Free Essay in American Literature: Feminism and Women Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper

Published: 2022-02-17
Free Essay in American Literature: Feminism and Women Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper
Type of paper:  Literature review
Categories:  Discrimination Feminism The Yellow Wallpaper
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 2022 words
17 min read

Feminism is the name given to a political and ideological current, whose themes are more focused on the discussion of the roles of women and men in society. Feminism insists against patriarchal power, practices, and behaviors that often subtly attempt to undermine the figure of women. Feminism seeks to rethink and recreate the identity of sex from an angle where the individual is male or female, does not have to adapt to hierarchical models, and where "female" or "masculine" qualities are attributes of the human being in overall. Among the most decisive texts in the 70s about feminism in the US, the story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman -published for the first time in 1892- occupies a prominent place. To synthesize the argument of the story, it is a common marriage (John and the protagonist) that move to an old mansion to rest and allow the recovery of the woman, plunged into a transient nervous depression and a tendency to hysteria. If, on the other hand, the husband refuses to recognize the objective range of her "illness" -minimizing it periodically-, other doctors pose a similar therapy to the protagonist, prohibiting her from any kind of work. It is, therefore, a matter of sticking to a "rest cure" - imposed from the medical authority, despite the dissent of the main protagonist- that excludes women from all forms of activity, including artistic activity. Gilman's short story was written to denounce a purposeless treatment of women in depression, patriarchy in the society, and machoism.

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Motsara (214), while analyzing the oppression of women in The Yellow Wallpaper, states that the rejection of the autonomy of the wife occurs in the name of their well-being. It is not necessary to question the "sincerity" of this paternalism; what counts is that it is one of its specific forms. Incapacitated by the gaze of the other and denied by the exercise of repressive power, the victim cannot even exercise her motherhood, relieved of the care of the child by the assistant Jenni. Motsara (218) argues that the color itself suggests not only a certain existential discoloration but a space of confinement behind which a woman (or several) revolts. There is not much room for doubt: the woman would like to leave the wallpaper, emancipate herself, but suffocation is more powerful. The story moves from the genre of terror to the terror of gender, that is, to the institution of a (hetero) patriarchal order where gender inequality is ensured in the form of a family harmony that occludes feminine potentialities, minimizing its symbolic contributions while canceling its productive possibilities. Before the objectification that the protagonist suffers, however, different possibilities of response open up, including the possibility of an act of rupture. The contingency of the action opens the way to necessary emancipation. One of the main strengths of the article is that through a staging that is not explicitly feminist, Motsara (222) questions a male domination regime that treats women as a subaltern, when it does not disqualify them by resorting to mental illness.

Ghandeharion and Milad (114) begin by explaining that the tale is narrated in the first person by a woman "sick of the nerves". The husband, who is a doctor, takes her to spend a season of three months in a country mansion as a form of treatment. The two are staying in a large first-floor room that the woman thinks is hateful: the windows have bars, the bed is stuck to the floor, and the wall has a yellow paper that she thinks is horrendous. She lives alone, unable to practice any intellectual activity, especially writing, which is her favorite pastime, to avoid fatigue. The husband totally controls her, underestimates her condition - he laughs, calls her "girl" and asks her to be good for his love for him - and despises her requests. In addition, John calls the wife's "habits of story-telling" and the "power of imagination" a "weakness of the nerves" when these are clearly her skills and talents. Her depression also comes from a desire to write and to perform a function other than that of wife and housewife. Ghandeharion and Milad (126) are in agreement with Motsara (212) when they state that as the yellow wallpaper symbolizes machismo, exemplifying this patriarchal society that restricts and suffocates women, a great analogy of how the protagonist sees herself is when she can see forms that multiply in the wallpaper. The authors of the article do a great job in explaining the symbolism in the paper. For example, the freedom that finds the woman behind the wallpaper, by ripping it, can be compared to the freedom a woman trapped in a forced marriage would be able to achieve. In this particular case, marriage may be a prison, for this step for a woman, at that time, implied in her subordination to man, her husband, the figure who should be respected and obeyed within the hierarchy of the home. It also implied that women, within their social role, should be restricted in their tasks; these tasks did not make him a profit, for, as has already been said, domestic work was not recognized, at least in the home itself.

Carlon, while analyzing oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper, gives examples of such instances, for example, John forbids her from doing things that would please her, such as changing rooms and visiting cousins, and keeping her under heavy medication (36). He himself spends his days and nights in the city, taking care of his patients, while the wife is watched over by the housekeeper. It is almost as if he did not want the woman to improve and thus continue to exercise his power and full control over her. His word is the final word, the truth. John, as regards his wife, prohibits her from working and thinking about her condition, as well as not liking her to write. He makes her believe that her problem is just nerves and so tells her not to indulge in the fantasies that are provided by the nuisance she feels with the yellow wallpaper. At the same time, he does not allow the exchange of wallpaper or change of room - these suggestions of it are, for him, mere whims. In the course of the narrative, John convinces her that she has nothing much and tells her that she is the only one who can help herself out of this state; who must use her own willpower and self-control to keep foolish fantasies from overpowering her. John convinces the wife that she has nothing too much and therefore never gives her a voice - for what she feels, for what she wants. The only voice that has legitimacy is his. This is clear in the text, for even disagreeing with her husband, she does not dare challenge him. One aspect that differentiates this article from that of Motsara (212-222) and that of Ghandeharion and Milad (2113-129), is that Carlson relates mental health and machismo (35). Carlson criticizes the treatment of mental health at the time, especially in relation to women, who were commonly diagnosed as "hysterical", often only by failing to meet expected standards of gender roles (38). I concur with this, especially when considering that, for a long time, medicine has paid little attention to women's issues, even biological ones and psychological treatments were aimed at containing female expressions. Considering the author's life story, it is not unlikely that her medical diagnosis was due to her active role in feminist causes and her great creative work.

Qasim et al. (383) discuss the issue of abusive relationship and control in The Yellow Wallpaper. Qasim et al. (385-387) state that in the plot, the narrator tells that she is taken to a rented house so that she can recover. The husband is described as someone who cares about the sick wife. In several instances, the narrator speaks of the controlling actions of the husband, attenuating the actions with the justification that he is seeking the best. One observes how the controlling position of the husband transvestite of love causes that the narrator feels guilty. By working and staying away from home, John leaves his sister with the narrator, and she is also described as someone who is part of that control. Her husband's sister eventually becomes a reference to the model of female behavior to which the narrator does not fit. She is a perfect and enthusiastic housewife and does not want a profession better than this. Here, the reference to writing as an element of illness makes the reader reflect on sexual roles. Carlson (38) agrees with Motsara (220) that men, always present in the public space and women restricted to the private, have in the act of writing a breakdown of these frontiers - so, by misrepresenting the female role, the narrator suffers from psychic evil. The narrative character in the story is forced to give up an intellectual activity for the supposed welfare of the family; in favor of the values of that society, that demanded of her to fulfill her role of mother and wife fulltime. It is important to note that this article, compared to others (Motsara, 212-222; Carlson, 35-40), tackles the issue of control and how other women are used to degrading others. One can understand that while that woman moves, or mobilizes, even in a movement that refers to that of the child who does not know how to walk, it causes a stir in what keeps her safe; this sign can be understood as the society that tries to keep it under control, even if it has to be applied by some "correctives", which would, in the case, keep it in constant vigilance and in its room, preferably. So this woman can only try to leave behind her prison when it is dark when no one can see it. It may be understood that darkness hides its struggle for freedom; already the light of the sun leaves it vulnerable to the judgments.

According to Ghafoor and Helan (132), Charlotte Gilman's short story was written not only to denounce a purposeless treatment of women in depression, but also to discuss a deeper problem, that of the political situation of women. Ghafoor and Helan (134) believe that marriage can also be considered a factor of imprisonment. In the rented house, in the room where the wallpaper is, the bed is described as a piece of furniture nailed to the floor, and it is not possible to move it from where it is. The unequal relationship with the husband pointed by Carlson (39) and Qasim et al. (390) is raised by Ghafoor and Helan (132) as well. Ghafoor and Helan (131) explain that the husband is the holder of the knowledge and authority that allows him to neglect the woman's concerns. He refuses his request to modify the room, demanding that he control himself and not give in to fantasies. When she insults herself for not being heard, she is again blamed for her lack of self-control. The old house becomes a cage. Confined to loitering within it, not only claustrophobia appears before a closed space, but conjugal abandonment, nervous depression, the denial of suffering interpreted as an unmotivated state, the reduction of women to a burden for the husband who, once more, it decides sovereignly over the life of the other. The woman has no way out, she is totally imprisoned. It is impossible to know how she came to the situation she is in, but one has an idea of why she remains in it. It is a game of patriarchal rules, in which the husband always wins. The only way out turns out to be the one that operates without knowing. These authors do a great job in portraying the liberation of a woman from the pressures of an apparently unwanted marriage that takes place in a new self-imprisoned in the wallpaper of her room. Gilman's disdain for forced marriage experienced by the women of her period is explained vividly in this article.


Qasim et al. analyzes the wallpaper as a representative of the narrator's mind, which is released through madness (393); Carlson shows the oppression of the woma...

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