Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story that deals with many different issues that woman in the 19th century had to deal with on a daily basis. Some of these issues were within their control, but many of them were outside of the realm of control for women. The main point that I will focus on is how restricted societal roles can cause insanity. I will do this by deciphering the meaning of the "yellow wallpaper" and its symbolism. In my opinion, I believe that once we get a better understanding of the author's interest in this subject area and get a feel for life in the 19th century, then we will have a better understanding of the story.
First, let's take a look at the background of Gilman before and
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The story begins with the husband and wife moving into their summer home right after having their first child. The wife has a funny feeling about it stating that it is "something queer about it" (Gilman 658), but John thinks that she is being too suspicious. She is sick in the sense that she is suffering from depression, but John, being a physician, thinks that she is fine and that she will be all right soon. The room that they move into is what used to be a nursery and this is where the drama really begins.
The narrator describes the room as having windows that are "barred for little children." (Gilman 659) Seeing that she is a new mother, I see this as being a symbol of her dislike of her motherly duties. Jane is unable to take care of her own baby for a one central reason: she is too depressed. Today, we would call this post-partum depression and we usually get over it, but in the 19th century this was not common. Just beginning to decipher this room, she goes on to say that there is a beautiful garden, only she has to look through barred windows to see it. Eventually, the narrator gets to the point where she takes notice of the wallpaper. Her first description of it says that it is: "dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide…destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions."