Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is partly autobiographical. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote it after she fled from her husband with her infant daughter to California. More important than the story’s similarities to Gilman’s own experience is the larger issue of a woman’s right to be creative and autonomous. The story can be seen as advocating a woman’s right to act and speak for herself; the alternative clearly leads to madness, as it does for Jane.
At the time of the story, most people believed that women were delicate and prone to madness if overstressed. A common treatment for their presumed mental illnesses combined isolation, rest, and inactivity—the very things that cause Jane’s breakdown. From her own account, readers know that Jane enjoys writing and reading, yet John considers these to be dangerous activities to be avoided at all costs. At that time, it was common to remove a depressed woman from all sources of stress or sensory stimulation; women such as Jane were separated from their children, kept in bed, hand-fed, bathed, and massaged. It is precisely this type of treatment that drives Jane to begin hallucinating. The silent madness into which Jane withdraws is not only her reaction to the cure that men prescribe for her, but her only available form of rebellion against these tyrannies.
As Jane becomes more distanced from the world and from any source of sensory stimulation, she begins to hallucinate. Her visions of the...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
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"The Yellow Wallpaper" is the story of a woman who suffers from depression. Advised by her husband to rest, the woman becomes obsessed by the yellow wallpaper that decorates the room in which she has been confined.
Role of Women
''The Yellow Wallpaper'' examines the role of women in nineteenth-century American society, including the relationship between husbands and wives, the economic and social dependence of women on men, and the repression of female individuality and sexuality. The Victorian Age had a profound impact on the social values in the United States. Victorian values stressed that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere. Suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of her son, the protagonist is advised to get complete bed rest by her husband and brother, despite her suggestions that she would like to write and read. While she does secretly write in a journal, it is made clear that her husband is to be the final decision-maker and that she has no role other than to be a charming wife and a competent mother. In fact, John often treats her like a child, calling her his "little girl" and his "blessed little goose." When the narrator has a "real earnest reasonable talk" with John during which she asks him if she can visit some relatives, he does not allow her to go.
"The Yellow Wallpaper," because of its first-person description of mental illness, is also...
(The entire section is 534 words.)