature. 1991. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Oct. 2010.
- This source will be useful for its information on Gilman's family and her other works of literature. I will use this for the biographical lens of my paper and talk about her work in woman's rights and suffrage. I can also talk about her first marriage versus her second marriage and compare her spouses.
- Stone, Les. "Charlotte (Anna) Perkins (Stetson) Gilman." Contemporary Authors. Gale, 2003. Web. 22 Oct. 2010.
- I would use this source to explain how Gilman's feminist views and her writing was influenced by her childhood. I would also explain how her marriage to her first husband and her bout with severe depression inspired her to write "The Yellow Wallpaper." I'll also talk about her relationship and reception by the general public.
- Treichler, Paula A. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'" Tulsa Studies in Woman's Literature 3.No. 1/2 (1984): 62-77. JSTOR. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.
- I will use this source to talk about the oppression of women and the misunderstanding of their writing. I could relate it back to Ford's essay and talk about the differences and similarities. I know this source is a good source because I got it off of JSTOR.
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