What is the theme of "The Yellow Wallpaper"?
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The story may be construed as the revelations of a woman being overwhelmed by madness over a three-month period. Confined mainly in the top room of a mansion as a prescription to cure a nervous disorder, the narrator sinks into schizophrenia, characterized by her identification with a woman within the walls who seems to be clawing her way out of the grotesquely baroque yellow wallpaper adorning the room.The power of this story depends on the fact that the narrator describes some of the details without totally understanding their place in her increasing disassociation from reality. We learn in paragraph 32, for example, that some of the wallpaper in her room is torn. A natural conclusion is that she herself has torn it (for she tears it completely as the story progresses), but has begun doing so unknowingly—a symptom of her illness. Similarly, her bedstead has been bitten, and we learn in paragraph 230 that she has bitten it at least once. Is it fair to conclude that she has been gnawing the wood regularly during the period of her confinement? Additionally, she mentions the temptation to jump from the window (paragraph 240), but observes early in the story that the barred windows must have been placed in the room as a safeguard for small children (paragraph 31). Questions: Were the bars installed initially for children, or for her? Or was the room selected for her because of the bars?
I would say that one can find several themes in Gilman's work. One particular theme would be the validation of a woman's voice. I think that the exploration of a woman's voice becomes a central theme or message in the story. The fact that the narrator is within a predicament where she is not heard and where her voice is not validated is of vital importance to the overall meaning of the story. This is seen when the husband cannot fully understand his wife's condition, forbidding her to go outside or to keep a diary. The continued suppression of a woman's voice becomes a critical theme in the story and is part of the reason why it manifests itself in the creation of storylines within the wallpaper itself. It is this need to have a voice heard, to be able to receive acknowledgement, and to experience validation at all possible costs that becomes a major theme of Gilman's work.
I define theme to my students as the main idea of a piece. There are many themes present in "The Yellow Wallpaper" depending on one's own interpretation of the work. Many find it to be a descent into madness and the causes behind this descent. I, however, believe it to be a woman's personal fight for freedom within the confines of a Victorian mentality. Women were not granted the right to intellectual pursuits. The narrator clearly separates her identity from her sister-in-law's by claiming that Jenny believes it is the writing that makes the narrator ill. The narrator, Jane, also pities Jenny for having no other aspirations other than that within the domestic sphere. She has clearly placed herself outside the traditional Victorian female role. One who aspires to intellectual activities is looked upon with suspicion. The wallpaper is a metaphor for society's limitations on women. She must break through and tear down this preconceived notion of women to become free. It is only through an escape from the wallpaper, society's expectations, that she can become the woman she wants to be. Theme is defined by the meaning you garner from a story. I feel the narrator longs for freedom and can only attain this goal through a process of disassociation with her former self. Freedom is gained when she tears down the confining role she has been placed in. Is it better to be free and crazy or trapped and miserable?
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