During the late 1800s, women and men were not equal, they lived in a society where women were defined as housewives and were expected to take care of their children and husbands for the rest of their lives. The issue connects with the experience of the narrator in the short story The Yellow Wallpaper, written in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, focuses on. Gilman’s main reason for creating this story was to make individuals understand the roles in society during this time period and to prevent people from being driven into insanity, such as the woman in the story did. The Yellow Wallpaper heavily focuses on a woman who is forced into societal roles and the powerful theory of femininity during the late 1800s. The narrator of the story is mentally destroyed by the rest cure her husband, John has prescribed for her. She is forced into isolation in one room and feels imprisoned, as she is not allowed to have any contact with other individuals and her husband forbids her to even write in her journal; eventually leading the woman into madness. The story is told from the perspective of the narrator, but by doing this it makes it clearer to describe the emotions of postpartum depression and the reality of her experience. Gilman implements detailed dialogue, symbolism, infantilization, and gender roles to make the reader understand the struggles of women during the late 18th century.
The next element of the short story would be the crucial symbolism that Gilman uses to explain the obsession the narrator has with the wallpaper. In the journal article, “The Term and Concept of Symbolism in Literary History”, written by American-Czech literary critic Rene Wellek states, “Symbolism in the sense of a use of symbols in literature is clearly omnipresent in the literature of many styles, periods, and civilization. Symbols are all-pervasive in medieval literature and even the classics of realism” (250). Gilman’s story is considered to be realistic because this story she wrote is connected to realistic aspects of life. Throughout the story there is a visible piece of symbolism readers get from The Yellow Wallpaper the narrator is constantly speaking about. The narrator then goes on to say, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (Gilman 29). The wallpaper itself represents the emotions of entrapment the narrator seems to feel. She is constantly asking for the wallpaper to be removed, yet despises how her husband intentionally ignores her emotions and well-being. This happening, causes her to feel as if she is imprisoned in the room she hates so much. Gilman represents the narrator’s resentful emotions by using this powerful line as she expresses how the narrator beings to feel toward the wallpaper, her husband’s decisions for her, and the now isolated life she is forced to live. As the story continues, Gilman presents the reader with a line that states, “At night in any kind of light, in the twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be” (Gilman 34). The symbolism Gilman projects are the obsession the narrator has with the wallpaper and how it is only growing stronger. The bars she witnesses are trapping her and she has become the woman she is seeing in the wallpaper itself. Gilman’s implementation of this idea expresses how the woman had no control over what goes on in her life. When she talks about the woman, the narrator is indirectly talking about herself and her emotions about the situation she is trapped in. Another pivotal element that makes The Yellow Wallpaper so powerful, is the effect of infantilization.
All of the elements Gilman presents such as dialogue, indirect symbolism, infantilization, and gender roles of the late 1800s, help the audience comprehend the perspective of what a woman of this time went through. The Yellow Wallpaper can be interpreted as a story where a mentally ill woman loses her mind due to her situation, however, it represents all women from that time period, and makes readers more open-minded to all the struggles and imprisonment they had to live through with no say in anything throughout their lives. Women’s mental health had little to no importance during this era. The Yellow Wallpaper focuses on the idea that if mental health is not taken seriously, there will be a consequence. The human mind can only take so much before something awful occurs. The author uses this story to represent the reality of her own life, along with the struggles through her life that are expressed within her writing. Women’s sanity was very much tested to their breaking points with the way many people viewed and treated them. Gilman’s purpose was to get rid of these expectations of women and open the eyes of women that their life is worth more than what society labels them. As she expresses this idea, Gilman herself followed her advice and freed herself from her husband to have women see that they can be independent, along with following their dreams and having a mind of their own. She wanted women to get out of dangerous situations in their life before it is too late. No woman was too weak to defeat the societal roles of a male-dominated society. Gilman motivates women everywhere to focus on themselves and not feel alone, also creating a piece of mind for them that they can amount to anything they want to do. Having inspiration could have been extremely comforting to these women experiencing this issue, and that is what Gilman successfully achieved.