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Sep 29, 2020 in Book Review

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Male Leadership Robs Female Rights

The feminist story “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written by American journalist and a follower of women’s rights Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In 1892, the story was first printed in The New England Magazine. The writer represents her attitude to political and social inequality in general. The short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman demonstrates the harmful impact of the rest cure, which is known as the popular treatment among the male psychiatrists. The cue is prescribed for women with mental and physical disorders.

The narrator of the story is a nameless woman who suffers from a nervous illness caused by the birth of a baby. The husband of this woman John, who is a psychiatrist, treats her wife with the rest cure and isolates her from social contacts and normal life. Thus, “The Yellow Wallpaper” mainly demonstrates a woman’s uneven status within the marriage. In addition, the obligations of women to stay in the domestic area deprive them of their normal condition of creativity, communication, and intelligence. The society of the XIX century, which is led by men, robs the ability of women to live professional, public, and independent lives.

One of the main causes, which leads to a lack of understanding, is the inconstant family’s traditional power structure that does not bring happiness to its members. Indeed, the woman in such a family instance impersonates an unpaid servant; the man has performed a host who endures the created situation and the child who suffers from being a subject to both parents. However, the woman refers to her baby only once.

In such a way, the narrator shows love to her child. Nevertheless, Gilman’s woman is a victim of the unequal marriage, which kills her unfulfilled purpose of self-expression. The female narrator of the story is diagnosed with postpartum depression (the illness, which impacts women after they have a baby). Thus, the doctor who also is a husband of the ill woman prescribes her the rest cure for the whole summer. The rest cure requires complete inactivity and isolation from the outworld for a few weeks.

Furthermore, the narrator feels lost being imprisoned to a former nursery with bars on windows. The woman cannot read, write, walk in the garden, or engage in any other activity. Thus, the woman protests against the treatment method, but her thoughts do not interest anyone. In such extreme conditions, the narrator starts to concentrate her attention on something else, and the subject of her interest becomes the wallpaper.

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The Central Image in The Yellow Wallpaper

The central image in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the yellow wallpaper. More importantly, the main female character observes the wallpaper in the rooms and finds its pattern gaudy. Thus, the more woman looks at the yellow wallpaper, the more it increases disturbing feelings and images in her mind till her reason crosses the line between sanity and madness.

The wallpaper becomes embodied in the female imagine and deepens her depression. This ugly wallpaper symbolizes the internal anxiety of the narrator, which gradually evaluates her deteriorating mental state. Besides, the heroine becomes detached from reality, and her psychic instability increases. The writer also emphasizes the role of the yellow wallpaper as an example of women’s social and economic dependence, which show the repression of the female during the XIX century. Thus, the wallpaper as a symbol limits feminine values, meaning, and ideas.

Nameless Woman

The narrator of the story who is represented as a young woman loses touch with reality, and her depression only deepens. Thus, the upper-middle-class woman comes to a larger understanding of the inner world of her being. The narrator’s split of the inner and outer realities is decisive to insight into the nature of female suffering. The protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is illustrated as an imaginative, creative, and highly expressive character who remembers herself such a personality from childhood. However, the husband of the young woman, as a part of the treatment, forbids her to realize an imagination or creative process in any way.

In other words, a woman’s creativity suffers from the rest cue; her reason and emotions start to struggle against this cue. John even refuses to do her requests. The narrator’s frustration grows because of the huge and lonely house and the yellow wallpaper that she cannot ignore.

The Husband

The husband of the main heroine is the obvious villain in the story, but he does not represent the whole evil. In spite of this, John and his rest treatment of the wife make her depression deeper and worse than before. According to the husband’s vision, his all-encompassing authority allows him to control the narrator’s life. John’s wife understands her miserable position. Thus, the Cult of True Womanhood prevents women from escaping from their domestic duties.

However, this problem with John’s power of both husband and doctor do not lead to the nice results of the cue. Thus, the man ignores the wife’s own opinion of the problem with the health and ways of its solution. As a man of the XIX century, John forces the narrator to hide her true emotions and feelings. However, the woman’s smallest wishes and desires are forbidden by the guardianship of her husband. The narrator’s husband is represented as a rational and prudent person whose features of character do not suit the wife’s imagination.

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The Depression

Nevertheless, the depression of the narrator becomes only deeper because of the husband's indifference. John does not know his wife entirely; he sees her only superficially. The woman sinks further into the inner world of her imagination full of the wallpaper item and becomes gradually dissociated from the normal life. The unequal relationship between John and his wife prevents them to understand each other and win a woman’s illness.

The narrator’s husband does not truly understand his wife and her problems, but he is confident in his medical professionalism that overshadows his mind and destroys marital relationships. The woman withdraws from the husband and hides all her feeling in a secret diary. The woman can write her ideas and desires, but she realizes that such kind of freedom is short and has to be hidden. Thus, the true thoughts of the narrator are hidden from the outworld, and she begins to live in her fantasy world full of symbolic terms that are drawn by her imagination.

Finally, the heroine identifies herself with the woman from the wallpaper. In addition, this fact allows her to see that other women also are obligated to crawl and hide behind the domestic models of family lives, and each of them needs rescue.

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The narrator loses herself during the searching and understanding of her own role and significance. The development of a woman’s depression frees her from the bars of her marriage, injustice society, and repression of her mind. Thus, the rest cue is represented as a male ideological prison to silence women. The woman becomes a victim of the Cult of True Womanhood of the XIX century. According to this fact, the man gets benefits in private and domestic spheres. The female character is imprisoned by her own husband in order not to write or self-determine as a woman.


Eventually, Charlotte Perkins Gilman illustrates in “The Yellow Wallpaper” the harmful impact of the rest cue on women and the compression of female rights and vote by male society. The story clearly displays the battle the narrator faces trying to receive self-determination and opportunity for freedom. The yellow wallpaper represents the restriction of the rest cue and the Cult of Domesticity, which were improved by men to bind women to the ideal femininity and to overwhelm their individuality. Therefore, the rest treatment makes an extremely negative effect on the narrator. In spite of serving the healing aim, it supports the growth of a woman’s physical and mental disorder caused by the restrictive seclusion.

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