How is oppression portrayed in "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is based on the author's own experiences with a faulty system for people who suffer from psychological conditions; a system devoid of knowledge about the true needs of female mental health sufferers.

According to the article by Gilman titled "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper," she once visited a physician who advised her, upon learning of her issues with depression, to abandon all intellectual activity 

[...] a noted specialist in nervous diseases[...] put me to bed and applied the rest cure, [...] and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as...

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In order to answer this question we should consider the feminist approach in literature. According to the feminist methodology, the traditional roles of women are constrained to the patriarchal order, in which masculine ways of thinking are privileged. Furthermore, this approach allows us to identify the misrepresentations of women’s role in society and helps us to look for social misconceptions that treat masculine behavior as a norm and feminine viewpoint as a deviation.

In the case of “The Yellow Paper”, in order to treat her wife’s postnatal depression, the narrator’s husband, John confines her to a room in a certain summerhouse. He also forbids her to execute any task, including reading or writing. This attitude exemplifies two distinct roles: the narrator’s husband, who personifies order, authority, and law, and the narrator who has no other choice but to be restraint to the role of good mother and wife, or as the feminists would call the angel in the house.

However, the narrator seems to defy the traditional feminine roles and becoming hysterical is her way to revolt. The wallpaper is full of symbols reflecting the narrator’s wish for defiance of the patriarchal order. For instance, the woman she sees behind the wallpaper is her own image trying to free from the oppressor, in this case, the husband, John.

Conclusion, if we place John at the discursive centre, as someone who represents the patriarchal authority, we consider the narrator as being ill. However, taking into account the narrator’s point of view, as a possible victim of the patriarchal system, we may say that her illness is a way to defy the traditional women roles in society.

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