Liberation Through Imagination
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, madness helps the narrator break away from complying with restrictive social norms. With only her husband, John, and her sister-in-law, Jennie, occasionally checking on her, the narrator lives in isolation and as a result soon descends into insanity. Throughout the story, the narrator becomes fascinated with the intricate wallpaper, and she begins to notice a “creeping” woman within the pattern of the wallpaper, which she starts to document in a hidden journal. The narrator’s changing perspective of the wallpaper reflects her increasingly defiant views on social stigma that a majority of men, including John, associated with women during the 19th century. Her ensuing insanity liberates her imaginative self from the confinements of her subordinate role as she starts to break away from her submissive character.
When she initially believes that her husband, John, is helping her with her illness, the narrator doesn’t notice the woman in the wallpaper, and even attempts to stop theorizing about the strange pattern. When she moves into the room, the narrator remarks, “[John] laughs at me so about this wall-paper!… nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies… But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.
” This quotation represents to what extent John suppresses the narrator’s independence as it demonstrates John’s power over the narrator. The narrator remarks that John, “laughs at me so about this wall-paper,” which alerts the reader to how John treats the narrator like a silly child and degrades her. John tells the narrator what to do, and essentially holds her prisoner to his own thoughts on women. He even stereotypes his own wife as, “nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies”; he handles the narrator as though she needs coddling and constant watch and doesn’t allow her any freedom. Although the narrator doesn’t seem to share the same opinions as John, she eventually conforms to John’s opinions of her as shown in the quotation. In this quotation, the author brands the narrator as a “nervous patient.
” As the adjective “nervous” entails a person who is compulsive and easily alarmed, this possibly foreshadows the future capricious behavior of the narrator. By complying to John’s opinions of herself, the narrator agrees with her own role of being subordinate to John for the beginning of the story. After a few months of isolation in her room, the narrator becomes mad and starts to shift her views on the stigma surrounding women, which causes her to begin “seeing”, and eventually becoming, the woman in the wallpaper. The narrator slowly grows distrusting of her husband and writes in her journal, “[John] asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him!.
.. that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.” This quotation demonstrates the narrator’s escape from her cage of subordination through her dismissal of her husband’s love and willingness to assist the woman in need. The narrator mentions that John, “pretended to be very loving and kind,” which shows that she now sees John as the enemy, and starts to defy his views on female roles.
The narrator demonstrates common signs of growing disconnect with the world around her through her tone becoming more aggressive and secretive, and also self-confirms her state with her increasing empathy towards the woman in the wallpaper when stating, “that poor thing,” commonly known as a sign of endearment. While the reader sees early on that the narrator is quite inventive, this creation of an imaginary woman reveals how the narrator’s isolation pushes her over the edge of sanity. As the narrator’s mind plunges fully into madness, she simultaneously frees herself from her role as a compliant subordinate to John. The yellow wallpaper reveals the narrator’s increasingly defiant opinion on John’s anti-feminist views, which leads to the narrator escaping her prison of subordination as she starts to develop an individual, albeit demented, mentality. While at first the narrator complied with all of John’s recommendations, such as ignoring the wallpaper, this submission of will ceases once the constant isolation drives her into insanity. The narrator starts to see the woman in the wallpaper, and eventually breaks away from her husband’s opinions against women holding any power in a marriage.
Through her madness, the narrator is freed from her imprisoned role as John’s submissive wife.