The Yellow Wallpaper: Suppression of Women in the 19th Century and Escape

Date:  2022-01-04 03:36:40
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In the nineteenth Century women never had the privileges they enjoy in the contemporary world now. The woman was perceived and expected to be homemakers, bear children, and not to perform tasks that men could perform. In a male-dominated century, women were almost seen as nothing except to bring forth children. This perception of women in the society at that period led to most women feeling trapped, trapped by traditions and the male domination. Such traps and confinements on women were not easy to escape. The confinement denied women their freedom and independence. Charlotte Perkin Gilman who was a feminist writer by that time, in her story "The Yellow Wallpaper" sheds more light about the confines. In the short story, she depicts herself as suffering from postpartum depression. She is confined to a room where she gets worse with her insanity. Through the essay, we shall endeavor to look at most symbols Gilman uses in her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" and see how such symbols are indeed connected to the life of women in the 19th-century experience.

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The first and most apparent symbol relating to the central theme is the yellow wallpaper itself. The wallpaper represents the mindset towards the women at that time. Such a mindset made a woman to be a prisoner to the spheres of life at that time. Further, the wallpaper symbolizes the perception towards women in the 19th century. "It is dull enough to confuse the eye in the following, pronounced enough to irritate and provoke study constantly, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance, they suddenly commit suicideplunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard " (p115). Women could not have independence or freedom of choice to obtain a career. The women were left home taking care of the families as the husbands worked. In so many ways, the women had a reason to be resentful. They have deprived off their rights and got so little in the society. Such suppressions could for sure lead to such insanity as narrated.

As the narrator tears down the wallpaper, we find another symbolic action relating to the dominant theme of the story. The intent of tearing down the wallpaper by the narrator is to free the supposedly "woman" in that wallpaper. The wallpaper being the confinement that has always confined her, the narrator wants to free her to regain her lost sanity. "I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (p768). In this quote, it is clear that the narrator/author now has identified herself with the woman who was trapped in the wallpaper. She believes to have freed herself from the wallpaper that bound her.

"I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls, and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store." (p270) In this quote, the narrator tried to shed light on how women were perceived and likened to the level of children. In the same vein, the author uses a symbolic term of the nursery to imply how women of the 19th century were likened to the little children. John, who was the husband of the narrator, had a tendency of treating her as a child and in her state, the author turned to having natural tendencies and fantasies.

In another account, the narrator says "I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once. And John is so queer now that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself." (766). Her writings are symbolized by the creeping. John, her husband, does not want her to write. However, she goes on writing behind his back and mostly does her "creeping" when John is not at home. During the day she is free to creep since the husband is away, at night she cannot write because she is trapped. This brings out the male dominance that existed in the 19th century. Women had no independence to make their own choices but had to be dictated by the husbands.


Gilman had an impression that women in the society were oppressed of their equality. The author seems not to understand why her husband, who was a physician, cannot take her illness seriously. She is treated like a child by the husband, locked in a room and stays in the room gazing at the wallpaper. At the same time, she does not understand why she has to be denied a chance to do her writing. Eventually, the narrator tears down the wallpaper. By tearing down the wallpaper, the narrator tries to free the woman whom later she identifies herself with from the suppression and confinement. The freedom from the wallpaper is her escape from suppression. Indeed, all throughout her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman employed many symbols. These symbols made it easier for a reader to connect with ease the life experience of women in the nineteenth century in the society.

Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The yellow wallpaper. Project Gutenberg, 1999.

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