Explore the theme of the suppression of women in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the suppression of women is paramount; the narrator's husband and brother, both doctors, use a combination of masculine and medical authority to lock her up. By characterizing her as an irrational and unscientific woman, they are able to ignore her perfectly sensible objections to this toxic course of treatment.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the wife of a doctor and the sister of another. They use a combination of patriarchal and medical authority to suppress and imprison her so that physical escape is impossible, and the only way she can escape mentally is to go mad.

The narrator describes her husband, John, as "practical in the extreme." He regards himself as highly rational, and has no patience with "things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures." John adopts an attitude of masculine practicality, stressing science and logic, in opposition to what he sees as the feminine tendency to be emotional and irrational. However, it quickly becomes clear that John himself is being unreasonable. The narrator says rather diffidently that she disagrees with his opinion that she should be cooped up in a room with bars on the windows and forced to rest. She says:

Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

There is nothing irrational in this idea, certainly nothing that a doctor or a husband would be justified in dismissing out of hand.

As the story progresses, the narrator stops expressing even such mild opposition to her husband and brother as this. She has no choice but submit to masculine authority, ostensibly backed by science and reason, but really an exercise of mere power. They force their dogmatic views upon her and shut her away in a room that is half nursery and half jail, reflecting her status as child and prisoner. It is scarcely surprising that the strain of such oppressive treatment ends in insanity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team