Good “John Is Away All Day, And Even Some Nights When His Cases Are Serious.” (Gilman, 3) Research Paper Example
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Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was first written in 1892, by the famous author Charlotte Perkins Gilman discusses the secret feelings of a woman who is a part of the make dominant society of that era. The book is written as a secret diary of the main character who feels caged inside her home by her husband who decides all matters for her without her consent. The name of the book is derived from the yellow wallpaper in her room where she spent all her days to recover from her mental illness as diagnosed and instructed by her. The story revolves around the feeling of the main character and how she descents into insanity only because of the lack of freedom and basic empowerment of a woman in her household
Thought he book grabbed the due attention when it was first published however the republishing of the story in 1970’s attracted a lot of attention and is now regarded as a classic in literature. The book is considered as the feminist criticism of the standards of that era and condemnation of the Victorian patriarchy. The author has successfully used symbolism and imagination to tell the story of repression and gender based biasness typical of that era.
The following paper discusses the main characters of the book along with the main theme of the book to analyze the role of these characters according to the story plot. The paper analyzes the story with a point of view that this is a typical feminist story and highlights the position of the women in the Victorian patriarchal society that could easily be related to the current times too.
The story is themed around the life of a married woman in the Victoria era that is described as the male dominant and patriarchal society. Thus the main theme is based on the concept of subordination of women to the male head of the family especially in a marriage. The story highlights how women of that era were suppressed in the institution of the marriage even by the most respectable and the higher social classes. The story portrays the clear distinction between the domestic and subordinate position of women and the active and important status of men especially in the nineteenth century middle class. The men were considered as the bread earner and the more intellectual while women were kept in a state of ignorance and were supposed to follow the order of her husband. The story also shows that this distinction in gender stereotyping leads the husband patronize and dictate everything important for his wife thinking that as a help to her, while she doesn’t think that she needs any help. The patronizing attitude of the husband also forces the wife to restrict her self-expression and that is the main reason why the story is portrayed through the diary.
The setting and the surroundings of the story symbolize isolation. As the narrator describes the new house as being in a rural area, away from the city and isolated as there is only an outside scenic view. The settings also denote that the narrator’s husband believes that keeping her away from people will make her feel better.
The symbolism of the wallpaper in the story is very close to the main theme of the story. Confined in her room by her husband on account of her mental illness initially only feels resented by the spoiled and ripped wallpaper but as she continues to look at it she can see women trapped inside the pattern of the wallpaper hoping to escape this cage. The battered condition of the wallpaper reflects the situation of the women in general during that era and of the narrator as she feels broken and torn inside. The domestic nature of a wallpaper also illustrates the domestic position of the women. The author uses the wallpaper and its color intelligently and also shows the restriction on the narrator that even though she understands the dilemma but is unable to speak up for herself and is bound to stay quiet for the sake of respect and social values. She is as trapped in the pattern of her surroundings as the women in the yellow wallpaper. In the end the narrator tears apart the wallpaper in order to either free the trapped women inside or to set herself free. This might also symbolizes the realization of importance of self-expression to get rid of socially imposed slavery.
The story does not have a long list of characters. The main characters of the story are the narrator herself, her husband John, husband’s sister Jennie who takes up all the household responsibilities as directed by her brother due to the illness of Jane.
Her husband believes that she has a mental condition and should be put to rest by not socializing or even writing to get cured. Even though she tries to be a good wife, she doesn’t totally agree with her husband’s suggestion about her illness and she even resents the fact that her husband who is also her physician has told everyone in her circle about her condition.
Form the plot we know that John is a medical doctor and feels the pride at that. Due to his profession and his position as the husband he believes naturally that he can take any decision regarding his wife as he assumes he knows all about her. The story tells us that John is not “villainous” but he is ignorant about the feelings of her wife and in his own ways is trying to help her. Yet all that goes in vain as being isolated was not what she needed at all. The wife already feels isolated due to continuous absence of her husband that he cannot realize. She expresses that by saying:
That feeling of loneliness was one of the reasons she chose to write the diary as an outlet for her emotions, as her husband was not available to listen to her “fancies”, a word he used to label her feelings.
The character of John represents the conventional personality of a male chauvinist who believes that he is more equipped to make the right decisions for the women. His perception of women is indicated at several points in the story like he often calls his wife a “blessed little goose” that shows his perception of his wife as a child.
It is also apparent how he intimidates her to follow his directions or threatens to take extreme measures, this is shown by narrator’s quote in the story:
“John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don’t want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!” ( Gilman, 761)
The characters of the narrator and the husband both represent strongly the typical personalities of the men and women in that era. The men as the character shows were authoritative and of the belief that they had the sole responsibility and the needed capabilities to make the decisions for everything. The husband here takes all decisions for his household and doesn’t think that the wife is qualified enough to do so.
The wife, symbolizing the obedient women of that era, who knows exactly what she wants but is unable to speak up for herself in front of her husband.
The story shows that as she says:
“So I take phosphates or phosphites-whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (Gilman, 10)
The above quote not only shows her understanding of her mental state but also shows that the women were not entitled to higher education as compared to men. She feels that socializing and working would make her come out of the depression but she cannot convey that to her husband. The “what is one to do” reflects the helplessness she feels in her situation.
The story illustrates the patriarchal society of that time through various elements such as the professions chosen for the characters. As believed at that time the husband, the narrator’s brother are all men with important professions, while the women have domestic professions are considered to only suit to household chores. The other women characters of the story symbolizes that as the child governess Mary and the husband’s sister Jeanie who looks after the household.
On several occasions, the story portrays the lack of equal opportunities for women to choose mere domestic professions, lack of education for women in comparison to men and also by the fact that hobbies like writing for women is considered unimportant.
The feminism of the story is also portrayed by the account of the author as well when she states her reasons for writing this book. The story of the story is closely related to herself when she was put to bed rest by her physician who believed that not writing would cure her mental illness. The author says that she followed the prescription for three months when her disease got even more severe. She wrote this book afterwards as a way of getting out of her situation. The story very closely relates to the author’s own situation and thus shows a very feminist view of the narrator’s life.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. 1892.
—. "Why I Wrote The Book?" 1999. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/WhyIWroteYellowWallPaper.pdf. 2015.
http://www.lonestar.edu/. Feminist Gothic in "The Yellow Wallpaper. n.d. web. 29 03 2015.
Subotsky, Fiona. "The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Psychiatrists in 19th-century fiction." BJPSYCH ( June 2009).
Treichler, Paula A. "Escaping the Sentence: Diagnosis and Discourse in "The Yellow Wallpaper"." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol.3 (1984): 61-77.
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