Dr. Kanchuka Dharmasiri
ENG 310 – Poetry, Fiction and Drama in English from 1400-1900
22 June 2018
An Analysis on the Imprisonment of Women in their Traditional Domestic Role by the Patriarchal Power Structure in the 19th Century.
The Yellow Wallpaper can be demonstrated as one of the feminist masterpieces penned as a secret journal entry by the American author, Charlotte Perkins Gillman in 1892. This American short story specifically exhibits how the 19th century women were marginalized into their traditional domestic roles by the patriarchal male dominated system. And also this work of feminist literature can be presented as a critique on the gender inequality which was highly witnessed in the 19th century society where women were considered as the submissive objects dominated by the male domineering system.
On the other hand, The Yellow Wallpaper portrays how women’s right of freedom of expression is violated by the male protagonist in the story who finally drives his own wife into insanity while attempting to support her. Furthermore, this story demonstrates how the social stigma of the 19th century discouraged women from doing intellectual and social work as women’s creativity was considered as a kind of insanity. Hence, during a period where the males were assigned to do all the adventures, explorations and discoveries women were only considered as characters who should only focus on satisfying the needs of the family as a mother, wife or a daughter.
The story revolves around a woman who is believed to be having a ‘nervous condition’ by her husband who is a physician. The story commences with the narrators portrayal of the new house which her husband has chosen for her as the best place for the recovery of her illness. The narrator witnesses the house as a place which “she would say a haunted house” which at the very beginning expresses her unhappiness about the place where she is going to live. Though she feels peculiar about the summer house, she does not directly reveals her displeasure to john (her husband) as he “is practical in extreme” and “he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures”. The narrator seems to be very passive in front of her husband where she fears to express her feelings directly as John is a person who takes what narrator says scornfully.
As a physician John commands the narrator what she should do and what she should not being the powerful authoritative figure over the sickly woman who is starving for mental satisfaction rather than the physical wellbeing. The narrator designates that “her brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing’ which John keeps saying that the narrator has a “slightly hysterical tendency”. Here it is very perceptible that the narrator is not only depressed and dominated by her own husband but by her own brother too. The lucid fact which is noticed here is that the two males do not let the narrator act according to her interests making her a passive woman who is relegated to the mere role of a wife and a mother.
The narrator once says that “she takes phosphate or phosphate” which suggests that she even does not know what medicine she takes actually. She does not care what medicine is prescribed by her husband emphasizing the fact that she is starving for mental happiness rather than the physical wellbeing. Another lucid fact comes out here that though John is successful as a physician, he is a failure in his role as a comprehensive husband for the narrator as he just focuses on how to satisfy his wife physically. Furthermore, the narrator’s thoughts which are built in her mind also are affected by John’s commands. The fancies which comes to narrator’s mind are forcefully disrupted by the narrator herself recalling how John asked her not to imagine which clearly suggests that John does not want her to engage in any kind of intellectual work. The narrator is aware that what she needs, a kind of stimulation and activity which actually shows her yearning for creative writing. She expresses her interest in writing by saying that “personally, she believes that congenial work with excitement and change, would do her good” and wishes she “had less opposition and more society and stimulus” as she is allowed a very little company. But, what is to be noted is that she never speaks to John directly on what she actually needs for the fear of his scornful responses.
Whenever, the narrator discloses the reader that “she doesn’t like their room a bit” she reveals that “John would not hear of it” and it is in vain. John is the person who makes decisions for the narrator. He considers everything which he does not want to accept as fancies and consults the narrator not to fancy as it will affect her health. Instead he laughs at her fanciful thoughts showing his indifference towards what she expresses. John who never pays heed to what the narrator says is violating her right of freedom of expression through averting her from revealing her true feelings. The life of the narrator is decided by John who drives it to the direction according to his whims and wishes which contributes indirectly in the deterioration of the narrator’s sanity. In one instance John says that “they came here solely on the narrator’s account” but what happens is the opposite that all is dominated by John, but not the interests of the narrator.
The room which John chooses as their bed room which has been once utilized as a nursery gives an significant glimpse of the imprisonment of the narrator in her domestic role as a wife and a mother who is pitied by her husband through the horrified background. The room is comparable to a prison where the windows are barred, the bed is chained and also having a gate in the stare case which prevents the narrator from maintaining relationships with the outside world which enhances her mental deterioration. Here, John’s treatment to his wife which can be perceived as to treating a child or a pet where he provides objects which are usually used by children such as barred windows. And also the terms which he utilizes to call her such as “My little goose, my little girl, and little heart” suggest that he is considering the narrator as a child or an object which should be pitied but never as a matured wife or a mother.
The narrator is struggling internally to get out from the domineering power of John and to follow her own interests which gives her mental satisfaction such as writing, but loses courage for the fear of social punishment for being a social deviant. And this internal struggle finally paves the sane narrator to be an insane woman who suffers from a mental disorder. The yellow wallpaper which is hung in their bedroom enhances the mentally depreciated condition of the narrator which she considers first as a really horrified wallpaper. The inconceivable pattern which the narrator is able to view in the wallpaper makes her a kind of active person ultimately who tends to solve it. The narrator somehow manages to discover that there is a shadowy figure which is entrapped in the incomprehensible pattern of the yellow wallpaper.
The figure concealed behind the yellow wallpaper is identified as a “creeping woman” who is attempting to get out of the wallpaper and it is obvious from the line “the faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out”. However, the creeping woman behind the wallpaper becomes a passion for the narrator as she ultimately creates a relationship with the yellow wallpaper. she too behaves in the same way as the creeping woman in the paper does, crawling, around the room while pulling the wallpaper trying to tear it in order to help the hidden woman to get out of the wallpaper. Here, the woman who is behind the wallpaper is symbolizing the narrator herself who yearns to get rid of the dictatorial male voices over her, and the yellow wallpaper symbolizes the authoritative voice of John who controls the narrator’s life. Hence, the yellow wallpaper acts as a mirror which reflexes the disheartened narrator who is marginalized and restricted in to the summer house through the character creeping woman hidden beside the wallpaper. Same as the woman who is trapped in the wallpaper, the narrator is too imprisoned in the domineering power of John over her.
The creeping woman hidden behind the yellow wallpaper can be demonstrated as the symbol of the whole womankind of the 19th century who were marginalized into their domestic role whose duty was to satisfy the needs of their family. Seeing so many creeping women in the garden proves the fact that it is not only the narrator, but there are many other women whose liberty is demoted by the male domineering system and the social stigma. On the other hand, the yellow wallpaper symbolizes the patriarchal authoritarian prison where the creative women of the 19th century were imprisoned. However, the cornering of the narrator in a house without allowing her to do what she is interested in gradually paves her the way to regain her liberty even if it is through the insanity. It is through the woman hidden in the yellow wallpaper that the narrator identifies that she too has a particular identity and no one should be allowed to control her own life. However through the creeping woman and the narrator of the story, the victimization of women by the social stigma and societal values have been demonstrated in this story. In conclusion, it can be exemplified that it is not the narrator but the patriarchal power structure which becomes a hindrance for women’s creativity is the real insanity of the 19th century society.