How does "The Yellow Wallpaper" explore oppression?
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Oppression is a key theme in "The Yellow Wallpaper." The narrator, having just given birth and in a frail physical state, is isolated by her husband John to let her recover. However, he overdoes it, keeping her alone without any mental stimulation. While she has infrequent visitors, they only serve to exaggerate how alone and isolated she is otherwise. She suffers mood swings, and John misinterprets them as "female hysteria."
And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.
He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.
He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
(Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," library.csi.cuny.edu)
Her very real fears and mental deterioration are "silly fancies" instead of worthy of attention. Since she only sees people who agree John, she cannot make anyone aware of her state; her descent into madness at the end is a mental escape and rebellion against her captivity. Instead of forcing herself to conform to her husband's notions of mental sanity, she creates a mental place where he can't follow, a place where his rules of captivity and isolation have no meaning. When she is mentally free, she finds herself perfectly suited for her new world, even if she has withdrawn from the old one.
First you might read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper." See link. The story explores a very real oppression of women concerning childbearing and what many doctors of the time misunderstood about pregnancy and postpartum depression. The "rest cure" was a treatment resulting from misunderstanding women, pregnancy, and how to best support new mothers. Often those with authority such as doctors and men forced these treatments on women despite what women thought of the situation themselves. For example, the protaganist wants to write. She knows that writing will make her feel better. But she is forbidden to do anything that might overtax her. You might also look at this as an opportunity to discuss the oppression of women writers at the time.
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