Is John clearly a domineering husband who wants to have absolute control over his wife?  

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kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question for the discussion board, since it is one that is based upon opinion.

I personally find it VERY difficult to understand John's rationale for his "treatment" of his wife.  I realize that during this time period, this type of treatment was quite common for people who suffered certain mental illnesses; however, there is clearly a detachment here.  John refused to listen to his wife's pleas and simply swept aside his wife's suggestions for her treatment, etc., and more importantly, he denied her one of her great loves, writing in her journal.  This was her only outlet and she was limited to writing in it a short period of time each time she was able to do so. 

I don't think John is someone who desires to have complete control over his wife; he clearly is trying to treat her, but he is very inflexible and one of his biggest problems is that he does not listen to his wife. He ignores her wishes, which is inexcusable to me.  He was a huge player in the demise of his wife's mental health.


amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, it is obvious that John wants control.  He favors the advice of the male doctors and his own opinions rather than the suggestions and pleas of his wife.  Women were considered the weaker sex when this story was written (and, I guess, still are in many ways still today--take the fact that we are still only paid 80 cents to every dollar the men make in the same business) based on the fact that most women are more emotional than men.

John, whether he realizes it or not, is at fault for his wife's inability to recover from her mental instability.  Fortunately for today's women, doctors have come a long way in their treatment of women's issues and there are lots of women doctors to help keep the men on track.

hedwig | Student

I think John is a very complex personality, he seems like the obvious villain of the story, but is not as bad as he appears to be. I don't think that the narrators depression is the true reason why John acts so demanding, since during the period of time the story was written it was normal for females to be the weaker side and to be under the power of the male. It can as well be that he controls her because he is deeply concerned about her mental health. I think the fact that he is the husband and the doctor of the narrator gives him so called total power over her .. in the way that if the doctors word won't work the kind husbands will.
I think John sees her as some kind of a toy, that he can control around, which we can also see by the way he calls her .. little girl, blessed little goose.

kellyb16 | Student

You have to see this short-story in the context of the time it is written. In the 19th century, the man was dominant and made the necessary decisions for the entire family. The women’s opinion was not asked and in case the woman gave her opinion it wasn’t listened to. Women were not expected to think for themselves. Men believed that the women’s brain worked in a different way. Women were seen as too “underdeveloped” to cope with political or economical questions. Women were to sit at home taking care of the kids and the household. These simple tasks were to keep women occupied and happy. John is simply a product of the society he is living in. He has domineering ways and he is patronizing his wife. He treats her as a naïve little child. But I don’t believe he is a cruel man who wants to harm his wife deliberately. He is a practical physician who genially believes that he is giving his wife the correct therapy for her depression. For him it’s normal to be in control. He is raised in a society where men were used to be the “boss” and women were to follow their guidelines without questioning them. In the text the woman is feeling guilty when she is questioning the therapy her husband has given her. It was not appropriate behaviour for a woman to think for herself.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman has written this paper as an attack on the role model of women and the views toward women’s mental health in the 19th century.

timothyto | Student

As the title/question mentions, John is very dominant over his wife in the "Yellow Wallpaper". However, John still cares for his wife which may suggest his soft side.

 John never listens to his wife's suggestions to leave the house for a while to visit family as she thinks it might help her getting better faster. John refuses as he thinks it's too much of excitement for her. He doesn't want her to write stories as he thinks it may have an influence on her depression. Then there's also the fact that John only uses the methods for healing from the depression which have been imposed by men (ex: John's brother is a doctor like he is) which refers to what men used to believe about the opposite sex: women are inferior to men. John also once called her: "my little girl", which isn't really considered as normal talk between two loving adults.

 On the other hand, maybe John's will to have control over her suggests that he really cares deeply for her and wants to do everything that must be done to help her getting better from her mental illness...

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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