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The Movement for Women's Rights Inside "the Yellow Wallpaper"

Essay by review  •  February 9, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,627 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,287 Views

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Women have been mistreated, enchained and dominated by men for most part of the human history. Until the second half of the twentieth century, there was great inequality between the social and economic conditions of men and women (Pearson Education). The battle for women's emancipation, however, had started in 1848 by the first women's rights convention, which was led by some remarkable and brave women (Pearson Education). One of the most notable feminists of that period was the writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was also one of the most influential feminists who felt strongly about and spoke frequently on the nineteenth-century lives for women. Her short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" characterizes the condition of women of the nineteenth century through the main character's life and actions in the text. It is considered to be one of the most influential pieces because of its realism and prime examples of treatment of women in that time. This essay analyzes issues the protagonist goes through while she is trying to break the element of barter from her marriage and love with her husband. This relationship status was very common between nineteenth-century women and their husbands.

In "The Yellow Wallpaper" Gilman presents the behavior of society of the time. The protagonist is suppressed by her husband, John, and her brother, though they both mean well. The way she is treated by her husband and her brother is not outwardly "mean" because they never deal with her in anger, but the way that they suppress her by not letting her express her feelings or do what she wants, is still abuse. Even though, the way that they are treating her is wrong, it does not seem wrong because they both act gentle and kind towards her and make her think that they really do care about her. Throughout the story, the protagonist states her intentions to herself, but then does not act upon them because of her husband. This is further shown when she speaks of her husband and her brother, who "is also of higher standing," (Gilman 317) showing the high ranking of men in society. They keep her from doing the things she wants because they believe it is best for her to rest. She disagrees. "Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good" (Gilman 317). On page 322, she tries to convince her husband that the treatment is not working, but he does not listen and just tells her to go to sleep. This just shows how she is not considered to know what is best, even for her own mental health. She does not even realize that this is happening. She just says things like "And what can one do?" (Gilman 317) or "But what does one do?" (Gilman 317). I believe the entire purpose for her mental health problems lies in the fact that she is trying to hold back the feeling that she cannot express herself or give an opinion about her own problems. In American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site, Wohlpart claims that prior to the twentieth century, men assigned and defined women's roles. It is considered improper for a woman to openly express dissatisfaction and anger. She says at the bottom of page 317 that she gets "unreasonably angry with John sometimes" and she blames it on her "nervous condition." John tells her not to "neglect proper self control" (Gilman 317). So she is not allowed to express herself in speech nor in her writing, which I think she used for comfort and as a release. The mental-battle with doing what is considered proper and what she wants to do is what is slowly driving her crazy.

Symbolism is seen all throughout this short story. I have six examples that I found to be the most symbolic of women not having rights in the nineteenth century. The first one is the use of the character Jennie, in contrast to the protagonist, to represent lifeless women who allow such degrading treatment. She is the typical woman desired by men of the nineteenth century, a woman who is a "perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper"(Gilman 320). Jennie is everything that the protagonist is not. The second example comes from the nursery, the room that the protagonist lives. When they first arrive at the house, John makes his wife live in the old attic nursery. His wife hates this room and he only laughs at her when she complains about the wallpaper in the room. When the protagonists asked for a simple change of rooms, she was not given it. This shows how men of the nineteenth century held power over women. The nursery can also display her status in society--which is legally a child, because of the rights of women at that time (Eichelberger 287). Also, when John talks to his wife, he refers to her as "little girl" or other nicknames. Because the room was an old nursery the idea of her being a "little girl" or just being lesser of a person-comes to mind. This brings up my third example, of the protagonist never having a name. John never uses her name, therefore he never really recognizes her as neither a person nor an equal. The symbolism of namelessness suggests worthlessness and inferiority, which reveals a woman's insignificance in the nineteenth century.

The last three examples come from objects inside the nursery. The first one is the bars on the windows. The bars can be symbolic of the division of men and women and how the women are being held back. It may even stand for the "forever imprisonment" of being a child. The second example is from the immovable bed. The immovable bed symbolizes the marriage that John and the protagonist have, which is nailed to the floor. Even though the protagonist wants to change their relationship, she has no power to do so. The relationship within their marriage comprises of an oppressive husband, and his passive wife. She is stuck in a relationship that she obviously does not want to be in. Even though the reader sees the protagonist as being passive because she "let's

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