In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the dominant/submissive relationship between an oppressive husband and his submissive wife pushes her from depression into insanity.
Flawed human nature seems to play a great role in her breakdown. Her husband, a noted physician, is unwilling to admit that there might really be something wrong with his wife. This same attitude is seen in her brother, who is also a physician. While this attitude, and the actions taken because of it, certainly contributed to her breakdown; it seems to me that there is a rebellious spirit in her. Perhaps unconsciously she seems determined to prove them wrong. As the story begins, the woman — whose name we never learn — tells of her depression and how it is dismissed by her husband and brother.
“You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high Kelly Flynn pg 2 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?” (Gilman 165). These two men — both doctors — seem completely unable to admit that there might be more to her condition than than just stress and a slight nervous condition. Even when a summer in the country and weeks of bed-rest don’t help, her husband refuses to accept that she may have a real problem. Throughout the story there are examples of the dominant – submissive relationship.
She is virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover her health. She is forbidden to work, “So I . . .
am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.” (Gilman 165). She is not even supposed to write: “There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word.” (Gilman 167). She has no say in the location or decor of the room she is virtually imprisoned in: “I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted .
. . But John would not hear of it.”(Gilman 166). Kelly Flynn Pg 3 She can’t have visitors: “It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work.
. . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.” (Gilman 169). Probably in large part because of her oppression, she continues to decline. “I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything.
. .” (Gilman 169). It seems that her husband is oblivious to her declining condition, since he never admits she has a real problem until the end of the story — at which time he fainted. John could have obtained council from someone less personally involved in her case, but the only help he seeks was for the house and baby. He obtains a nanny to watch over the children while he was away at work each day: “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby.” (Gilman 168). And he had his sister Jennie take care of the house.
“She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper.” (Gilman 170). Kelly Flynn Pg 4 He does talk of taking her to an expert: “John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.” But she took that as a threat since he was even more domineering than her husband and brother. Her friend was under his care at one time and was telling her terrible stories about the place. Not only does he fail to get her help, but by keeping her virtually a prisoner in a room with nauseating wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, let alone offer any kind of mental stimulation, he almost forces her to dwell on her problem.
Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner. Perhaps if she had been allowed to come and go and do as she pleased her depression might have lifted: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.” (Gilman 169) It seems that just being able to tell someone how she really felt would have eased her depression, but John won’t hear of it. The lack of an outlet caused the depression to worsen: “. .
. I must say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief! But the effort Kelly Flynn Pg 5 is getting to be greater than the relief.” Meanwhile her reaction is to seek to prove him wrong. “John is a physician, and perhaps . .
. perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (Gilman 165). It seems to me that while putting on an appearance of submission she was frequently rebelling against her husband’s orders. She writes when there is nobody around to see her, she tries to move her bed, but always keeps an eye open for someone coming.
This is obvious throughout the story. It also seems to me that, probably because of his oppressive behavior, she wants to drive her husband away. “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious!” (Gilman 167). As her breakdown approaches she actually locks him out of her room: “I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes.
I want to astonish him.” (Gilman 179). I see no reason for this other than to force him to see that he was wrong, Kelly Flynn Pg 6 and, since she knew he couldn’t tolerate hysteria, to drive him away. At the end of the story she goes completely nuts and wants to be locked in the room so that she can free the woman from the bared walls. She wants to be kept inside the room because outside you have to creep around and everything is green instead of yellow. So she continues to creep along the walls dragging her shoulder so that she does not loose her way around the room.
When her husband sees what she is doing and faints, she gets mad because he is in the way of her path and she has to creep over him. The ending quotes just go to show how messed up she really is, “I’ve got out at last,” “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the wallpaper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman 180)Overall I thought the story was most interesting but slightly odd. It is truly original and I have never read a story like it. It just goes to make you think what kind of state of mind Gilman was in when she wrote it.
Bibliography Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” 1892. Handout from English class. Pages 165-180 English Essays