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In "The Yellow Wallpaper", two important quotes are:
Quote 1: “The front pattern DOES move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” “Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.”
This quote ties into one of the major themes, which is the role of women in the 19th century. The woman or the women that the unnamed narrator sees trapped behind the wallpaper is symbolic of the women during this time period who felt trapped as they were economically and socially dependent upon men. This quote is also indicative of the unnamed narrator's mental illness, as she is seeing women behind the wall paper.
Quote #2 “I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.”
This quote ties into the theme of mental illness and male dominance. It shows how the John ( a doctor and a male) dismissed her mental illness as “nervous troubles.” (This was often the case during this time period as women’s mental illnesses were perceived as “a case of nerves.”)It is also ironic that the narrator says that her case is “not serious”, when actually this story shows the stages of a mental nervous breakdown.
In order to maintain control over women and to ensure that they remain second-class citizens, men attempted to prevent women from achieving their intellectual and creative potential. Treating women as children, men were able to usurp their human rights and have complete authority over them. John patronizes and dominates over his wife in the same way that many husbands did during this time period. Treating her as though she is an incompetent child, Gilman’s character writes, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.” She is stripped of all autonomy. With no intellectual or social stimulus, she retreats completely into her own imagination and finally loses touch with reality altogether.
Historically, “the resting cure” was a treatment prescribed at the turn of the nineteenth century to women who had a tendency towards “hysteria”. Developed by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell this treatment essentially imprisoned women, isolating them from any social contacts. Intellectual stimulation, such as reading, writing, drawing or painting was expressly forbidden. “John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.” All activity was limited to the extent that some women were restrained initially until their protests ceased.
Gilman’s character is forced to hide her frustrations and passively comply with her husband’s intolerable “treatment plan”. Her work, her writing, even the care of her own baby, is forbidden. Any sane person placed in this atmosphere eventually would lose their mind. Her desire for an emotional and intellectual connection with life are so compromised that in her isolated state she focuses on the patterns on the yellow wallpaper where she sees all the women struggling to get out. But she knows all too well that any attempt at escaping is futile for “the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down and makes their eyes white.” Finally, she finds herself inside the pattern and “shakes the bars hard.” Inside the wallpaper was the only place she was safe to express her anger, fear, and frustration. This was her only freedom.
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