“Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal: chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”
The Yellow Wallpaper is thrilling, dark, scary, and insane. It will amaze readers how a woman loses her sanity in a suffocated patriarchal society. The story begins with Jane who is confined in a single room where she suffers from loneliness and suffocation. She lies in the bed and does nothing and stares at the wall at the yellow wallpaper of her bedroom and ponders upon it the whole night and doesn’t sleep. That yellow wallpaper is torn and ugly with patches all over it and that depicts her life and life of other women and how they are subjected to injustice in a patriarchal society.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story categorized as women’s fiction by genre. It keeps a great place in American literature. It is written by American writer and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her story was published in January 1892. Gilman has written over two hundred short stories and nine novels but this story yellow wallpaper is her most populous work and is studied and taught as a part of a course in American Literature and Women’s Writings in universities.
Gilman who was born and raised in the USA was an artistic and sensitive child. She was an avid reader. She studied in art school and earned her living by designing cards. She has been vocal about women’s suffrage, injustice, and inequality. She was one of the most influential feminist theorists of her time. Her writings cover a wide array of women’s issues and were written to advance women’s rights and her work contributed much to First Fave of feminism.
Many of Gilman’s views about women, marriage, sex, and economics can be traced back to her childhood when her father abandoned her mother and children. She was solely raised by her mother and as a result, the family suffered miserably and Gilman’s most famous work in terms of feminist and gender studies is her short story the yellow wallpaper.
She wanted more from life rather than marrying and having children, However, in 1884, she married an artist Charles Stetson. But since the start of her married life, she was prone to depression. And after giving birth to her daughter, she fell into the clutches of post-natal despair in that situation doctor advised her to never touch a pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live. And this cure drives her to madness. Elements of these shattered experiences are traced and captured in her short story, the yellow wallpaper.
The yellow wallpaper is the first-person narration that takes the form of letters of a mother-woman who is suffering from postpartum depression. Her physician husband prescribes the rest-cure which is carried out in a rented summer home. The Woman’s yellow wallpapered bedroom takes on the form of a prison as the woman descends into madness. This story is the reflection of her struggles with postpartum depression, her prescribed rest, and the trapped feelings she had in her marriage and motherhood.
Throughout the story, it becomes obvious that John, the husband of the main character Jane, believes that his opinions are more honorable than his wife, he is dominant.
Though Jane is aware of her husband’s apathetic tendencies but she lacks the power. As she states, “You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one’s husband, assures friends and relatives that there is nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?”
Jane repeats the phrase, “What is one to do?” A few lines later when she writes, “I disagree with their ideas. I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?”
In a situation where she is desperate to be heard, the oppressive patriarchy silences her. Her question will never be answered so long as those who uphold gender norms dictate society.
Later on, Jane’s mental health becomes more deteriorating when she becomes infatuated with the yellow wallpaper, but John discards all her self-perceptions and deals with her the way he wants. Jane gets no mental support from her husband and then her mental state becomes worst. Her fixation on the wallpaper becomes more acute and she begins to imagine that there are women trapped behind its surface.
The Yellow Wallpaper is a symbol of society and patriarchy. It is ugly, faded, and torn in some spots and a figure of a woman is trapped in the paper. It symbolises women, or the woman in the story, being trapped within the constraints of a patriarchal society. Gilman represents the wallpaper as the tradition that traps women in their domestic lives. The color yellow symbolises the ugly and pale color of society for a woman.
As jane says, “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern – it strangles so.”
Gilman shows us the images of the woman who is locked behind the wallpaper are a woman that is suppressed and subjugated by patriarchy. In the end, Jane realises she is among those women who are chained behind that yellow wallpaper and she must lose those chains.
Jane compares the yellow wallpaper with bars and chains and portrays the wallpaper as a prison cell where thousands of women are trapped and their feelings confined and they don’t have a voice over it. So in the end, Jane shreds the yellow wallpaper, and at this moment her mental health deteriorates. She finally decided that she must break free from those chains that John has subjugated upon her. She yells at John, “I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Gilman uses this act of violence and resistance which is the only solution for women to pull off those chains that have caged them.
So women must resist all the odds of society. Therefore, when Jane rips apart the yellow wallpaper it is an attempt by the writer to free women from the patriarchy and she signals the readers that such oppression against women must collapse and to achieve this, only Women can free themselves. After all, women have nothing to lose but chains.