Charlene Pryor Professor Kathryn Warren English 2329 March 6, 2011 “The Yellow Wallpaper” In the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the protagonist is the narrator, and suffers from mental illness that she describes as nervousness. Her husband, however, refuses to admit that she is ill, but has taken her to a summer rental home for a treatment of rest. John is a physician and prescribes one hour of rest per day, and has restricted her from visitors, traveling, or participating in any activity that he considers to be stressful, including the daily house chores, caring for the baby, or writing, which she sees to be her stress outlet.
The societal expectations of the women of the 19th century were that they submissive, pious, pure, and domestic. “It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way! ” (Gilman). This is a reflection of the inner conflict the protagonist feels due to society’s expectations of her, and the feelings of guilt she has for not doing her part of the housework and caring for the children. “Personally I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (Gilman). It is evident that the narrator doesn’t agree with her husband’s prescribed therapy.
However, she is submissive to the restrictions of her therapy with the exception that she secretly begins to write. The consequence of the struggle between her feelings of oppression, and her mental illness being misunderstood and mistreated, is that the narrator experiences a psychotic episode. The room that she once found so repulsive, she finds refuge in now, and refuses to leave. Her ultimate freedom from the restraints of her life is her insanity. The wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper” symbolizes the narrator’s feelings of seclusion and repression.
John, her husband decides that their room will be what used to be a nursery upstairs that has yellow wallpaper. Secluded from the outside world, the protagonist obsesses over the yellow wallpaper in her room that she finds to be repulsive and foul smelling. The feelings of frustration and repression are also exemplified by the narrator’s attitude towards the wallpaper. She finds the artwork and lines of the paper to be irritating, yet is surprised at “expression in an inanimate thing” (Gilman). Her criticism of the wallpaper is an expression f her anger at being secluded for rest therapy and the oppressive society she lives. “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! ” (Gilman). It is evident that she is aware at this point that the wallpaper has a negative effect on her. As she fixates on the lines of the wallpaper, she begins to see a woman behind bars who is quiet and calm during the day. By night the woman shakes the bars and tries to escape. On the last night of their scheduled stay in the home, she begins tearing the wallpaper down, which represents her attempt to break out of her subservient life.
She is fearful to look out the window so she won’t see “the creeping women” (Gilman). “I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did” (Gilman). This is a direct representation of how she has lost touch with reality and views herself as the woman behind the bars in the wallpaper.
Works Cited Gilman, Charlotte P. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Boston, MA. : Small & Maynard, 1899. http://www. library. csi. cuny. edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper. html. Web. February 28, 2011.