The clear that she doesn’t feel the same

The
Yellow Wallpaper

In
the short story entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the author, Charlotte Perkins
Gilman, boldly tackles gender roles and the oppression of women set in that period
through symbolism. Especially in the nineteenth century, women were often
dominated and controlled by their spouses. In this feministic classic, the
narrator feels oppressed by the expectation of women the world and her husband
force on her. Gilman cleverly uses her circumstances to dramatically express
the effect of existing in a world utterly dominated by the male sex. The facets
the author used exert this perspective into the story are the usage of the
house itself, the windows in the room, and the wallpaper that lines the walls.

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Though
the exact reasoning the narrator is brought to the house is deliberately kept
vague, her husband rented it out for an extended period and treated the
situation as if they were on holiday. Usually, this would be something to be
joyous about, but the John’s wife makes it clear that she doesn’t feel the same
way.  She states several times that there
is “something queer about it” and that is was “haunted” (673). The narrator
even goes as far as to justify that the reason the mansion was so cheap to rent
in the first place was because there was something supernatural that kept it
perpetually vacant. Although the surrounding gardens and views are beautiful,
and the house itself is attractive, she is unable to shake the feeling that
there is something disturbing about the home. “I am afraid, but I don’t
care—There is something strange about the house—I can feel it” (674). Her
intuition is a precursor to the change that occurs while she is held in the
home against her will; the mansion itself is the catalyst. This can be
interpreted as symbolic of the lifestyle that was imposed on women, or perhaps
marriage, as both would involve the woman herself to conform to the
expectations of men around her.

Another
interesting detail in the story open to interpretation is the barred windows in
the nursey in which the narrator spends most of her time. It represents not
only what she could be if she was free, but also pointedly reminds her that she
is still trapped within the confines of the house. In literature, windows are
often used to depict the future, potential, and great prospects. But now,
despite enjoying the views of the sights around the home as she went in, she no
longer wants to look outside. If she looked through the window, she would no
doubt see what she could have been, or what she could still be, if she were
free to have the independence that were given to men alone. She says, “I don’t
like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of those creeping
women, and they creep so fast” (683). She knows that to live in society, she
would have to accept the nature of the world and “creep”, or lower herself, to
give way to men, whom have the higher status. She hates the view because the
sees the women who are “creeping” are doing so in the shadows, “Most women do
not creep by daylight” (682). At this point the women are no longer separate
entities, but reflections of who she is. She creeps, hiding her activities from
her husband and the housemaid and is unable to be true to herself. The window
cannot be opened; she cannot be free because her husband John, aptly represented
by the bars, irrefutably prevents her escape.

The
more important factor leading up to the poor narrator’s mental and emotional
change is not the house or the windows, but the room she stays in. More so than
anything else, the wallpaper and the details surrounding it play a powerful
role and have a double meaning. As she stays, she finds herself obsessed over
its intricate patterns and designs that lead her nowhere and has no absolute
conclusion. Later, begins to see a woman within the walls that, on occasion,
tries to escape her entrapment. The designs that she was so curious of also
functioned as chains that keep the woman in, not unlike the barred windows, and
separate the two from each other. The narrator is disgusted by the color of the
walls the moment she stepped into the room and describes it as the worst things
she had ever seen in her entire life: “the color is repellant, almost
revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning
sun” (675). For most of the story, the woman is trapped in the room with the
only thing to focus on being the wallpaper, its hideous yellow color, and the
patterns that lead nowhere. She can’t leave because by now her husband has
stolen control over her life using the excuse of a rest cure, leaving her
unable to do anything but watch the walls. She describes the feeling, “I should
hate it myself if I had to live in this room long” (675). This unethical and
borderline torturous fate eventually leads to the tragic disassociation of the
narrator. Despite her husband, she allows herself to be drawn into her
insanity. She’s losing her mind. But for the first time, she is not afraid. In
the end, she realizes that the woman in the wallpaper was no woman at all, but
a reflection of herself and every other woman oppressed by the societal
expectations set by men.

When
read on purely a surface level, The Yellow Wallpaper portrays a woman that is
slowly losing her sanity and is on the edge of a mental breakdown. Reading
critically, though, yields largely different results. One must take note of Charlotte
Gilman’s masterful usages of symbolism within the narrative. The house looks to
be a sanctuary but is actually a cage. The window seems beautiful but is
tortuous and ugly in nature. The wallpaper can be seen as harmless but really
represents the oppression and figurative shackling of the rights of women in
the nineteenth century.