Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310
The narrator’s husband, John, is an esteemed physician. Unlike his wife, John lacks imagination and believes solely in science and practicality. Following the birth of their child, he controls every aspect of his wife’s recovery. Although he claims he wants his wife to make her own choices, he dismisses her requests to move to a different room, prevents her from seeing her friends, and denies her the mental stimulation she craves.
Because he is a physician, John has ultimate authority. He frequently asserts his command, stating that because he is a doctor, he knows best. John asserts control over his wife by frequently infantilizing her, talking down to her, and calling her pet names. He uses logic to undermine her wishes and imaginings. However, his language is always loving and attentive, so that the narrator goes along with his suggestions rather than seeing them as mechanisms of control. Ironically, given his position as a doctor, John’s involvement in the narrator’s life is exactly what pushes her into madness. His frequent absences from the house demonstrate his freedom of movement, a privilege of his status as a man and as a working professional, which contrasts starkly with the narrator’s confinement.
John’s character represents multiple systems of oppression: that of women by men, and that of the mentally ill by caregivers and society. These two issues have often been compounded by the domination of the medical field by men, and the resulting lack of attention to medical concerns specific to women. As a doctor, John dismisses the desires and self-assessments of his patient, and as a husband, he ignores even the most innocent of his wife’s requests. Though he is not a malicious character, his brash carelessness, lack of empathy, and innate sense of superiority make him a hostile figure in his wife’s environment.