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February 11, 2013

Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper

Question 3
The short story the yellow wallpaper was written by Charlotte Gilman and published in 1892. The book is a personal journal of a woman placed under rest cure by her physician husband after suffering a breakdown soon after the birth of their child. She is taken to a house often used for their summer vacation and prescribed a state of passivity. It talks of her experiences in seclusion in a room where all windows were barred, and the door locked to prevent her access to the rest of the house. With nothing to stimulate her mental senses, she gets obsessed with yellow wallpaper, seeking justification and solace from it. By the end of the story, the narrator has slipped into a psychotic state, unable to tell the reality from illusions. The summer vacation ends, and her husband comes to free her from confinement only for him to find her crawling on the floor, talking of a freedom she claims to have attained. It is obvious that her condition has worsened, and it will be hard for her physician to declare her as cured.The story’s background and setting provides a clear understanding of the reason for the narrator’s mental decline. It was set at a time when women’s oppression was the order of the day. Male domination engulfed most if not all societies leaving women resigned to playing second fiddle. This state of affairs was not only witnessed in the domestic scene but also in the occupational sector. This implies that women were accorded low status both socially and economically. Certain professions were left to the men such as physicians, as emphasized in this story. It is through such channels that men have to exercise their control over women (Gilman 40).

Women were expected to obey everything they were told by their physician. They were not to contribute to their wellbeing by offering solutions for curing their illnesses. At the time, it was a common medical practice to prescribe women with bed rest or house arrest and to restrict them to performing only domestic duties. This is especially because all the severe illnesses of that era were mostly pronounced on women. An example is hysteria, which was common in women at the time. In short, the story seeks strongly to portray a theme of feminism and women empowerment.

As regards the writer, she wanted her healing process to include time with her new born, interactive sessions with other people, an active life and not one limited to passivity. Women were not allowed to write during that period which explains why the narrator chose to do so without her husband’s knowledge. In her obsession with the yellow wallpaper, she pictures women like herself, sidelined by societal norms. She desires freedom from what she believes is an unfortunate situation. In later years, the writer has given as one of her inspirations behind this story the negative effects of medical methods used back then. Her experience is similar to that of other women who suffer the same fate as hers in an attempted effort to cure them, or rather to suppress their desires for equality.

Therefore, I do not feel the story leaves any room for the reader to feel optimistic about the fate of the narrator or that of middle class women in American society at the time. Based on the ending of the story I think the narrators further fall into insanity does not offer any hope for her or her fellow women. This is because she displays indifference to the treatment accorded her. I imagine it makes the physician worried about his patient, something that may prompt the need for further treatment. This way the narrator has no room to be free as she wished. She cannot go out and spread her feminist ideals if she remains locked up.

The direct effect on the middle class women is the continued stigma and stereotyping norms prevalent at the time. The narrator’s case will be used as a measure of women’s lack of strong will and more so their sickly nature. When viewed as lesser beings, their roles also remain the same. The society will still think of them as subordinate to men hence their roles remain restricted to the domestic front (Gilman 40).

In my opinion, the narrator, with her capability as a writer could have used that platform to help empower women significantly. Although she does much in bringing to light the afflictions of women at the time of her writing, little is done to help the prevailing situation. She pointed out how the control of men was affecting them, especially the sick ones. Her deteriorating health under seclusion spoke volumes, but she should have considered society’s perception while writing the end of the story. Had she brought out the strength of a woman amidst pain and suffering, I think a change would have been cultivated in the American society and women’s roles would be more celebrated.

Conclusively, the writer delivered a classical piece. I base this on the appropriateness of her feminist theme both at the time and in these modern times. Her story still finds a place in the modern society because women are still agitating for the same rights as she. Today, feminist theories are a dominant feature as the clamor for women empowerment continues.

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