Individuality and the importance of upholding women’s rights, such as viewing a woman as a respectable, free-willed human being, are the essential truths established in Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” Through the development of the narrator Gilman uses symbolism and imagery to awaken the reader to the reality of what a woman’s life was like in the 1800’s. Analysis of the symbolism throughout the story reveals that the author was not only testifying to the social status of the women in society but specifically giving insight into her personal life, and what she was subjected to.
What appeared to be a mere, contrite story to many readers, was actually a successful strike at the wrong mindset that society possessed at that time. The narrator was a woman who experienced these difficulties. Living in a house with her husband, John, she was confined to a spacious, sunlit room that contained hideous yellow wallpaper that she despised. Against her better judgment she was not permitted to write, draw, or work, but simply rest. Soon the wallpaper she detested became her only stimulus. She examined it by day and night, and began to see patterns develop and figures form.
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The vague figures took the shape of a woman trapped behind bars, constantly searching for a way out. The narrator sympathized with the enslaved woman, and began to contemplate ways to save her. The narrator becomes paranoid around her husband and the babysitter who she thinks are also trying to unmask the wallpapers true meaning. Finally the narrator becomes frantic and is reduced to a state of disillusion. The author draws the story to an end, with the narrator tearing down the wallpaper and exclaiming that she finally released the woman behind it.
The wallpaper itself was not the cause of the narrator’s madness. Her husband thought that she was suffering from a nervous depression and concluded that it was in her best interest to be prescribed the rest cure, confined to a room and isolated from her normal activities. This confinement and lack of freedom to live a normal life drove the narrator to examine the wallpaper, which was her only individual freedom left. Because of the narrator’s madness, she was unable to make the connection between the woman behind the wallpaper and herself.
The narrator felt trapped, like the woman in the wallpaper, due to her domineering husband, her lack of individuality and personal freedom of choice, as well as the prejudices suppressing her from society at large. The narrator’s life was parallel to the author’s life. Gilman, like the narrator was subject to a confinement, cut off from society. She found individuality and freedom through her writing but it was abruptly ended by a doctor’s diagnosis stating that these activities were not healthy.
The doctor prescribed the rest cure for Gilman; she was to live “ as domestic a life as far as possible, to have but two hours intellectual life a day, and to never touch a pencil, brush or pencil again. ” She went home and followed the doctor’s orders for 3 months, and became even more mentally unstable than before. Soon she decided to break the doctors orders, and began to work again, and to continue her previous routine of everyday life. Gilman’s decision to exert her God- given ability to choose what she thought best resulted in her becoming a strong individual.
She wrote the “Yellow Wallpaper” as an attempt to change the way women were viewed and to express the importance of individuality. Her purpose “was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy. ” The author succeeded in her attempt to convey the need for individuality. Several times throughout the story, the narrator expressed her want to write, work, spend leisure times outdoors, and to leave the room. Her failure to carryout her desires resulted in insanity. Not only did she have her husband working against her, but she also had society’s opinion at large to her disadvantage.
During the 1800s, the only “right” workplace for women was at home. Women were viewed as incompetent, and as beings that were not able to think for themselves. The narrator in the “Yellow Wallpaper” knew nothing in her husband’s eyes. Her feelings were not relevant, but were instead pushed aside and counted worthless. Although the narrator never came to grips with the need for individuality, the reader can imagine how different the circumstances may have been if she had exercised her right to think and act freely.
Thinking and acting freely was a rare occurrence in the women at large in the 1800s. In the first part of the short story on page 437, the narrator states “Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally I believe that congenial work, with excitement, and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? ” The narrator reveals her lack of confidence and of individuality when she remarks “ But what is one to do? ” She constantly discounts her feelings and continually discredits herself of any self- confidence she has left within her.
Further down the page she articulates her hatred for the room and expresses her desire to move to another room downstairs, but once again places her feelings aside by saying “But John would not hear of it. ” The author also succeeded tremendously with the symbolism of the woman trapped behind the wallpaper. The woman trapped behind the yellow wallpaper symbolizes the narrator’s fear of confronting her husband with her opinions and feelings, and also the desire to escape the room she finds herself in.
Many women during this time had similar feelings to that of the narrator in the “Yellow Wallpaper. ” The author set out to alter the mindset in women during her time. In this short story the woman trapped behind the wallpaper not only represents the narrator, but the majority of women in that time. On page 444, the author writes “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind the wallpaper, and sometimes only one… And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern- it strangles so.
I think that is why it has so many heads. ” This excerpt symbolizes the way women felt in her time. The way of thinking about women in that time was so strong, that not one woman thought they could escape the false stereotype that they had adopted unwillingly. In the author’s opinion, many women felt trapped and depressed, but felt that they could do nothing about it. It is evident that the author urged all of her women readers to escape the spirit of the opinions and notions of her time period, and to be an individual who expressed their feelings freely.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman sought to communicate that women should be respected on the same level as men, and that women also had the ability to think rationally and independently. Thorough examination of the symbolism found in this short story finds that individuality is of utter necessity in overcoming difficult obstacles. The author’s attempt to teach women this principle succeeded in one of the greatest ways possible. Women of the past and present have escaped the stereotype of a typical 1800s woman and have created for themselves a workplace outside the home.