The Yellow Wall-paper

What struck me about “The Yellow Wall-paper” was the infantilization of the narrator and the dismissal of what is probably a real illness as “a slight hysterical tendency” (1684). The narrator is literally treated like a child by John throughout the story. John refers to her as a “blessed little goose” (1686), “little girl” (1690), and says things like, “Bless her little heart!” (1690). He is also constantly reminding her not to “let any silly fancies run away with me” (1689). Furthermore, the narrator believes her room was once a nursery.

What further interests me about this short story is the background information about the treatment of women’s psychological disorders at the time (both in the footnotes and in the short biography of Gilman). Women’s “hysteria” was attributed to their reproductive organs and the treatment for these disorders was often, both in the story and in Gilman’s life, extended bed rest and the avoidance of intellectual pursuits. To me, this speaks volumes about the attitude towards women during that time- curing nervous disorders by avoiding intellectual activity implies, to me, that intellectual activity was thought to be harmful to women. In “The Yellow Wall-paper,” the treatment of bed-rest seems to lead the narrator, who is obviously an intelligent and creative woman, to retreat more and more from reality. The narrator says, “personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good,” but John ignores this in favor of bed-rest(1684).

The infantilization of the narrator, as well as the “treatment” of her nervous disorder, is what I believe leads to her obsession with the yellow wall-paper. Having no other way to occupy herself or express her creative and intellectual capabilities, she becomes totally occupied with deciphering the pattern of the wall-paper, essentially losing her sanity in the process.

Do you all agree with this interpretation? What do you make of the woman “creeping” that the narrator sees outside? And what is your interpretation of the end of the story?

This entry was posted in Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Yellow Wall-paper

  1. Brooke says:

    I really like what you said about the infantilization of the narrator, because that struck me while reading this story as well. There was this strange contradiction that if she would only be allowed to work (to be creative) that that would help her, but because she is forced to write secretively, that too tires her. She is trapped either way because the surrounding world will not let her pursue her own interests; they know what’s best for her, she has no idea (according to them). Her thoughts and opinions carry no weight with her husband, he laughs at her, mocks her, and in the end I do not think he respects her as a person. I think the woman “creeping about” could be seen as an extension of the narrator (or of trapped women in general). She cannot freely walk, explore or discover herself in the world so she is either forced to succumb to the prison behind the wallpaper so to speak or to “creep about” secretly, hoping that she can hold on to some thread of her real self. This causes her to go insane because really, what way out is there? She will go insane in the world she is in, being just a wife who is not allowed to have goals and pursuits of her own, she will go insane if she tries to break free of that world because they will tell her that she is sick, that she needs to be fixed. On another note, do you think she was really ever sick to begin with? Or was that just society saying that her imaginings were signs of a “nervous disorder”? Do we still see this attitude today in some ways?

    • vlevasseur11 says:

      I don’t think that the main character was sick to begin with. It seems like Gilman was trying to get at the oppression of women by their male counterparts. It could be that the protagonist was a writer, and that the yellow wall paper is what she writes on and is fascinated with. She can only write in secret because of the social barriers that keep her from expressing her creativity. She is condemned to a single room with bars, unable to express herself. Other women she sees might be a reflection of her self as well as womankind as a whole.
      Her defiance of her husband at the end is optimistic and encouraging, although slightly disturbing and shows us that women can win over their opressors and be free to express their intellect.

    • sph12 says:

      I like what you said about the “creeping about”. The whole time I was reading I was struck by that phrase and how she uses it, especially in the last line of the story. In class we discussed whether she had freed herself at the end of if it was a sign of her finally reaching insanity. I believe that she did feel some freedom, but, as you said, there is no where she can go. She is still secluded to the house and possibly even that room because there is no way society will accept her as she is. Additionally, I find that her final line, “…so that I had to creep over him every time” shows that she recognizes she will always be trapped. She has succeeded in freeing her mind, but she knows she is still trapped in a way that she can never be free from. Even after reaching freedom for herself, she has to tiptoe around to maintain her sense of self.

  2. jnikol12 says:

    At the end, I believe the narrator is indeed freed but she is free from a different world than the one she began with. Her constrained life in normal society caused her to feel depressed and intellectually unsatisfied. This perceived “hysteria” of hers led her to be forcibly confined to complete isolation. She begins to live in a new world that is completely void of all human interaction and intellectual/creative stimulation. Her yellow room becomes her world, the imprisoned woman on the wallpaper the focus of her interest. When she is finally “free”, it is freedom from this new world. She has let a fake woman out of a fake prison, and she towers over a husband who is now also in a different state of consciousness. The narrator has indeed achieved her long-desired freedom, but it cost her he life within a natural human society a well as her sanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s