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.