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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