The Yellow Wall-Paper Essay, Research Paper
A critique of The Yellow Wall-Paper
Charlotte P. Gilmans’, The Yellow Wall-Paper, written in the early part of the 1900’s, is an excellent example of the common belief during that time which held that women were too weak to handle stress and as a result, often collapsed under it. During this time, society frowned on women who did anything besides cleaning house and raising children. It was believed that they could not handle anything else. If, however, a woman fell victim to a nervous breakdown, the only remedy was shutting her up inside her home, which in Gilmans’ view only worsened things. The Yellow Wall-Paper is a fictitious account of a time when Gilman herself suffered a nervous breakdown. Her husband, solitude, and her hallucinations, drove her to disconnect from reality, which in turn, lead to her independence.
Charlotte’s husband, is the first element that drove her to disconnect from reality, which in turn, lead to her independence. Although well intentioned, John takes away what little power she has by regulating everything she does. Charlotte is presumed to be weak, unable to cope with normal activities. She is not even allowed to write, and says that, “he hates to have me write a word.” Throughout the story, he is condescending, referring to her as a “little girl” and insists that she take a room she does not like, as if she were a child. In fact, the room they stay in used to be a nursery, and has child-safe bars on the windows, making her seem even more like a child and a prisoner. It is odd to note that, Charlotte, being the one for whom the vacation is taken, is not allowed to do what she wants. John, in his pragmatic reasoning, believes he has her best interest at heart and forbids her to work. Charlotte disagrees, and believes that, “congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” He feels he is helping her by not giving her any responsibility, when in reality, her lack of control over her own life causes her to become even more ill. John literally drives her crazy by taking away her control and by doing so, pushes her to disconnect from reality into her fantasy world where she is in control. In the end, she steps over him, as he lies on the floor past out, symbolizing her defeat over his control. In effect, she will no longer allow him to control her and obstruct her path to independence.
In addition to her husband, solitude also drove Charlotte to disconnect from reality, which in turn, lead to her independence. Not only does John take control of her life, he also does not allow her to see friends. John instructs her that, “he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” He feels that having people around would make her condition worse, so she is left to recover all by herself for three months. She does not even have John around for he “is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.” Because of her lack of interaction with people, she begins to find solace in the wall-paper, the only stimulating object left. She states that, “it keeps me quiet by the hour.” Over the course of the story, her tone becomes more excited as she interacts with the wall-paper, and becomes completely preoccupied with it. For example, she remarks that, “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch.” She feels she is the only one who understands the wall-paper, and it becomes an ally to her. She starts to personify the wall-paper as well. She speaks about the “bulbous eyes” and says that “it slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you” if you try to follow its pattern. It is obvious that she is making a desperate attempt to connect with some tangible thing as she looses grip with reality. The wall-paper, in her disillusioned mind, is the only thing that she feels gives her freedom to explore and is solely hers, through this, she finds a piece of independence.
Finally, hallucinations drove her to disconnect with reality, which in turn, lead to her independence. As the story continues, Charlotte’s disillusioned state worsens, and she begins to have hallucinations. Charlotte notices that she “didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure that it is a woman.” She believes that she sees a woman in the wall-paper, and the more suppressed, lonely and confined she feels over the course of the story, the more she perceives herself to be the woman in the wall-paper. During the day, when she is temporarily freed from John’s control, she says the woman is “subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still.” Here, she is alluding to herself, for she is subdued and quiet, and is puzzled by the paper all day. However, “at night?it becomes bars!” It is at night when the woman has bars over her, this of course, is when John is home. The wall-paper represents her marriage to John; moreover, the bars symbolize the loss of power in her life which keep her prisoner. Furthermore, there are times when she is enthralled with the paper, and times she is disgusted with it, so to, with her marriage. As a result of this epiphany, Charlotte is determined to free the woman behind the paper, and in so doing, free herself as well. As John stumbles into the room, she declares to him, “I’ve got out at last?in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Finally she has freed herself from his control, and has become independent.
Women in Charlotte Gilman’s time knew how impossible it was to be independent. To make matters worse, most men did not take women seriously, as John did not. Men felt that women were fragile and over-stimulation would be a woman’s eventual downfall. Wanting to be independent, but not allowed to be, women invariably suffered stress because of it. Perhaps this repression and frustration is why Charlotte initially began to suffer. In the end, Charlotte did not listen to her husband, but let loose her imagination and did as she pleased. By doing this, Charlotte’s mental health seemed to deteriorate, but she felt as if she was getting better. The wall-paper seemed to give Charlotte insight into herself. With the aid of her husband, solitude, and hallucinations, she gained empowerment. She proved to be a strong woman by triumphing over her mental condition. It was through her mental condition, that she gained an important characteristic – independence. As Charlotte showed, allowing another person to control one’s life, is to do a great disservice to oneself. Charlotte’s road to independence was not without consequence, however, the benefits were worth it.