What is the main idea of the story, "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main idea of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the subordination of women to men and the dehumanizing treatment historically suffered by the former at the hands of the latter. Early in Gilman's story, which is told in the first person, the narrator laments the inability or unwillingness of her physician husband to respect and understand her condition:

John is a physician, and perhaps—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see, he does not believe I am sick!

Women in most cultures or societies have been treated as intellectually as well as physically inferior, and their roles in society had, for many centuries, been limited by these prejudices. Gilman's protagonist is condemned by virtue of her gender to remain a virtual prisoner in her own home, the gradual deterioration of her mental state being a direct result of the frustrations she endures. When she finally breaks and tears emotionally at the wallpaper lining her room, it is a futile effort at freeing herself from confinement that, the reader can be assured, would not exist were the character a male.

podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At heart, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a critique of women's position in nineteenth-century society. The narrator of the story suffers from what seems like post-partum depression, and she is forced by her husband and her doctor to take the traditional "rest cure" for all female ailments. This nameless woman is forbidden to read, write, or leave her room, and her thoughts begin to prey upon her.

This character's helplessness illustrates how powerless women were during this time in history. The woman has no money of her own, no social identity beyond being her husband's wife, and no control over her own actions. While Gilman's original audience tended to view the piece as merely a "horror story" about madness, it is regarded today as a landmark of feminist fiction.

coerman | Student

Having suffered from continuous nervous breakdown, and beyond, which nearly led to melancholia, and not having been treated the right way, I think that Charlotte Perkins Gilman is trying to make a statement. She wants to show the world how it is to be in this, what I would conclude out of the story, horrid situation. No one can really know how it is to feel trapped in a way, and I think this story has reflected a clear picture of how serious the situation is.

As she was given the wrong treatment and was nearly driven crazy, in my opinion the second reason why she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper is to avoid other patients coming into this horrible situation and frankly it did work! Patients with this illness do get treated in a different way then that they used to get treated.

I would say that Charlotte Perkins Gilman has achieved her goal.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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