How `The Yellow Wallpaper` relates to the struggle against patriarchy in both the home and public spheres Charlotte Perkins Gilman represents one of the stormiest epochs in American history, as that time was marked with the awakening of female intelligence and power and the formation of first equal rights movements. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is on the one hand, a perfect example of Gothic literature and the ‘Victorian horror’ genre, but more profound motifs and themes suggest another important direction of the short story: orientation to feminism in the world of androcentric domination (Klotz, 2005).
The two main aspects of the contemporary struggle against patriarchy in all aspects of life is first of all symbolic description of the protagonist’s imprisonment within the world of ‘male’ values; secondly, the development of the plot and the specific ending that elucidates the fact of mental and social solitude and concludes the character’s liberation as the author’s own optimistic prospects concerning the success of equal rights movements (Hume, 1991; Klotz, 2005). “In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, wallpaper, a usually feminine floral decoration on the interior of walls, is a symbol of female imprisonment within the domestic sphere.
Over the course of the story, the wallpaper becomes a text of sorts through which the narrator exercises her literary imagination and identifies with a feminist double figure. When John cuts her creativity and writing, the narrator takes it upon herself to make some sense of the wallpaper” (Lanser, 1989, p. 416). The protagonist’s husband is a traditional male and husband of the Victorian age, who needs a healthy and strong wife that can become a good mother for his children.
When the woman falls ill, he is notably worried and tries hard to cure her, yet the man still regards her as almost dumb creature and expresses reluctance and irritation when she begins to narrate or tell him about herself and the experiences she has got on the certain day. On the contrary, her spouse structures treatment course and organizes the process in unquestionably rational way, providing the woman with comfort and convenience in practically all aspects of her existence (Klotz, 2005).
He looks very tolerant and understanding, but finally appears incapable of understanding the nature of her disease, as he used to view women as inferior creatures, who naturally had no ability of in-depth thinking (Lanser, 1989). The room in the mansion is one of John’s appointments for his wife. The room, although large and light, looks as if it was used to keep a mentally ill person, with regard to its immovable bed and barred windows. The wallpaper is a supplementary element, a final touch in the depiction of the continuous surveillance over the protagonist, who shivers after hearing someone is going upstairs or approaching to her room.
Her cozy prison cell first raises the waves of protest inside the protagonist reconciles herself to the wallpaper design and begins to scrutinize the floral ornament. This interesting moment can be interpreted as female subordination and submission to the decisions the male makes: “At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies” (Gilman, at pagebypagebooks, 2007, p. 3).
John doesn’t perceive her anxiety seriously and further isolates himself from his wife through working industriously as a practitioner, yet he invites his sister as a guardian and surveillant for the protagonist (Klotz, 2005). Importantly, the author uses two main symbols of androcentric society: sunlight and moon, in which sun represents male power, whereas darkness and night are ‘feminine’, so that the main character prefers to stay awake at night in order to inhale freedom and open the window (Lanser, 1989).
These are two aspects of her passive protest against domestic imprisonment and her ‘vegetative’ existence, as John in fact infantilizes the woman and patronizes her just like a caring father. The description of the protagonist’s social conditions and the circumstances, into which the woman has been thrown, include both the detailed depiction of her environment as well as literary hyperbole that creates the impression of exacerbation and resulting pessimism. For instance, after the description of the holiday: “Well, the Fourth of July is over!
The people are gone and I am tired out. John though it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and children down a week” the protagonist expresses her hypertrophied hysteric guilt: ” I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time” (Gilman, at pagebypagebooks, 2007, p. 5). Her public activity is either inhibited or dozed by the caring spouse, as she is not allowed to visit her relatives and even write the diary: “There comes John, and I must put this away,–he hates to have me write a word” (Gilman, at pagebypagebooks, 2007, p. 3).
The other female family members, Mary and Jennie, are typical housekeepers, who have no other interests beyond cooking and cleaning, whereas the protagonist obviously has analytical abilities, which need to be turned into words and ‘eternalized’ on paper. Her secret writing is probably the most notable protest against patriarchal domination in public space, as the other forms are regularly checked and reduced by John: for instance, in spite of her unwillingness to meet her relatives, he imposes the new company and forces her to act as a hospitable hostess (Hume, 1991).
As one can read, both protests are interwoven towards the end of the story, and the true climax occurs when the protagonist pulls off the wallpaper, in her opinion, liberating the fictitious woman as well as herself from her husband’s influence. Her concluding phrase clearly indicates that she is ready to struggle actively against John’s dominance. To sum up, the manifestation of the protagonist’s unique personality takes place at the very end of the short story (Hume, 1991), so that the struggle against patriarchy in both social sphere and at home has passive nature, as the author suggests.
Gilman, C. P. The Yellow Wallpaper. Retrieved February 13, 2007, from: http://www. pagebypagebooks. com/Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman/The_Yellow_Wallpaper/index. html Hume, B. A. “Gilman’s ‘Interminable Grotesque’: The Narrator of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper. ’” Studies in Short Fiction, 28 (Fall 1991): 477-484. Klotz, M. “Two Dickens Rooms in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”. Natoes and Queries , December 2005: 490-491. Lanser, S. S. “Feminist Criticism, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, and the Politics of Color in America”. Feminist Studies, 15 (Fall 1989): 415-437