How does symbolism, irony, plot, title, historical reference support the theme of the story?The theme of women being powerless, while men dominate. In other words, a male-centered, western society.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Set in the Victorian Age, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" portrays a woman's repression, a repression which brings on mental illness.  Of course, the great irony of the story is that the narrator's husband, John, follows the advice of Dr. S. Weir Mitchell (the real doctor who treated Gilman herself) and has his wife confined in a room for bed rest in an effort to cure her depression, but this very confinement is what leads to her complete mental breakdown.

This mental breakdown is symbolized in the narrator's delusionary images of a woman trapped behind the hideous unsymmetrical pattern of a yellow wallpaper in the solitary bedroom where she is confined.  While she must remain in bed alone, the narrator has nothing with which to divert herself, so she stares for hours at the wallpaper. Having become obsessed with the pattern, she says that life is more exciting now than it used to be because she has "something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch."  Because she eats better and is more quiet than she has been, "John is so pleased to see me improve!"  Here, too, there is irony since the narrator is actually becoming worse, but her husband believes her better.

The destructive force of the patriarchal society of Gilman's narrator is apparent with the deterioration of the narrator's sanity.  The restrictions placed upon the woman do not allow her creativity any avenues or outlets.  So, she is forced to occupy her thoughts with something, and the ugly yellow wallpaper becomes her focus.  Had she been allowed to write or walk in the garden or see her baby as she had longed to do, Gillman's narrator may have been able to overcome her depression.  Gillman herself, having suffered post-partum depression and having been treated by Dr. Mitchell in real life, removed herself from his care; and, attributing her emotional problems in part to the confines of her marriage, she left her husband, as well.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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