Essay Perkins Gilman

An Essay on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Women have always struggled for equal rights with men. The feminist movement commenced several centuries ago and lasts till our days. With the course of time women managed to prove that can be as good as men almost in all spheres of life. Due to all the efforts and social activity women altered the preconceive opinion towards themselves and achieved significant results. However, it was just several centuries ago that women were in absolutely different situation. In the nineteenth century women were considered to be born only for marriage but they did not have any choice even in that sphere. Most marriages were contracted regarding financial perspectives of the future family. Sometimes marriages were just a good bargain of two heads of family, and if men had the opportunity to choose, women had to be mute. Besides, they were deprived of any rights, they had to submit to men and if they dared to resist, it was considered inconceivable.

In her book, “The yellow wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman showed the woman that was a typical representative of female society in that time. The author presents great and vital problems of human relationship, particularly between a husband and a wife, by the example of a woman who lives under the whole control of her husband. The main character, the narrator, wants to be free in her desires. However, she is always oppressed by her husband John. She should be passive and unemotional, because for her husband it is very convenient when only his decisions are taken into account. Being the woman’s doctor, it is easier for John to control his wife. Rest cure and no active work seems the best treatment for her. Still, it depresses the narrator. She begins to hide her thoughts from her husband. She starts writing a secret journal to express her inner world, as no one around her is actually interested in it. The woman realizes her position and the fact that she can do nothing. “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?” (Gilman, 6)

However, the journal does not help the woman to get rid of oppressive thoughts about her unhappy life and indifferent husband. Therefore, her condition becomes worse, now she is more passive, more reserved, but the husband takes her passivity as the due effect of treatment. The former child nursery, where his wife spends her time, becomes a prison for her. Yellow wallpaper and bars on windows aggravate the situation. It is the wallpaper that becomes the object of her insanity, yellow wallpaper that surrounds the narrator becomes a part of her life. The reader watches how the woman gradually goes mad; it makes a strong and painful impression. When the narrator starts to see another woman in the wallpaper, readers realize that this woman is now absolutely insane. “There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.”(Gilman, 10)

With time the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with the pattern of the wallpaper, she sleeps less and her only thought is the woman in the wallpaper. Then the author of the story shows the horror of the whole woman’s life by bitter irony that is heard in the narrator’s words: “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be.” (Gilman, 21) The fact that now, being insane, poor woman feels happier, strikes and terrifies.

In the end of the story, the narrator decides to free the woman in the wallpaper and peels it off. In such a way she tries to free herself and to escape from her prison. Having torn off the wallpaper, she identifies herself with the woman in the wallpaper and at the same time sees other trapped women outside, creeping around. “I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?” (Gilman, 25)

Thus, the author highlights that such case of madness is not the only one. All women, being under the overall control of their husbands, unable to change the situation, suffer silently and undergo depression. The impossibility of self-development for women is the main theme of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work. It is necessary to note that the main character does not have a name, as it is a general image of all oppressed by the society women. Meanwhile the story is told from the first person, therefore we can better feel the sufferings of the woman and besides read the thoughts of the author herself, that is of Charlotte Gilman. The message of the story is the necessity to change the status of women in that epoch and as the author said “it was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy”.(Golden, 108)

Works Cited

  • Gilman Perkins Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper”. BookSurge Classics. 2002.
  • Golden C. The Yellow Wallpaper: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition. 1 edition. Routledge. 2004. 95 – 156.

Posted in Book Report ExamplesEssay Examples Tags: History, Literature

Charlotte Perkins Gilman used her fiction to dramatize her vision of history, sociology, and ethics. Over the course of her career, she published close to two hundred pieces of fiction, mainly short stories, in periodicals or in her own Forerunner magazine.

Most of Gilman’s stories belong to two categories: realistic stories that deal with the unhappy situations of the everyday world and utopian stories set totally in the world of the imagination.

In her fiction, Gilman suggests changes that might be made in preparation for the future world and asserts the need to break away from the traditions that limit human potential. While she is often identified with the feminist movement, her emphasis is on a utopian society in which men and women would be equal, a society she portrays in the novel Herland. Her stories are meant to be uplifting examples of her social philosophy. Because many of these stories have an ideal ending, rather than a probable one, many critics find them didactic or formulaic. They are not well regarded for their literary qualities.

Gilman did not have literary pretensions; she wrote quickly and without much revision. She did, however, aspire to write with “clearness and vivacity,” so that her work would “be apprehended with ease and pleasure.” Her style is direct; her message is clear.

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

Of all Gilman’s fiction, “The Yellow Wallpaper” stands out as a brilliant psychological study, apart from the rest of her work in its emotional intensity and introspection. It is considered by critics the only genuinely literary piece she wrote, in the literary tradition of the nineteenth century American short story, sustaining a single effect: here, madness, loneliness, and desperation with a psychological intensity best suited to short fiction.

The story is told in the first person by a young wife and mother. The narrator’s physician-husband has ordered a rest cure for her nerves. The reference is clearly autobiographical; Gilman’s stated intent is to indict the methods of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, who ordered a similar cure of complete rest and absence of intellectual stimulation for Gilman to cure her depression and breakdown following her own marriage and motherhood. According to Gilman, this medical advice brought her nearer to the brink of “utter mental ruin.” This story is unique in Gilman’s canon in not resolving happily. The narrator, according to the traditional view of wife as dependent child, believes that her husband-doctor knows best and sinks into horrifying insanity. In her own life, Gilman was able to break out and save herself by moving away from her husband and resuming her work.

John, the well-meaning husband-doctor of the story, rents a large house isolated in the country to provide his ailing wife with perfect rest. Gradually she becomes confined to the nursery at the top of the house, forbidden to write to relieve her anxiety. As her condition worsens, the woman becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in the nursery. She becomes...

(The entire section is 1271 words.)

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