Feminism, Womanhood, and The Yellow Wallpaper

“The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (Perkins -Gilman).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was named the sixth most influential woman of the twentieth century by Siena Research Institution (Edelstein). The Yellow Wallpaper is a tale of a woman suffering of depression. Being controlled by men all her life, she finally breaks free of the dependency on a male figure and tries to be an individual. Throughout the story, she has a strong dislike for the wallpaper in her bedroom, but as the story progresses the true meaning of the wallpaper is revealed, along with Jane’s desire to be free of John. Using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through John, Jane and the symbols.

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First, John is the misogynistic male in The Yellow Wallpaper. He is very controlling of Jane, and Jane often feels as the lesser person in their relationship. Jane often expects to be put down by John, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage” (Perkins-Gilman). Jane expects not to be taken seriously by John just because she is a woman. She has no self respect for herself and allows a male to have control over her.

Jane knows that she as a female is not allowed the same reign of freedom as John is. She is always being treated lesser than any man she’s ever known. John is very controlling of Jane, “…he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now” (Perkins-Gilman). John likes to control what Jane does at all times, from having her watched by Jennie to monitoring her when she takes her medicine. Jane is not allowed any freedom in the house, which causes her condition to worsen. The probable cause of her sickness is her always hiding everything she does, including writing.

Next, Jane is a very passive individual, she allows a man to take total control, until the end of the story. Jane is very imaginative, and as a child she was often left alone with her imagination, “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” (Perkins-Gilman). Jane has always had a bright imagination, she sees things many people aren’t able to see, for example the woman hiding behind the wallpaper whose always attempting to escape. Jane dislikes the wallpaper very much. “… of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things” (Perkins-Gilman).

Jane doesn’t like the wallpaper and throughout the story there is an underlying meaning to the wallpaper as the adjectives describe a dominant male figure. In this case Weir Mitchell, the misogynistic male. Jane being surrounded by strong male figures, she doesn’t want to be sent to Weir Mitchell because he would ultimately take her identity away.Last but not least, the biggest symbol throughout the story is of course the wallpaper. Jane begins to see a figure in the pattern of the wallpaper.

“I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design” (Perkins-Gilman). Jane beings to see a woman trying to break out of the wallpaper pattern, it represents Jane always being passive as a female but by the end of the story finally break free of being dependent on John and gaining her own independence as a woman. John always seems to refer to Jane as if she was a child. “And Dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head” (Perkins-Gilman) . Jane being treated as a child is a symbol of her dependence on John, until she breaks free from the ‘bars’ that she is behind she doesn’t realize that all this time she was being controlled by her husband.Using feminist criticism, the reader can analyze Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper through John, Jane and the symbols.

Gilman often wrote short stories about women breaking free of a society controlled by men, influencing many women to step up for themselves. The significance of The Yellow Wallpaper is that it takes a long time for a women to break free of being controlled by a male, especially in times when women weren’t equal to man. Thanks to writers like Gilman, women were able to stand up and be valued the same in a male dominant society.