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Analysis of Tone of 'The Yellow Wallpaper': Critical Essay

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Perkins Gilman's extract (2016) highlights the patriarchal dominance of the domestic lifestyle and underpins the socially accepted archetypes for women during the Victorian era. The use of a female-gendered narrative voice, throughout the extract, emphasises the prejudice against female writing, despite its use as an escapism tool for the narrator, as well as reflects how patriarchal ideology influences the narrator's judgment of her opinion as a woman. Examining the extract through the concepts raised in Elaine Showalter's The Female Malady (1996), accentuates the gender prejudice in psychiatric treatment, during the Victorian-era, and allows for the perception of the paranoia that being branded as hysteric created for women.

The protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper disagrees with the rest-treatment she is prescribed, however, lacks confidence in her opinion as she recognizes the prejudice against her as a woman in society. Gilman's repetition of the phrase 'Personally, I' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.99) suggests the narrator does not value her opinion equal to that of a man, residing in her diary to express her disapproval, further reinforcing that patriarchal ideology has negatively affected her self-worth. Additionally, the protagonist sharing her viewpoint on 'dead paper' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.98) emphasises the narrator's use of writing as an escape or self-expression, unbound of judgment and patriarchal expectation of compliant femininity. Throughout The Female Malady Showalter addresses the concept of 'Moral insanity' (Showalter, 1996, p.29), exploring how diagnosing madness, especially for women, assessed their 'deviance from socially accepted behavior' and restraint of 'domestic control' (Showalter, 1996, p.29). John's domestic manipulation of the protagonist's route to treatment mirrors that of Victorian asylum in which 'by molding and controlling the life of a lunatic, the psychologist hopes to reach, capture, and re-educate the truant mind' (Showalter, 1996, p.30). The male characters refuse to acknowledge the narrator's claim that her illness is serious and genuine on the basis that she is a woman, although, The Female Malady explores how 'noisy' and opinionated women were branded as insane and 'silenced with the brank' (Showalter, 1996, p.31); justifying the female narrator's helpless compliance to her treatment, as well as shrewdness when wishing to write.

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Despite accepting her opinion as subordinate in comparison to her male counterparts, the female narrator defies complying with socially accepted behavior through writing, however, the protagonist's diary highlights the influence male figures have on her by subconsciously dictating her thoughts and emotions. The protagonist states she wrote in 'spite' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.99) of patriarchal dominance, however, juxtaposes this by highlighting how writing so cunningly 'does exhaust [her] a great deal' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.99). The italicization of the word 'does' creates a defeatist tone that further suggests the narrator is invalidating her own opinion and admitting the possibility of her male counterparts being correct. The protagonist declares 'I confess it always makes me feel bad' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.99) when contemplating her condition, accentuating the defeatist tone through her writing and highlighting her reluctance to admit her compliance to John's advice. The protagonist's defiant rejection of her diagnosis, in comparison to her reluctant confession at the end of the extract, could further symbolize the influence patriarchal dominance impacts the narrator's thoughts and emotions; As well as parallel the advised route of treatment for insane women, explored in The Female Malady, to 'submitted respectfully to the will of the manly asylum superintendent' (Showalter, 1996, p.31).

The female narrator suggests the dominance and reliability of John's diagnosis are reliant on his 'high standing' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.98) position in society. The extract reflects concepts explored in The Female Malady which states 'Class remained a strong determinant of the individual's psychiatric career' (Showalter, 1996, p.26). John's reluctancy to accept the narrator's illness as genuine could be due to the stigma of the 'mad woman in the Victorian Era, to combat this, the rich could avoid the stigma of diagnosis 'by keeping mad relatives at home, or by seeking private care' (Showalter, 1996, p.26). The ideology of 'the rich', regarding psychiatrists, is somewhat reflected through the actions of John as he brands the narrator's seemingly genuine illness as a 'slight hysterical tendency' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.98), a gendered diagnosis that he attempts to domesticate and undermine, suggested through the adjective 'slight', in addition to claiming it's treatment is 'air' and 'exercise' (Perkins Gilman, 2016, p.98). The gendered diagnosis of hysteria in this extract could be perceived as a means to control and assert dominance over the narrator's self-expression and limit her domestic, as well as creative freedom.

To conclude, Gilman's use of the female narrative voice throughout the extract accentuates the oppression of the woman who wished to write in the Victorian era. Furthermore, applying concepts from Showalter's The Female Malady to the extract emphasized the pressure on women to comply with societal patriarchal expectations to avoid fallacious diagnoses of insanity.

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Analysis of Tone of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
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