out place of growth and life, not brokenness.

Topics: ArtSymbolism

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Last updated: September 24, 2019

out in this paper are feminism and mental illness.

  As well as writing about mental illness, Gilman suffered from the disease in real life. The setting of this story takes place in the 19th century “vacation home” during the summer. In the beginning, the woman makes it obvious that her husband is very domineering. She uses “John and myself,” while writing in her diary. Very soon in the story we can tell this woman’s imagination is very creative.

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She describes the house as haunted, which foreshadows the ending for the reader. The woman feels as if her husband is always laughing at her, and starts to resent him. She describes herself as being opposite of her husband. He is realistic and she is a idealistic. The comparison between John and the narrator reflects the comparison of men and women in general.  One example of John being domineering is when he tells the narrator that she is not sick.

“He does not believe I’m sick,” she says on page 647. Here we see that she really doesn’t even have control over her own feelings and thoughts. The narrator goes on to describe the house and greenhouse. An example of symbolism that Gilman uses is when she describes the greenhouse as being beautiful and then broken. A greenhouse is a place of growth and life, not brokenness. The reader can infer that the author is using the broken greenhouse to symbolize the death of her unborn baby. At one point, the narrator was pregnant but then had a miscarriage.  John chooses for him and his wife to live in the upstairs nursery, while his wife would have rather lived in downstairs where she thought it was prettier.

The reader can see how John disapproves of his wife’s active imagination because he tries to silence her when she talks about the wallpaper in the nursery. Another example of symbolism that Gilman uses is between the narrator’s marriage and yellow wallpaper, as she is unsatisfied with both of them. Her dislike for the nursery just as well symbolizes the fact of her not wanting to have a baby in the first place.

This is an inference the reader can make because she does not refer to the baby by name. The room they live in is another symbol of their marriage. She is often left alone in the room, bored, and feels lonely in the marriage. The wallpaper makes her angry as it reminds her of her marriage which is very dull.

  The longer she sat in the bare room, the more occupied she became with the yellow wallpaper. As the story went on, the more the wall paper absorbed her. While in this room, the woman had nothing to do but write about her feelings and thoughts, which she had to hide from her husband and family because she didn’t want them to be angry at her. The author writes, “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing,” (724). It is obvious her family wanted her to have an inactive mind.

As time passes, she begins to write less and has more time to obsess over the yellow wallpaper. She describes the wallpaper well. On page 722, the author says, “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and revoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions.”  The woman feels stuck in her own home, as the room she lives in is ugly and the windows are barred. The bed is nailed down to the floor, which makes it seem like she is living in an insane ward. On page 725, she says, “I lie here on this great immovable bed- it is nailed down.” The barred windows were made to keep children inside and safe, but now makes the narrator feel stuck.

  While the woman is slowly slipping into mania, her husband makes comments like “you know this place is doing you good,” which shows his disregard toward’s his wife’s position, as well as men’s disregard to the well being of women in general (649). Her marriage is something that the narrator cannot get away from, but also has no choice in the matter since her husband decides everything for her. She says “I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and everlastingness,” (650). Her choice of words in this part of the story emphasizes her troubled feelings. She uses words like “inharmonious,” as well as sentences like “ravages the children have made here must have had perseverance as well as hatred,” project a dismissive picture in the readers mind.  The woman’s instability is leading her towards a mental breakdown. In the wallpaper she is staring at daily, she begins to see a woman in the pattern. To her, the woman is “stooping down and creeping about.

” If the wallpaper is a symbol of her marriage, then the woman behind the wallpaper can be seen as the narrator’s subconscious. As she grows unhappier in the room, she sees more and more of the woman behind the wallpaper. She feels as though she doesn’t have purpose since her husband won’t allow her to write. Not being able to write causes her imagination to become very active. As time goes by, the woman becomes more and more obsessed with the wallpaper and the woman behind it. As the woman behind the wallpaper tries to escape, so does the narrator from her relationship.  Eventually, the narrator bends to her madness, and begins to rip at the wallpaper to lurk out of the room she has been stuck in.

When her husband sees, he passes out. Although she has not been able to escape her governing husband, she attempts to “free” the woman behind the wallpaper. This obsession with the woman behind the wallpaper is correlated to her wish to be free of her controlled relationship.

A reader may say that the meaning behind this story is not really an insane woman, but a woman trying to break the restraining chains of her marriage. Back when this was written, women were held at a lower standard and if a woman wanted to become independent, she was automatically considered “mad,” or “insane.” Often times, people would think a person was crazy if he or she happened to have a different opinion than the rest of  the community. This woman’s husband, family and surroundings pushed her to the point of having a mental illness. Her writing is the only thing that made her happy. The woman’s family did not want her to write because they wanted her to have an empty mind. She was writing to better herself .

The woman’s family thought that a dull mind would heal itself, which eventually sent the woman into a descending spiral.

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