The Yellow Wallpaper-Unfair customs towards women

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist writer in the late 19th century the U.S, challenged the unfair social conventions and customs toward women at that time in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which first published in The New England Magazine in 1892. In the story, Gilman portrays a poor woman who is struggling with mild depression which develops to complete depression because of the wrong rest cure treatment by her husband through the first-person point of view. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is directed mainly at women in the late 19th century who have long been oppressed by male domination and the author’s psychotherapistSilas Weir Mitchell to let the famous doctor admit that rest cure treatment. Gilman shows the suffering of women’s mind, and body bought by the patriarchal society and cultural traditions and uses the subversion of the yellow wallpaper to represent women’s determination to break the control of male power and fight for their rights in diary form. The author also shows how an individual suffers depression in silence without the knowledge of the caregiver.

Women rights

Women’s rights have long been a hot topic among female writers throughout history, and “The Yellow Wallpaper” is adapted from Gillman own personal experience to show the truth of women’s inferior position in marriage. The heroine’s husband John is a controlling physician in the novel, who acts as the psychotherapist of Gillman in the real world, representing the rational male hierarchy class. The husband’s love in the story has become a burden that oppresses her mind. In the family, Jennie is the sister to John and plays the role of a concerned sister in law to the author. However, John and the sister are not aware that their actions towards Jennie which are meant to help her recover but hurt her instead (Gilman, 649). They both are not in support of her art in writing with John claiming that she has a robust imaginative mind(Gilman, 649)However, they all ignore her opinion that writing something will alleviate her stress and ease her emotions, and even lock her in the house denying her the freedom of movement. Although they stop her from writing and going out in the name of love, their aim is preventing her from thinking and stating her opinion or ideas. Writing will create an ideal space for women, which violates men’s expectation. Helene Cixous claims, “Either a woman is passive, or she does not exist. What is left of her is unthinkable, unthoughtful.” (Helene Cixous) Men don’t want women overthinking and don’t want them to have a lot of imagination.

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In their mind, women should be vulnerable and attached to men no matter the economic or spiritual situation they are facing in marriage. Women in the 19th century did not have much choice in regards to work. They were forced to be housewives instead of choosing to operate under the social circumstances at the time. In the 19th century, the population was reduced after the war. Therefore women were encouraged to give birth and focus on their families (Kathryn Hughes). For a long time, women did not have their language or position in society. Only several brave and independent women dared to write down what they thought to participate in literature. However, many of them had to use men’s pen names to cover up their gender under the pressure of society.(Desta Yohana)Feminist Hélène Cixous believes that language is the power of controlling the culture and the way of thinking. To overthrow the control of patriarchy, women must start with the criticism of language. Therefore, “The yellow wallpaper” became one of the masterpieces during the feminist period.

“The yellow wallpaper” in the novel represents the oppression of female from men and society. At the end of the story, the heroine completely tears the wallpaper and climb over the body of her husband, indicating that women could eventually break the androcentric society and regains their autonomy (Gilman 656). In the first half of the novel, she continues to talk to John, trying to express her true feelings and thoughts, hoping that he can agree with her reasonable request. However, John always ignores her thoughts and tries to convince her that his treatment is correct. In the novel, the narrator repeatedly mentioned that “I disagree with their ideas.” But she can only convince herself, “But what can I do?” “He is cautious and loving.” “he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more. “(Gillman,652).It seems that there is always another voice that suppresses her real feelings and thoughts indicating that women are defeated and compromised by male power. In this novel, she is imprisoned from both the environs of the house and from the rest of society. The house is a prison, and she is the prisoner whereby once you are locked in a cage, you are brainwashed by everyone who visits you in the cage.

Gradually you begin to suspect it because you find that the actual situation goes against the words of the visitors. However, one stays patiently in the cage hoping that the situation will change for the better. In the second half of the novel, the conflict between John and she becomes acute. In the meantime, she gradually changes her attitude towards the yellow wallpaper. At first, she hates the wallpaper and asks John to redecorateher room by taking off the paper because she thinks a strange woman is hiding behind the paper. However, her request is denied by John, but she, later on, becomes fascinated with it and decides to find out the secret behind the paper. Since then, she becomes energetic and focused on having something to work on when in the house. Eventually, she tears up the wallpaper and goes crazy which indicates that the heroine can no longer bear the oppression of male power where she decides to fight for her right and freedom. (Gillman 655).The author skillfully uses the depiction of the heroine’s psychology to reflect the rhythm of the story. The rhythm soon becomes faster and more intense allowing readers to immerse themselves into the heroine’s world raises the curiosity in the readers’ minds. Through this novel, the author hopes that people can listen to the voices of women and give them the respect they deserve instead of preventing them from creativity thereby making them become slaves of the family.

Gillman creation of“The Yellow Wallpaper” was not only to show her story to readers, but also to change people’s perception of women’s social role, indicating that lack of autonomy is harmful to women’s soul, emotions, and even physical health. She encouraged her target audience – women in 19 century to think of women’s low statusin the family and society and also pointed out the oppression of patriarchal society. Gillman also wanted to use her own experience to tell her psychotherapist Silas Weir Mitchell that rest cure was not an effective and efficient therapy. The psychotherapist did not recognize his error and was angry with this novel at the beginning. He, however, admits it in his thesis many years later to agree with the opinions and thoughts depicted in the book. Gillman used the heroine as an example to represent most of the female population in the late 19th century. Although she seems to live in a happy family with a loving husband and a baby, her condition is getting worse because of the social oppression she faces. Gillman attempts to use the psychological change of the heroine and the behavior that she finally tears up all the paper to tell women that it is time to fight for their autonomy and pursue equality.

As an original text, the narrative style adopted by “The Yellow Wallpaper” does not conform to the techniques adopted by the traditional narratives. As a female diary novel, “The Yellow Wallpaper” selects a unique feminine narrative way, setting up a world of the person with schizophrenia through disorganized text and words that use a female narrative to challenge the discourse control of male. The novel chooses to refer to the narrator as “she” and also does not give a particular place or time. Although there are no ups and downs in the plot, no intense conflicts with tension until the end of the novel, the yellow wallpaper still successfully gives the audience an essential story through the description of the rich and complex inner world of the main female protagonist by using the psychological approach. Her disorderly self-speaking, irrelevant answers between the husband and wife, and messy trivia have successfully demonstrated the image of a depressed patient who is completely controlled by her husband. All these elements challenge readers’ traditional perception of historical texts.


The author gives a clear description of the lives of a depressed patient in society. She also takes the readers through the tough times that a patient endures without the knowledge of caregivers or their loved ones. As shown in the story, the author confesses to crying alone without the knowledge of John or the sister. However, she finds comfort in writing out her feelings, ideas and opinions on various issues. The author in this context shows that there are activities that individuals suffering from depression partake that seem to help them in their recovery. Gilman, therefore, encourages the society to listen to the ideas and opinions of depressed individuals for them to understand the problems affecting the person thus finding a proper treatment.

Work Cited

Gilman, C. P. (1999). The Yellow Wallpaper. Project Gutenberg.

DestaYohana,1 Mar. 2015. A Brief History of Female Authors with Male Pen

Kathryn Hughes, 15 May 2014. Gender roles in the 19th century. The British Library.

Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, Betsy Wing (Translator), Sandra M. Gilbert (Introduction) (1986).The Newly Born Woman. Goodreads.

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