More on The Yellow Wallpaper

When I was writing my essay about confinement in ‘The Yellow Wall-paper’, I sort on went on this tangent so I thought it would be a suitable idea to just continue that stream of consciousness…

In addition to being confined to the nursery, and desperately wanting to mold herself to become the ideal mother and wife for John, by stating “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!” (Gilman 649), the protagonist struggles with balancing her husband’s wants with her desire for a creative outlet. He represses her creativity, and says her problems are a product of her overactive imagination. John would tell the narrator that she “was letting it get the better of (her), and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies” (Gilman 649). The subtext of ‘Don’t let your imagination run wild, you should really get a hold of yourself’ is constant through pages 649 and 650. If anything, this just gives a limited view of women because it suggests that if we apply more restrictions and limitations on someone, the better that person will end up being. The narrator goes on to remind the reader that her husband believes “There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?” (Gilman 650). That last line sounds incredibly manipulative. I suppose it does because John plays two roles in the narrator’s life – the doctor and the husband. The relationship between husband and wife turns into something more aggravating and intense, like a father and child, doctor and patient relationship, where there is an obvious authority figure that dictates, or even unknowingly manipulates the submissive one. Of course I am not trying to state that John is the villain in the story because in my perspective, I see him as a reflection of the 19th century man. I assume he wants the best for his wife/his patient, even though he can seem controlling and manipulative (but keep in mind that these accounts are coming from a very unreliable narrator). With that being said, I suppose this exhibits society’s values destructing women’s individuality. Gilman confirms women’s little significance by not even providing the narrator a name until perhaps at the very end. Note that also the narrator has no traditional mother and wife tasks to do, which truly lowers her significance in society. The women who have taken on the narrator’s societal identities the protagonist is forbidden and incapable of doing, are the ones who do have names. The narrator compliments and compares herself to Mary and Jennie, by saying, “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.” (Gilman 649), and “She is a perfect and enthusiastic house keeper, and hopes for no better profession” (Gilman 650).

Also!!!! I found this book particularly difficult to write an essay on..I guess it’s because there are so many layers and complexities to this short story, and how there can be so many interpretations, which really leaves everything out in the open and having to write an essay focusing on a certain interpretation can feel a bit daunting since every sort of interpretation can bleed into another…

One thought on “More on The Yellow Wallpaper

  1. Christina Hendricks

    I also found this story to be open to very many interpretations, which made it hard for me to really settle on one as I was preparing for seminars. Other things kept opening out as I started to move down one path of interpretation. It’s almost like the story itself is like the wallpaper… hard to pin down! No wonder so many articles have been written about it!

    I like how you picked up on the aspect of the story where the narrators expresses her creativity being stifled. One aspect of Gilman’s own life that she reported in her autobiography is that her mother tried to dampen her (Gilman’s) life of imagination and fantasy when she thought that was getting out of hand. Gilman didn’t experience that from her first husband, who was himself an artist, so far as I know. In the story, John is portrayed as someone who is very rational, who has no interest in faith or anything that can’t be put into numbers (this is from the first page). I guess it’s not surprising that when she is unable to use writing as a creative outlet, what happens is she begins to create a story in her own head, to see in visions what she couldn’t create as art. At least, that’s one way to look at it!

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