Women were not seen in the past as they are seen now. They were seen as the weaker, less knowledgeable sex. They had to listen to their husbands and they had no say in anything. We are reminded of this when we read The Yellow Wallpaper. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an activist for womens rights. With this being said, I believe Gilmans purpose for writing The Yellow Wallpaper was to show the readers women do have rights, this is a changing world, and women dont have to listen to everything their husband or significant other tells them to do.
She does this by the narrator symbolically seeing herself trapped inside the wallpaper and her eventually pulling the wallpaper off the wall and being able to feel free to do whatever she wants. In Monumental feminism and literatures ancestral house: Another look at ? The Yellow Wallpaper Janice Haney-Peritz, Department of English (Beaver College), states, As a memorial, ? The Yellow Wallpaper is used to remind contemporary readers of the enduring import of the feminist struggle against patriarchical domination; while as a boundary marker, it is used to demarcate the territory appropriate to a feminist literary criticism (114).
There are several scenes/instances throughout this story that show that John sees the narrator, his wife, as being less than he is. These instances are: when the narrator says that she is forbidden to work until she is well again, John treats the narrator like a child, John makes her lie down for an hour after each meal, the narrator states that she doesnt want to irritate her husband, and at the end of the story where she says, Ive got out at last in spite of you and Jane and Ive pulled off most of the paper, so you cant put me back (Gilman).
First, the narrator says that she is forbidden to work until she is well again. She doesnt actually work, but she likes to write. I guess back in that time women always listened to their husband and didnt do anything that the husband didnt want them to do. It was easy to tell that the narrator was trying to rebel because she would write whenever she could as long as no one saw her. It seemed as if the more it went into the story the less she cared about what Jennie or John thought or wanted her not to do.
Second, John treats his wife (the narrator) like a child. He does this in several ways. He decides that she will stay in a room that was once a nursery; although, it also sounds like it might have housed a crazy person (i. e. bars on the windows, the bed is nailed down, rings in the walls, the wallpaper is torn). However, this is also a form of dramatic irony because the story talks about all these features, but keeps saying it was at one time a nursery. During the story he calls her a couple names that sound as if he thinks of her as a child (i. e. blessed little goose, little girl). At one point, he says, Bless her little heart (Gilman). In addition, he constantly throughout the story tells her what she can and cannot do.
Third, the story states that John makes the narrator lie down for an hour after every time she eats. Apparently, the story is showing that John has control over her or at least it seems to imply that he does. I was a little confused because I kept thinking how can someone make another person lie down. Unless, that person has a gun to the other persons head it doesnt seem very plausible that the person could make the other one lie down. Also, if John was out of the house all day and if the narrator ate without Jennie being around then how would anyone know if she slept or not for an hour after she ate?
Fourth, in one scene the narrator says that she doesnt want to irritate her husband. This shocked me big time. I know back in the time when this story was written that women obeyed their husband and wanted to make their husband happy. I guess in this day and age people have become selfish because I dont believe I know a single woman who wouldnt do something just because they didnt want to irritate their husband.
Finally, there is the scene at the end of The Yellow Wallpaper where the narrator finally rips the wallpaper off the wall showing that she is finally free from oppression. This scene alone is a major part in the story to show that Gilmans purpose for writing the story was to show that women have rights too. The narrator wants to have power over her husband for once so she locks the door, throws the key down on the front path, and then later makes him retrieve the key to be able to get in the room. Once John comes home, the narrator calls him young man and tells him that he cant get in without retrieving the key. She now has power over him.
She has a rope that she might use to kill herself if her plan to get free doesnt work. Her husband faints when he gets inside because once he sees the wallpaper torn off the walls he realizes that his wife is not getting better and, in turn, is actually worse. John realizing that his wife is actually getting worse instead of better is an example of situational irony because what is happening is the opposite of what he intended or thought was happening. At the end of the story she says, Ive got out at last in spite of you and Jane and Ive pulled off most of the paper, so you cant put me back (Gilman).
I think Jane is herself. All throughout the story she feels physically trapped because she cant do things for or by herself. Also, she feels symbolically trapped because she sees herself trapped behind the wallpaper, but I think once she pulled it off the walls that she felt liberated. Furthermore, she feels like she has gotten free because she has stood up to her husband and herself. She decides that she will no longer be oppressed, feel like she is weak, and feel like she cant do things just because she is a woman and seen as the weaker, less knowledgeable sex. I think (in this scene) Gilman was trying to show that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it and that we dont need anyone elses approval.
Although, this isnt actually talked about in those scenes there are various other forms of irony and symbolism throughout the story that show the narrator is less than equal to John and that she just goes along with whatever he says and tells her to do. In the story, it says that her husband laughs at her; however this is something someone expects to happen when they are married. This is a form of verbal irony because no one expects or should expect that their husband would laugh at them. Why would anyone want to be married to someone that laughs at them? She is being sarcastic when she says this.
Also, in another scene the narrator states that she is happy that her case isnt severe. This is a form of verbal irony because her case is the exact opposite of what she says. It is severe. However, at the end of the story where the John faints from seeing the wallpaper has been pulled off is a bit different. The tables have turned and now she is in power and John has fainted and is lying on the floor while she is creeping over him so this is situational irony. The wallpaper is a major symbol in this story. Gilman uses the wallpaper as a symbol to show how life used to trap women in their roles as a wife.
At first, when I read the story I just thought that the narrator was crazy. I didnt like the story and wasnt sure what I was supposed to get from it. However, I smiled after reading it a second time. After all of this has been said, I hope it shows how and why Gilmans purpose for writing this short story was to show the readers women do have rights, this is a changing world, and women dont have to listen to everything their husband or significant other tells them to do.
I am so glad that time has changed and that we no longer have to live in a society where women are not seen as equals.