Write a short critique about Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" that addresses the assumptions that "literary texts mirror societal attitudes about gender" and  that "oppression of...

Write a short critique about Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" that addresses the assumptions that "literary texts mirror societal attitudes about gender" and  that "oppression of women can be seen as a historical fact."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both assumptions are present in Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper."  One of the most striking conditions featured is how the oppression of women can be seen as a historical fact.  Gilman's work operates as almost as a narrative on how the silencing of women's voices was an embedded part of American historical and social development.  This can be seen in several instances in the story.  It is not an accident that the woman narrator is unnamed.  She does not seem to have an identity and her voice that emerges to the reader is almost covertly communicated. This is reflected in how the narrator is constantly discouraged from writing or engaging in anything that is remotely assertive in terms of her identity.  She is unnamed and is not validated as a woman, reflective of the social attitudes of the time period.  At repeated moments, the narrator feels compelled to say that "he does not believe I am sick!"  This reflects a pattern of silencing the voice of women and ensuring that their narratives are not validated.  John's insistence that his wife "lacks self- control" is another example of how there is a dominant social stereotype that locks women in gender- stratified roles.  John's attitudes towards his wife is reflective of something more in the social setting and historical condition:

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency-- what is one to do? My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.

John's paternalistic attitudes towards women is echoed on a larger level, as seen in how "friends and relatives" as well as the narrator's own brother do nothing to question John's diagnosis.  It is clear that the private narrative in which John fails to acknowledge his wife's voice is reflective of a wider condition.  This helps to emphasize the assumption that the short story displays the oppression of women as a historical fact.  

In explaining why she wrote the short story, Gilman underscores how literary texts mirror societal attitudes about gender.  Gilman suggests that she wrote the story to prevent women from suffering in silence:   

Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.

Two distinct realities emerge from this admission.  The first is that Gilman, herself, experienced the predicament of the narrator in the story.  Gilman's physician who prescribed the cure of "rest" silenced her voice to a point where she almost went insane.  This reflects how there was a distinct social attitude towards women, something that Gilman herself experienced.  At the same time, the fact that the physician "never acknowledged" her narrative helps to substantiate the need for literature to raise awareness about social attitudes regarding gender.  Gilman suggests that the end purpose of her writing the story was to "save people from being driven crazy, and it worked."  Gilman writes a literary text that mirrors social attitudes about gender in order to transform them.  It is in this reality in which the assumption about literary texts mirroring societal attitudes about gender becomes evident.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

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