There has been extensive debate on the relationship between the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and her husband. Decide where you fall in this debate, and explain the evidence from the story that supports your critique of their relationship.

One could argue that the relationship between the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper' and her husband, John, is more like that between a paternalistic doctor and his patient than one between a loving husband and his wife. This is illustrated by the doctor's complete lack of affection toward his convalescent wife.

Expert Answers

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

If we didn't know for sure that the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is married to John, we couldn't really be faulted for arriving at the conclusion that they are nothing more than patient and doctor.

The way that John treats his wife is virtually identical to how...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

If we didn't know for sure that the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is married to John, we couldn't really be faulted for arriving at the conclusion that they are nothing more than patient and doctor.

The way that John treats his wife is virtually identical to how he'd treat a female patient he'd never met before. With a bedside manner that leaves much to be desired, John doesn't hesitate to diagnose his wife with hysteria, a common practice among the almost exclusively male medical profession at that time.

Not only that, but he infantilizes the narrator by expressly forbidding her from writing. Successive generations of feminist literary critics have focused in on this in support of their contention that "The Yellow Wallpaper" constitutes, among other things, a critique of patriarchal society and the way it stifles women's creativity.

What we have here, then, is a doctor-patient relationship rather than what we'd expect between a loving husband and wife. In dealing with his wife, John is a doctor first and a husband second (and a poor one at that). Having attributed his wife's behavior to the catch-all condition of hysteria, John has effectively washed his hands of the narrator and can safely leave her alone in her room, where she feels weak and hopeless pretty much all of the time.

Yet even though John is seldom around, he can still exert patriarchal control over his wife by way of his professional diagnosis, which she doesn't feel qualified to challenge. And so, effectively left by John to her own devices, she wiles away the desperate hours in her cramped little room.

There, she succumbs more and more to delusion, retreating into a world of fantasy that in some ways provides her with a sense of freedom from a marriage that is oppressive and based on asymmetrical power relations.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on