Free Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”: The Symbolic Significance Of The Wallpaper Research Paper Sample

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Women, The Yellow Wallpaper, Yellow, Family, Society, Husband, Bars, Layer

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/11

Gender roles within societies encompass methods of determining the duties of individuals based on their sexual orientation. Accordingly, when the society assigns specific duties to the men and women within its borders, they are all cultural norms, and any contradictions to those ideologies become absurd and even taboo. By extension, the privilege that men often enjoy surpasses those of the females and, as a result, the latter fails to thrive because of the constrictions put in place by their supposedly superior counterparts. Although present day communities actively fight against such beliefs, the situation was entirely different in the nineteenth century American societies where male supremacy reigned. The repression of women rights and the regression of their identities after societies repel and expel them to the whims of the men who abuse and smother them were acceptable. In concurrence, such views form the backbone of Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” where the society fails her protagonist by allowing male domination to harm her mentally. As a firsthand account of the lead character, Gilman’s novel provides her readers with psychoanalytical and psychological images that show the detrimental effects of female submission. As a significant symbol, there is a correlation between the depiction of the yellow wallpaper and the protagonist’s idea of freedom, all of which stem from the woman’s perceptions of the floral patterns.
The first time that the unnamed narrator notices something peculiar about the yellow wallpaper is when she informs the readers that it supposedly has bars that keep a woman imprisoned. Apparently, the designs resemble a prison cell because; in any light the outside patterns of the wallpaper “become bars” with “a woman behind it” (Gilman 82). Naturally, one makes a connection between the bars she supposedly sees in the wallpaper and the fact that the windows of her room have a similar design with metal bars restricting her movements. Apart from the windows that are blocked "for little children", the bed is nailed to the floor "and there are rings and things in the walls” (Gilman 77). All the given descriptions are for the nursery in the house, a room that obviously has all the right measures to ensure the protection of a baby. However, despite the narrator and her husband having a child together, the two sleep in the nursery making it absurd that she is the one occupying the nursery instead of the child. In addition, she is isolated from all contact except for her husband and sister in law, further suggesting the notion that her bedroom does not represent a recuperating area and is instead a prison. Wolter concurs by stating, “The barred windows, the rings in the wall, and the nailed-down bed suggest a prison cell or a torture chamber rather than a playroom for minors” (Gilman 197). Consequently, rather than help the woman in its intended way, the seclusion only serves to worsen her health as evidenced by the fact that she later behaves like a child. For that reason, the story implicates “the economic and social conditions which, under patriarchy, make women domestic slaves” and treating them like children is similar (Treichler 65). In other words, men controlled women by rendering them fragile and even dictating every form of their existence. That is why John sees the narrator as a “little girl” and uses pet names like “blessed little goose” whenever he talks to her (Gilman 78). The names insinuate that someone is small and fragile, incapable of self-sustenance or making wise decisions. As if to further imply the woman’s feeble status, Gilman makes her lead character wholly dependent on her husband and her sister-in-law.
Parts of the instructions for the rest cure under which the narrator is, includes those that prohibit the patients from unnecessary interactions or exercises that require any form of thought. Accordingly, in the novel, the narrator informs readers that John hates it when she writes a word because he believes that the writing caused her illness (Gilman 77). However, the female narrator defies her husband and the society by going ahead to record her thoughts, even the plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” take the form of journal entries that she pens. It is while she carries on with her defiance that her attention on the wallpaper intensifies, and she begins to see the once obscured woman plainly. Apparently, “the multi-layered wallpaper functions as a metafictional device that mirrors the narrator’s journal” because she identifies with the trapped woman (Davidson 63). In other words, just as the woman in the wallpaper cannot move the narrator cannot show her intellectual abilities, and the reasons stem from the layers of the yellow wallpaper. First, the top layer of the wallpaper has “two bulbous eyes” and later the narrator sees unblinking eyes emerging from its patterns because it represents the society (Gilman 78). In her analysis, Davison concurs as she points out that in the nineteenth century, patterns were “in association with the feminine ideal” and were “an example or model deserving imitation” (62). Hence, the community specified gender roles that its people followed religiously, and as mentioned before, such thoughts infringed women and put them under the power of the men in their lives. Simultaneously, the protagonist sees the eyes because she feels guilty for writing behind her husband’s back and tricking Jennie into thinking that she is adhering to her prescribed therapy. However, she does not stop, and she continues with her writing in secret. At this point, readers realize a second layer because according to the narrator, nobody could climb through the pattern of the top layer because “it strangles so” (Gilman 84). Those climbing through are the controlled lot or, in this case, the women who need to rise above their prison-like status mentioned above and exercise self-sufficiency within their communities. Hence, the second layer represents the women of nineteenth century America and the patterns of the top layer are the society with its rule that support male-dominance.
Now that the narrator recognizes the shape behind the wallpaper as a woman and her defiance continues, the next step for her is to gain her freedom and that of the trapped female. The woman behind the wallpaper keeps still in the “bright spots” but shakes the bars “in the very shady spots” while the narrator carries out her insubordination in secret (Gilman 84). Therefore, she hides her writing materials whenever John or Jennie comes in and becomes “manipulative, secretive, dishonest; she learns to lie, obscure, and distort” (Wolter 205). Initially, she told John everything and every time he would not listen because to him she was not only delusional but also incapable of knowing what is right for her health. It is plausible that the changes within the narrator’s personality began to occur after the realization that her husband will not move her from the upstairs room. After the family had moved to their new location, the narrator was not keen on being under house arrest with John and Jennie as her only company. However, whenever she cautioned John against locking her in the room, he would blatantly refuse to consider her views and continue with his underproductive methods. For that reason, the changes brought forth more acts of rebellion from the narrator and the trapped female both of whom started doing what they want albeit in secret. For the trapped woman in the wallpaper, the protagonist sees her creeping in a “long shaded lane” and “hose dark grape ' arbors” as she hides from the community (Gilman 84). The narrator also exercises caution when she “creeps by daylight”, which can only mean that she takes extra precaution when writing in her journal (Gilman 84). Hence, the women act “in radically different manners depending on the time of day” to prevent people from realizing what they are doing (Davison 62). By extension, the narrator feels safe enough that she turns her attention to the wallpaper without fearing John and Jennie’s reactions. For that reason, she “smooches” the wallpaper pattern, and as Wolter reckons, that action is “a record of her subconscious signifying a change from male to female voice” (Wolter 204). Simultaneously, the smooches on the wall marked the end of societal constraints because, without the patterns, the female gender gets its freedom. In what Wolter calls “palimpsest writing on the living wallpaper," the narrator wipes the rulebook clean of all societal decrees and rewrites it with more freedom for her and other women (204). With the patterns gone, the woman gains enough courage to remove the wallpaper, and if John fainting is anything to go by, the society was not amused.
Conclusively, Charlotte Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” criticizes social hierarchies using a key symbol that happens to be the yellow wallpaper. She concentrates on the patterns of the wallpaper and overlooks other elements of the same, including its texture and even shade. Consequently, the patterns decipher the nineteenth century American societies and its insistence of uniformity that does more harm than good. By extension, the wallpaper represents the enemy to the well-being of the narrator as it shows how the community bars her from real freedom. However, their restrictions become too much for her to bear and eventually, she recognizes the problem to be John's refusal to consider her thoughts and feelings. John and the top layer of the yellow wallpaper represent the society, and each of them serves as a jail to their charges. Hence, the patterns of the wallpaper change as the protagonist starts to see the detrimental effects of her husband’s ministrations. As a result, the destruction of the wallpaper serves as her escape route because she shows societies that they are wrong, and women are capable of independent thought.

Work Cited

Davison, Carol Margaret. "Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in “The Yellow Wallpaper”." Women’s Studies 33 (2004): 47–75. Print.
Treichler, Paula A. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in "The Yellow Wallpaper"." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 3. 1/2 (1984): 61-77. Print.
Wolter, Jürgen. ""The Yellow Wall-Paper": The Ambivalence of Changing Discourses." American Studies 54.2 (2009): 195-210. Print.

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WePapers. (2021, February, 11) Free Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”: The Symbolic Significance Of The Wallpaper Research Paper Sample. Retrieved June 01, 2023, from
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Free Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”: The Symbolic Significance Of The Wallpaper Research Paper Sample. Free Essay Examples - Published Feb 11, 2021. Accessed June 01, 2023.

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