The Yellow Wall-Paper The Yellow-Wallpaper as a Social Criticism Traditionally, men have held the power in society. Women have been treated as a second class of citizens with neither the legal rights nor the respect of their male counterparts. Culture has contributed to these gender roles by conditioning to these gender roles by conditioning women to accept their subordinate status while encouraging young men to lead and control.
Feminist criticism contends that literature either supports society’s patriarchal structure or provides social criticism in order to change this hierarchy. “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, depicts one women’s struggle against the traditional female role into which society attempts to force her and the societal reaction to this act. From the beginning of this work, the woman is shown to have gone mad. We are given no insight into the past, and we do not know why she has been driven to the brink of insanity. The “beautiful .. English place” that the woman sees in her minds eye is the way men have traditionally wanted women to see their role in society.
As the woman says, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road .. It makes me think of English places .. for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden – large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.” This lovely English countryside picture that this woman paints to the reader is a shallow view at the real likeness of her prison. The reality of things is that this lovely place is her small living space, and in it she is to function as every other good housewife should.
The description of her cell, versus the reality of it, is a very good example of the restriction women had in those days. They were free to see things as they wanted, but there was no real chance at a woman changing her roles and place in society. This is mostly attributed to the small amount of freedom women had, and therefore they could not bring about a drastic change, because men were happy with the position women filled. This creates a despair, of hopelessness and of downheartedness. The woman, on multiple occasions, wrote down, “And what can one do?” This lets the reader know that women as a whole were very oppressed in this time.
They had a role, and had to stick to it. In fact, their roles were so minor that at one point, she writes, “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” In this, one may begin to realize that men had such a high ranking over women, that the small amount of freedom a woman had was basically dictated still by her husband. Men often times did not know much about their wife, or care to sit down and talk with her. They did not take great care to know how she was doing, or why she was feeling the way she was.
The woman says, “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.” The woman is showing a small amount of frustration towards her husband, because he does not concern himself with such “small things”. The role of women in society was displayed quite clearly by the entrance of John’s sister. The woman writes, “There comes John’s sister.
Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfectionist and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which makes me sick!” John’s sister is representative of the typical woman. A woman who is pleased with her life, and wishes for no more. John’s wife, however, is rebelling on her place in society by writing. This is why she includes the statement; ” ..
I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which makes me sick!” Women were quite noticeably looked down upon in years past. The quote from the woman’s writings states, “I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake. ‘What is it, little girl?’ he said. ‘Don’t go walking about like that – you’ll get cold'”. The inclusion of him saying “little girl” shows that no matter what she does, she will not be considered equal.
Soon into the story, the woman begins to see a reflection of herself. Besides the psychological factors of her thinking it is REALLY a woman trapped in the walls, there is a social criticism. This woman is trapped in the walls, which represents the typical woman, and how the narrator feels. The woman does not want to go back into the walls where the other women are. She feels that the other woman wants to free herself from the bondage of the walls.
The woman in the walls will claw at the paper trying to free herself. This is a task that, no matter the effort, is almost always useless. The cell becomes more of a jail than a vacation home to the woman by the first few weeks. She writes, “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.
I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.” This passage depicts how she is feeling that her “traditional place” is not enough, and it is becoming trapping, instead of freeing. The woman begins to creep at times, but only by the nights. The woman writes, ” .. she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.” The pressure of a society is weighing down heavily on our protagonist now, and she is breaking free, but only when no one is around to see her rebellion. In the final moments of this story, the woman’s husband returns to see her.
She writes, “He stopped short by the door. ‘What is the matter?’ he cried. ‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘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!’ Now why should that man have fainted, but he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!'” This final passage shows that, when this woman rebels, and “escapes the wallpaper”, it is not highly looked upon. The woman made a power statement, by telling her husband that she had, in essence, found a new role in life, and he can not push her back.
When he can not handle her actions, she continues her new ways right over him. In conclusion, this story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, provided a great social and psychological criticism. It shows the reader how women have progressed so far in the recent years. This woman was the start of many, which finally led to making men and woman more equal, and this is the society that this woman wanted.