The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a pioneering short story that deals with the issues of women. The story is considered to be an early significant work of American feminist literature. It holds mirror to the nineteenth century problems that women confronted at large. The function and symbolic significance of the yellow wallpaper has long retained the attention of readers and critics.
The theme that emanates from the narrative technique employed in the story is the confinement of women. Gilman brings to light the quandary of women in nineteenth-century specifically in the context of marriage, domesticity and maternity.
The narrator's virtual imprisonment to her home and her feelings of being dominated excessively and victimized by the patriarchal society and her husband in particular symbolizes the domestic and social limitation imposed on the women.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is driven by the narrator’s sagacity who considers the wallpaper a text to be interpreted by none other than herself. It is a symbol that has much to do with her personal and social life. For that matter, the wallpaper expands its symbolism throughout the story. At first it appears to be simply repulsive: it is ripped, soiled, and an “unclean yellow.” The most awful part is the seemingly formless pattern which catches the eye of the narrator as she tries to understand its organization.(Ford, 124)
Gazing at the paper for hours only allows her to know an indistinct sub-pattern behind the main pattern. It is visible only in light. Ultimately, the sub-pattern takes the shape of a hopeless woman who is continually crawling and stooping in an attempt to find escape from behind the main pattern. The image it produces is akin to the bars of a cage.
The narrator observes the cage as being festooned with the heads of many women. These women appear to be strangled after they make a failed attempt to escape from it. Quite glaringly, the wallpaper symbolizes the structure of family, medicine, and tradition which has entrapped the narrator.
Wallpaper is domestic and humble as Gilman deftly employs this dreadful and repugnant paper as a symbol of the domestic life that has ensnared the women. In the story, wallpaper, by and large a feminine, floral decoration on the interior of walls represents the predicament of women in the domestic sphere. It is only after the critical reflection and imagination of the narrator who spots the underlying image of the wallpaper. The narrator takes it upon herself to give some meaning and sense to the wallpaper.
She overturns her early reaction of being watched by the wallpaper by analyzing and decoding the covert meaning of the object. Over time, as her madness becomes deeper, the identification of the women in the image leads her to believe that she is also entrapped within the wallpaper.
When she tears down the wallpaper over her last couple of nights, she believes that she has broken away with the real imprisonment that John, her husband, has imposed on her. The color of the wallpaper is also pertinent having various associations with jaundiced sickness, with discriminated-against minorities of the time (especially the Chinese), and with the rigid oppression of masculine sunlight.(Gilman, 24)
The narrator tears it down primarily to assert her own identity though an insane one. Though she must crawl around the room, as the woman in the wallpaper crawls around, this "creeping" is the first stage in a feminist uprising. All in all, the narrator in the story tries to solve the yellow wallpaper only to find her confronted by the patriarchal society.
Ford, Karen. "The Yellow Wallpaper and Women's Discourse," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, volume 4, issue 2. 1985, p.124Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper, this edition Dover Publications, 1997.p.24
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