The views and ideals of society are oftenfound in literary works. Whether the author is trying to show the ills ofsociety of merely telling a story, culture is woven onto the words. Therelationship between the narrator and her husband would be disagreeable to amodern woman’s relationship. Today, most women crave equality with theirpartner. The reader never learns the name of the narrator, perhaps to give theillusion that she could be any woman.
On the very fist page of The YellowWall-Paper, Gilman illustrates the male dominated society and relationship. Itwas customary for men to assume that their gender knew what, when, how, and whyto do things. John, the narrator’s husband, is a prominent doctor and both hisand his wife’s words and actions reflect the aforementioned stereotype:?John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage,? (9). Thisstatement illustrates the blatant sexism of society at the time. John does notbelieve that his wife is sick, while she is really suffering from post-partumdepression. He neglects to listen to his wife in regard to her thoughts,feelings, and health through this thought pattern.
According to him, there isnot anything wrong with his wife except for temporary nerve issues, which shouldnot be serious. By closing her off from the rest of the world, he is taking heraway from things that important to her mental state; such as her ability to readand write, her need for human interaction, her need to make her own decisions. All of these are important to all people. This idea of forced rest andrelaxation to cure temporary nervous problems was very common at the time. Manydoctors prescribed it for their female patients. The narrators husband, brother,and their colleagues all feel that this is the correct way to fix her problem,which is practically nonexistent in their eyes.
Throughout the beginning of thestory, the narrator tends to buy into the idea that the man is always right andmakes excuses for her feelings and his actions and words: ?It is so hard totalk to John about my case, because he is so wise and because he loves me so,?(23). In a good relationship, each partner should be able to express one’s ownthoughts and feelings. Honesty in one of the most important characteristics arelationship should have. In this case, the narrator feels that she can not tellhim how she feels so as not to upset him and make him mad. When the narratordoes attempt to have a discussion with John, she ends up crying and not beingable to express herself.
John treats her like a child as men believed thatcrying something that women do and is something that shows weakness. Eventuallyshe begins to become frightened of John and as she goes bad, his normalcy isseen as queer through in her eyes. For a long time it was customary for thehouse to be able to represent a secure place for a woman. Her house was awoman’s place of residency as well as where women were to do their work andexpress themselves. In The Yellow Wall-Paper, the house is not even thecouple’s own.
It is a summer rental and the narrator is forced to reside andspent the majority of her time in a room that is unpleasant to her tastes. Thishouse reverses the traditional symbol of security for the domestic activities ofa woman. However, it becomes a place for her to release her words onto paper andeventually to release her grip on reality. The room and many of it’s featurestwist the common comforts of a home. The room itself used to be a nursery, whichis ironic since the narrator was sent to the house to recover from post partumdepression. The narrator comments: ?The window typically represents a view ofpossibilities.
However, for the narrator it represents a view of a world thatshe can not be a part of. The window is physically barred as she is barred fromthe world physically and mentally. The bed is nailed down. The bed should be aplace of comfort for a couple, not a place where one partner is forced into alife that she does not want to live in that way. As, the title of the workshows, there is obviously something interesting to the narrator about thewallpaper. The stripes in the print of the wallpaper represent bars and thenarrator begins to see a figure behind them: ?The front pattern doesmove?and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it.
Sometimes I think there are agreat many women behind, and sometimes only one,? (30). While the woman behindthe bars shakes them, the narrator can not shake the bars that keep her awayfrom reality. The woman represents the narrator as well as women in general andthe movement for women’s rights. The narrator also can represent any woman andthe struggle that woman went though to get closer to achieving equality. John’s sister, Jennie, comes to help take care of the narrator.
Jennie is theepitome of a woman who falls into the conventional female role: ?She is aperfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession,?(18). The narrator attempts to keep her writing a secret from Jennie, so thather one outlet will not be taken away. At some times, it seems as though thenarrator pities Jennie and feels sorry for Jennie’s pathetic views. As thenarrator descends into madness, her views on society change and become moremodern. She is emancipating herself from the docile role that a woman shouldplay.
Gilman uses the narrator and the symbolism in The Yellow Wall-Paper, toshow society’s views on women. The narrator eventually goes against commonculture and becomes a feminist. Men thought the feminist movement was weak anduseless, while comparatively, men like John thought their wives were weak anduseless outside the home. At the story’s conclusion, the narrator wasdirecting her own footsteps and in reality, women are doing the same.