Charlotte Perkins is a famous writer, journalist, and feminist. The Yellow Wallpaper is one of her short stories containing a feminist attitude characteristic of all her works.
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In her numerous works, she consistently discusses the hierarchical status of women in society regarding patriarchy. The central theme in The Yellow Wallpaper is a restriction and subordination of women in domestic spheres. That is a consequence of male dominance in marriages. The first person’s point of view effectively illustrates this theme. Symbolism also emphasizes the subjugation of women in the story. This essay focuses on how the point of view in The Yellow Wallpaper helps to develop the theme.
The Yellow Wallpaper: Narration
Gilman points out the conventional setup of the nineteenth-century middle-class assumptions and attitudes towards marriages that prevent women from exercising their wishes and desires.
The theme of the short story is real because it is driven by the unfortunate events which occurred in Gilman’s life (Delashmit and Long 32).
Loss of identity for women among American households was a common scenario in American society in the nineteenth century. Women who wished to stabilize and express themselves did not get a listening ear.
The male-dominated society considered all female ideas invalid. Gilman’s story focuses on male dominance. She brings out her atrocious tale to explain what women face and how their husbands subject them to dictatorship.
Gilman tells her story using first-person narration. Through the means of it, the readers empathize with the Narrator as they follow the progression of the story. First-person narration helps one get a deeper comprehension of the storyline and language.
There is an epistolary style in the story because the Narrator gives the sequence of events as diary entries. The continual use of the pronoun ‘I’ makes the reader relate to the Narrator’s point of view.
According to Hochman (89), first-person narration in The Yellow Wallpaper makes this story incredibly different. It distinguishes this story from other creative stories of that time.
Moreover, it is an immensely challenging task for Gilman to bring out the story from her point of view, disregarding possible negative critiques from literary critics and the masses. Gilman forms an insider’s perspective to this story, thus giving an autobiographical nature to the text. Hochman further explains that such achievements were significant in America during the 1890s (89).
The Narrator’s point of view connects with the central theme of the story. The story has a feminist approach that explores feminism and challenges male dominance in society that roots in most households.
Men feel that they have every right to exercise authority over women. For example, Gilman’s husband does not accept any explanation from her and always imposes his will over her.
The Narrator’s point of view gives the reader a mental picture of the setting for the story. Gilman’s description of the rental mansion shows the beauty of the place. She uses words such as “there is a delicious garden” and “the most beautiful place” to emphasize this beauty.
However, she also contradicts her point of view by describing the mansion as “a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate.” These phrases indicate that Gilman believes that men have colonized the mansion since time immemorial. It also shows that men dominate a place meant for equal sharing by both genders.
Thrailkill (525) interprets that the luxuriousness of the mansion is heritable (goes by from one generation to the next). The Narrator depicts the relationship between her husband and her from the first-person narration.
She admits that John laughs at her, a statement that indicates that she is a casualty of low self-esteem and exasperation. She is also the object of ridicule to her husband.
The Narrator’s perspective becomes more explicit when she strongly points out that she is aware of her “nervous condition,” meaning that she is also conscious as a writer to raise this issue from a feminist’s point of view.
The Narrator’s point of view brings out sarcasm and irony as styles in the story. The Narrator says that she is glad that her case is not severe when her husband is away at the hospital for long periods.
This shows how ironic it is that Gilman’s husband is busy solving serious cases outside, while his wife is suffering from nervous depression. It is also ironic that her husband’s attempts to cure her leave her in a worse mental state even after following distinctive directions.
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The yellow wallpaper in Gilman’s room metaphorically supports her idea of the effects of male dominance on women’s lives. Similarly, her life has turned out unpleasant and unattractive, like an “unclean yellow” (Quawas 35).
Symbolism is an imperative style in the story. Symbolism clarifies the underlying purpose behind the writing of the story. Symbolism also adds to the perspective that the story builds in the reader and the Narrator’s minds.
The yellow wallpaper in the story is symbolic of the suppressed emotions of the protagonist. The wallpaper is “ripped,” “soiled,” “unclean yellow,” “revolting,” and “formless sort of figures.” These descriptions of the wallpaper are symbolic of the shapeless and suffocating life that the Narrator leads.
It symbolizes a filled with life with harsh memories. “Soiled” symbolizes the burial act, thus representing the death of her ideal life. “Ghostly sub-pattern” is symbolic of the haunted life she leads guided by ghosts of the dead.
It shows her desires relating to her fascination with writing and creativity. She wants to fly away from the cage of patriarchy.
The Narrator’s character undergoes self-realization, developing through the mindset of the reader. The use of the first-person narration in The Yellow Wallpaper shapes the strength of the main character.
The course of action that the Narrator anticipates taking concerning her subdued life develops her character in the course of the story (Subotsky 22).
The deeper she interprets the emotional patterns on the yellow wallpaper, the farther she moves from her own life. Her character develops when she realizes the pain suffered by her fellow women.
Delashmit, M. & Long, C. “Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” The Explicator 50.1(1991):32. Print.
Hochman, B. “The Reading Habit and ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” American Literature 74.1 (2002): 89-110. Print.
Quawas, R. “A New Woman’s Journey into Insanity: Descent and Return in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Modern Language Association 105 (2006):35. Print.
Subotsky, F. “The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Psychiatrists in 19th-century fiction.” The British Journal of Psychiatry195.1(2009):22. Print.
Thrailkill, J. “Doctoring ‘The yellow wallpaper.’” ELH 69.2 (2002): 525. Print.