The Yellow Wallpaper Questions and Answers
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper book cover
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In "The Yellow Wallpaper," what is the relationship between the narrator and her husband?  

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The narrator is a doctor who although probably filled with good intentions, comes off seeming domineering.  He treats his wife almost  like a little child. Right off the bat she mentions that "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage."He is laughing at her silly ideas about the vacant house they've taken; she tries to blow it off by saying that's just what marriage is like.  She is trying to obey and play the role of a "good wife"; already though, you sense a strain.  She mentions that he doesn't believe she's sick, and forbids her to work.  Personally, she disagrees, but supposes he is right, so she acquiesces.  The tension makes her "unreasonably angry with John sometimes" which causes friction, so she takes "pains to control myself -- before him, at least". She says that "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction" which indicates that he likes to feel in control of her, like he is taking care of her, but might go overboard and be a bit manipulative and controlling.

All of these things point to a forced relationship that is outwardly polite, but inwardly strained and unhappy.  In the end as the narrator slowly loses control of her mental state, we see that anger towards John come out as she locks him out of the room, refusing to let him in and help.  That inward strain finally takes its toll, and the results are disturbing and unfortunate.

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cehaines5 | Student

The complicated relationship between the narrator and her husband is an essential element to Gilman's work. The narrator's spouse is not just her partner, but also her doctor. Thus, she has no impartial party to turn to in order to discuss the medical and psychological care she is receiving, and she also has no impartial party to turn to in order to discuss her marriage and wifely duties. This leads to a serious conflict of interest whereby the narrator has neither an adequate doctor nor an adequate, emotionally supportive spouse. The narrator herself, in the first few pages, considers her predicament as she postulates that her husband's role as her physician is precisely why she does not get better and wonders what she is meant to do when it is her very husband, a well-respected physician, who tells everyone that nothing is really wrong with her.

When examining the advice and demands placed on the narrator by her husband, it is clear that he views his wife much as a father would a child, but is very "careful and loving." She goes on to say that she can barely stir without special direction, indicating that her husband's love is actually oppressive and controlling.

Their relationship is further complicated by and reflected in the symbolic setting of the story. On her husband's orders, the narrator is more or less confined to her bedroom, which is revealed to be a renovated nursery with heavy, oppressive furniture. This reinforces the idea that the narrator's husband infantalizes his wife and also showcases the lack of physical or sexual connection between husband and wife.

ceciliachw | Student


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