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Essay/Term paper: The yellow wallpaper by charlotte perkins gilman

Essay, term paper, research paper:  The Yellow Wallpaper

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Descent Into Madness

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the story of a woman's

descent into madness as the result of being isolated as a form of "treatment"

when suffering from post-partum depression. On a larger scale, Gilman is also

telling the story of how women were kept prisoners by the confines of the

society of her time and the penalties these women incurred when they attempted

to break free from these confines.

In the beginning of the story, the narrator, whose name is never divulged,

has been brought to an isolated country estate in order to recuperate from "a

slight hysterical tendency" by her husband, John, who is also a physician.

From the outset it becomes apparent that she is an unreliable narrator due to

her state of mind. The paragraphs of the story are short and choppy,

indicating an inability to concentrate and a mind that is racing from one

thing to another. The narrator talks about her imaginings that the house is

haunted," . . . There is something strange about the house-I can feel it"; she

also relates how everything she does exhausts her. These symptoms, as well as

the numerous referrals by the narrator to the baby, indicate post-partum

depression. When speaking of the baby the narrator says, for example, "I

cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous."

In order to treat this "temporary nervous depression," John isolates her from

society and orders her to do nothing but rest. He even becomes upset when she

wishes to write, causing this story to be "composed" of writings she manages

to do in secret. John places her in the attic of the mansion, like a dirty

secret, in what she believes to be a former nursery. There is, however,

strong evidence that the narrator is not the first mental patient to occupy

the room. There are bars on the windows, gouges in the floor and walls, and

rings fastened to the walls; the bed is bolted down and has been gnawed on,

and the wallpaper has been torn off in patches.

Confined to this room day after day, the narrator begins to study the

wallpaper: ". . . I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that

pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion." "That pointless pattern"

refers to the rigid pattern of complete subjugation to men that women of

Gilman's day were expected to follow. A woman of that era was the "property"

of her father until she married. She then became the chattel of her husband

with no legal rights and no authority to determine what was best for her.

The narrator begins to see things in the pattern of the wallpaper: "There is

a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous

eyes stare at you upside down." This is indicative of the fate of those

foolhardy women who strayed from the path society had dictated to them. A

woman who attempted to break loose from that pattern was subject to social

ostracism. If not already married, she destroyed any hope she may have had of

marriage, family and living within the norms of society. If already married,

she risked physical punishment, the loss of her family, or was even considered

mad. In either case, it is unlikely she could ever hope to be considered

respectable again.

[TEACHER'S NOTE: YOU NEED A TRANSITION HERE] On moonlit nights, the narrator

sees bars appear on the wallpaper which are, in actuality, simply shadows from

the bars in the window. She also begins to see the form of a woman behind

those bars. The woman is trying to "escape" by shaking the bars and,

initially, this frightens the narrator. She fears the kind of woman who dare

to attempt escape from the bars of society and the reprecussions that would

follow for that woman. Most of all, she is terrified of the rebellious

thoughts in her own mind that could, if not contained, cause her to become

that woman, inevitably suffering the same dreadful repercussions and

destroying her life.

As time goes on, the narrator's mind slips deeper into mental illness. She

becomes increasingly paranoid about John and Jennie, the housekeeper. "The

fact is, I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes

and even Jennie has an inexplicable look." She also begins to smell the

yellow wallpaper wherever she goes, and soon she believes she actually sees

the woman from the wallpaper creeping in the garden during the day.

The narrator begins to see the woman in the wallpaper more clearly: "And she

is all the time trying to climb through the patter-it strangles so; I think

that is why it has so many heads. They get through and then the pattern

strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!"

This is another symbolic reference to the fate of women fo tried to escape the

path society has prescribed for them.

As the narrator slips even deeper into madness, she becomes determined to

help the woman from the wallpaper escape. She waits until she is alone, then

strips the wallpaper from the wall. In order to reach higher, she attempts to

move the bed; when she is unable to do so, she gnaws the bed.

The narrator locks the doors and throws the key out the window. When John

finally manages to get in the room, he finds his wife, completely mad now,

"creeping" around the edge of the wall. When asked what she is doing, the

narrator replies, "I've gout out at last . . . in spite of you and Jane. And

I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" Although Gilman

does not tell us who Jane is, it is plausible that the narrator's name is Jane

and, in her madness, she believes she has become the woman from the wallpaper




"The Yellow Wallpaper" is a fascinating look into the mind of a woman

slipping deeper and deeper into mental illness. It is also, however, clearly

a statement by Gilman of the absurd confines society places on the women of

her time and the extreme consequences that befell the women who attempted to

break free of those confines.




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