Victorian time was a period in the history that initiated the beginning of feminism, fight of women for equality with men. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was one of those, who were struggling for the females’ rights, granted to them by God, using the power of words. In this paper we will consider one her particular writing, “The Yellow Wallpaper” from the feministic point of view, analyze what the work says about the woman’s position in American society at the turn of the century, and explain how the main female character defeats the patriarchal culture represented in the attitude of her husband.
Short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” depicts a woman, presumably suffering from nervous depression. She is prescribed “rest therapy” by her husband, which ultimately leads to her madness. This piece of writing may be considered an autobiographical story, because the author herself had overcame postnatal depression that lasted three years and was one of the key factors that caused her subsequent divorce. The story of a woman is a bright example of feministic writing. The main heroine, a married woman with a little child, represents the whole womanhood at the turn of the century. Her image is symbolic, it shows oppression, psychological abuse and despair of females in the period of history, when men were enjoying absolute power in the world. It was a time, when sphere of education was predominantly male domain, when equality in interpersonal relationships was considered to be impossible, when practically all women were confined to housework and upbringing of children. In order to show how unequal were the positions of men and women, the writer names the husband John and leaves woman unnamed, which is, from the standpoint of feminism, humiliating at its core. Already in the first lines John’s wife reveals the idea of matrimony for a woman in Victorian times, saying about her husband that he laughs at her when she expresses some thought, but this is a normal situation in marriage (Perkins Gilman 70). The above mentioned John is a doctor and his professional attitude to his spouse is notoriously surprising: he does not believe in seriousness of his wife’s disease, and she asks herself, “What can I do?”(Perkins Gilman 70). The question posed is actually a rhetorical one, because, in fact, till the end of the story she will do something about her position in the patriarchal society. The story commences with our realization of the fact that woman has nervous depression and is prescribed rest by her husband-physician. He considers unacceptable for his wife to be involved in any kind of writing, as well as any other intellectual and creative activities. That is why she conceals her writing activity (Perkins Gilman 71). What is the reason of such his attitude? Clearly, it is easier to control and manipulate uneducated and improvident women, than those, who have broader vision of the world. Women of those times were worried so much about their husbands’ satisfaction and happiness that put male’s comfort and desires on the first place. If a man was unhappy, it was absolutely woman’s fault. The main heroine fears to be a burden to her husband. At the beginning of the story she believes that she is capable of very little quantity of things, among them dressing and entertaining. But further, a change occurs in woman’s inner world. During her illness it dawns upon her that there is something wrong with male attitude towards females. This is seen through her realization that there is something abnormal with the wallpaper. By husband’s advice, the woman was incarcerated and prescribed rest. Her medical condition worsened because of inactivity and boredom. The woman started paying attention to the yellow wallpaper in her room. It was used to demonstrate how she has gradually gone mad. The wife starts seeing another woman creeping in the wallpaper, who is desperately trying to break free. Further, this creeping becomes more frequent, image of woman becomes clearer. This female, trapped in the wallpaper, as well as wife imprisoned in her room, are the symbols of Victorian womanhood trapped in the male-governed society. When husband comes to the room, she tears down glass ceiling and creeps over him, which symbolizes her protest, victory and some freedom gain.
In conclusion, the symbolic image of woman’s liberation from incarceration in her room, her attempt to be on top of her husband while creeping alludes to the beginning of the feministic movement. Ultimately, the main heroine of “The Yellow Wallpaper” liberates herself in the battle with her husband’s dictatorship at the expense of her sanity, but this victory is seen as the beginning of change in male-dominating patriarchal society.
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