The story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores the life of a female narrator who is misdiagnosed with hysteria by her husband but turns out to be a victim of depression. The narrator’s woes began after delivery. From her symptoms, her husband diagnosed her with “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency” (Gilman 648). The narrator feels that the diagnosis is wrong, but cannot do anything since her husband and brother insist on the diagnosis. With such a diagnosis, the narrator has to take the standard prescription for hysteria which involved doing nothing. Through the story, the narrator’s condition deteriorates and depression gets the better part of her, finally destroying the wallpaper. Gilman uses the narrator to effectively explore and condemn the sexual politics prevalent during the nineteenth century. Gilman, through the narrator, effectively portrays the status of sexual politics in the society and demands for better treatment of women in the society.
Gilman succeeds in showing women as deprived of their fundamental rights in the society. The right of expression, for instance, is shown to be suppressed in the narration. The narrator, despite feeling that the diagnosis is inaccurate, cannot express her feelings. The narrator reveals that “personally, I disagree with their ideas” (Gilman 648). However, she can only keep her ideas to herself. Her husband, John, tells her that it would be worse for her to think about her condition. She is, therefore, forbidden to work. Here, the author appears to demonize the medicalization approach where women were treated as fragile, weak, and incapable of achieving anything on their own (Lanser 418). Mere suggestion by the narrator that her wellness would be attained by obtaining more social time were met with harsh criticism by the husband, claiming that as a physician he was full of wisdom.
The author, through the use of conversation and symbolism, effectively champions for feminism. The treatment of women in the nineteenth century necessitated the need to fight for their basic freedoms and rights. The place of women in the society was predominantly determined by the society, a situation that equated women to toys (Lanser 422). Through Gilman’s story, women get to understand that they can do better than be subjected to decisions made by the society. The yellow wallpaper is symbolic of the entrapment that faces women. As the narrator’s condition deteriorated, she noticed that there was a woman trapped in the wallpaper. This woman, according to the narrator, had to be freed. The trapped woman was a symbol of the situation that women in the 19th century were in. Through decisive action, the narrator got to “free” the woman by tearing down the wallpaper. The action of bringing down the wallpaper is symbolic of the course of action, from a feminist point of view, that women need to take to free themselves from a patriarchal society.
Lastly, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” succeeds in condemning patriarchy in the nineteenth century society. Men are depicted as superior beings, having the wisdom to determine the roles of women. The narrator mentions that her husband and her brother were physicians and shared the diagnosis of hysteria and had to undergo the “no-work” treatment procedure for hysteria. Women are considered weak and fragile by men, a reason why John has to do everything for the narrator. She has to be guarded for she is considered incapable of making solid decisions. At the end of the story, the narrator becomes crazy due to the inability to choose a path that is most suitable for her. However, a symbol of triumph over patriarchy entails the narrator crawling over her husband, despite the fact that she crawls into madness (Monteiro 47).
Article Critique: The Yellow Wallpaper
Gilman, Catherine. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. New England Magazine 11.5 (1892): 647-656. Print.
Lanser, Susan S. “Feminist Criticism,” The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the Politics of Color in America.” Feminist Studies 15.3 (1989): 415-441.
Monteiro, George. “Context, intention, and purpose in” The Yellow Wall-paper”: a tale in the Poe and the Romantic tradition.” Fragmentos: Revista de Língua e Literatura Estrangeiras 17 (1999).