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Blog Post 10/14

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” follows the narrator as she and her husband, John, spend the summer at a haunting estate. The narrator describes how John belittles her and her “slight hysterical tendency,”  which keeps her from doing any sort of work or writing (648). The narrator, who is admittedly mentally unstable, begins to fixate on the odd yellow wallpaper in a room of the mansion. This fixation becomes an obsession, as she sees herself as trapped behind the pattern. She eventually escapes, exclaiming to her husband “I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (656). However, she does not escape the madness she has succumbed to. 

 

I first read “The Yellow Wallpaper” when I was in the eighth grade, and I am still just as disturbed as I was then. The idea of being in that situation, driven to madness by the restrictions on creative expression, is terrifying. The idea of being in that severe of a subordinate position in a marriage seems unreasonable to me today. As a woman, I could not imagine being so belittled in an engagement that is presented as a partnership. The wallpaper symbolizes the domestic role of women that the narrator, and many women throughout history, have attempted to escape. We’re lucky today to not have these pressures weighing on us to this degree, even though they are still there. This story was published in 1892, almost thirty years before the 19th amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. While the right to vote did not make women equal, it was a step in the right direction. Society has come a long way since Gilman wrote this story, but there is still a far way to go.

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8 Comments

  1. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    In some ways, I think this story is an example of a failed marriage rather than a feminist critique of family gender roles. While sexism is certainly at play with regard to John’s power control, his indifference to her mental health and wishes seems like a concern that is separate from the gender dynamic. This dynamic is also layered with the fact that he seems to be offering her medical advice, which is a problem in itself.

    • Delaney Demaret Delaney Demaret

      While failed marriage is certainly an element of the story, my analysis of the story led me to believe that the gender dynamic of the patriarchy is an extremely focal point of the message More importantly, the larger ignorance surrounding the lack of female access to mental health services of any productive kind. The stories messages operates on many societal layers, but I don’t see how it’s possible to separate the implications of the patriarchy from any of it.

    • Annie Waters Annie Waters

      I think your point has a lot of validity, but I also feel like it’s important to ponder the impact of intersectionality pertaining to gender roles in the issue of addressing the narrator’s mental health struggles. John’s treatment of his wife may be characteristic of a very medical approach, but it’s likely at least somewhat influenced by his understanding of gender roles within their marriage.

  2. Morgan Crocker Morgan Crocker

    I agree that the idea of being in that situation, driven to madness by the restrictions on creative expression is truly terrifying. We definitely have come a long way since Gilman wrote this story, but we definitely still have a long way to go.

  3. Alexander Barnett Alexander Barnett

    I too read this poem when I was younger. I feel that, with the knowledge I have now, I am able to fully appreciate this piece and understand the message it is trying to portray.

  4. Carly Cohen Carly Cohen

    I too believe that as a women being that belittled in a marriage is a very scary thought. Women not being given the credit or respect that they deserve is a very common theme throughout history.

  5. Annie Waters Annie Waters

    When I first read this story, I studied it with a psychoanalytic lens, focusing on how people within the mental illness community are denied autonomy in their situations as they’re often viewed as incapable of making decisions for themselves. I think this has a very strong intersectional tie to gender issues; it’s very disturbing to me that John is so overpowering in his relationship with his wife, and I find it very unrealistic for a similar story of emotional neglect in any marriage from this time period to be told with the roles reversed.

  6. Samuel Hussey Samuel Hussey

    When looking at the time frame of this story in history, I find it astonishing that this was only 130 years ago or about five generations. Some of our grandparents’ parents would have been alive in this time period and contributed to the unavoidable sexism. Although there is still much more progress to be made in women’s rights, it is impressive how far the movement has come over the last 100 or so years. I agree that I could never imagine something like this happening today because now I feel that the sexism is more implicit than explicit as it was between John and his wife.

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