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Wall Paper And Women Role

In the nineteenth century, women in literature were often portrayed as
submissive to men. Literature of the period often characterized women as
oppressed by society, as well as by the male influences in their lives. The
Yellow Wallpaper presents the tragic story of a woman's descent into depression
and madness. Gilman once wrote "Women's subordination will only end when
women lead the struggle for their own autonomy, thereby freeing man as well as
themselves, because man suffers from the distortions that come from dominance,
just as women are scarred by the subjugation imposed upon them" (Lane 5).
The Yellow Wallpaper brilliantly illustrates this philosophy. The narrator's
declining mental health is reflected through the characteristics of the house
she is trapped in and her husband, while trying to protect her, is actually
destroying her. The narrator of the story goes with her doctor/husband to stay
in a colonial mansion for the summer. The house is supposed to be a place where
she can recover from severe postpartum depression. She loves her baby, but knows
she is not able to take care of him. "It is fortunate Mary is so good with
the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so
nervous" (Gilman 642). The symbolism utilized by Gilman is somewhat askew
from the conventional. A house usually symbolizes security. In this story the
opposite is true. The protagonist, whose name we never learn, feels trapped by
the walls of the house, just as she is trapped by her mental illness. The
windows of her room, which normally would symbolize a sense of freedom, are
barred, holding her in. (Biedermann 179, 382). From the outset the reader is
given a sense of the domineering tendencies of the narrator's husband, John. The
narrator tells us: "John is a physician, and perhaps  (I would not say
it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my
mind)  perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster" (Gilman
640). It is painfully obvious that she feels trapped and unable to express her
fears to her husband. "You see, he does not believe I am sick. And what can
one do? If a physician of high standing and one's own husband assures friends
and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary
nervous depression  a slight hysterical tendency  what is one to do?"
Her husband is not the only male figure who dominates and oppresses her. Her
brother, also a doctor, "says the same thing" (Gilman 640-641).
Because the story is written in diary format, we feel especially close to this
woman. We are in touch with her innermost thoughts. The dominance of her
husband, and her reaction to it, is reflected throughout the story. The narrator
is continually submissive, bowing to her husband's wishes, even though she is
unhappy and depressed. Her husband has adopted the idea that she must have
complete rest if she is to recover. This is a direct parallel to Gilman's life,
wherein during her illness she was treated by a doctor who introduced her to the
"rest cure." She was instructed to live a domestic life, only engage
in intellectual activities two hours a day, and "never to touch pen, brush,
or pencil again" as long as she lived (Gilman 640). In this story, the
narrator's husband, John, does not want her to work. "So I . . . am
absolutely forbidden to work' until I am well again"(Gilman 641). John
does not even want her to write. "There comes John, and I must put this
away  he hates to have me write a word"(Gilman 642). It is also a direct
allusion to Gilman's personal experience that the narrator is experiencing
severe postpartum depression. Gilman suffered from the same malady after the
birth of her own daughter (Gilman 639). It is interesting that the room her
husband chooses for them, the room the narrator hates, is the nursery. The
narrator describes the nursery as having barred windows and being
"atrocious" (Gilman 641-642). The narrator's response to the room is a
further example of her submissive behavior. "I don't like our room a bit. I
wanted one downstairs that opened onto the piazza and had roses all over the
window, and such pretty old fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear
of it" (Gilman 641). Although she is practically a prisoner in the room,
she is given no voice in choosing or