Feminism is the belief that women should have economic, political, and social equality with men. In the 1900s, women did not have the same rights as they do today. Their job was basically staying home and raising their children with no capability to vote or go out and enjoy their free time. Using feminist criticism, a reader can evaluate the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman . “The Yellow Wallpaper” begins with the narrator, Jane, writing in her journal describing her summer house. With the help of John, Jane’s husband, Jane is forced to believe that she is suffering from a “nervous depression” because her opinions and views on women rights are not approved of in the 1900s. His belief leads him to control his wife in a way that confuses her and guides her into thinking she’s ill when she really isn’t. John’s sister Jennie acts as the housekeeper and nurse in the story which also convinces Jane that she’s sick. After looking at the wallpaper and seeing herself behind the pattern, Jane realizes that she is trapped and wants to break out. Setting, characters, and symbolism all illustrate a relationship to feminist criticism. This short story clearly shows that women didn’t have any rights back in the day.
The setting plays a major role in the story which connects to feminist criticism. The story takes place during the year 1899 in John’s summer vacation house. As Jane describes it she says, “It is quite alone standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people,”(Gilman 1). The house itself has been empty for years and what Jane doesn’t realize is that John got this house for her to be away from everyone, not because she is sick. Despite the fact that the house is mansion-like, Jane still feels as if something about it seems odd. The wallpaper catches her eye the most. She said, “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight,”(Gilman 2). In her journal entries, she explains how the patterns go in different directions repetitively. She mentions a woman trying to shake them, as if she wanted to escape but couldn’t. She didn’t want to bring it up to John because she wanted to be the only one who knew about it. The room she was constantly in kept her away from the rest of the world. She was enclosed in a small cell and had a daily routine setup by John which was very unnecessary.
The characters in the story all have odd relationships. Often times John treats Jane like a child. He gives her stern looks when she says something he doesn’t approve of and immediately tries changing her mind. One example is when Jane tells him she wants to move away. A short statement turned him off and he said, “’My darling,’ said he, ‘I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours, It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?’,”(Gilman 9). He makes her feel guilty for speaking her mind and because she is already so brainwashed she says nothing. Besides John, Jennie is also one of the characters in the story. She is John’s sister and acts as the nurse in the house. She’s a bit more lenient and lets Jane have her space whenever she wants. She still maintains to follow Johns rules, like when it comes to Jane writing inside her journal. Jane says, “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,”(Gilman 5). The narrator almost seems afraid of both John and Jennie finding her writing in her journal. It’s how she expresses her feelings and thinks that if she gets caught, they’ll both think she’s not improving.
Symbolism is thoroughly evident throughout the story. The wallpaper, which is mentioned frequently, shows a direct relationship towards Jane. At first is seems like a boys’ school had used it. Its color is a dirty yellow and looks very dull. It has random patches and weird patterns that go in different directions. Jane constantly stares at the pattern as it becomes more visible during certain light. Soon it becomes evident that it’s a woman. “Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breaths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other,”(Gilman 6). Sometimes there’s more than one and as one reads the story they start finding out the meaning of it and how it relates to feminist criticism. The wallpaper represents the structure of tradition and how all these women can’t escape. It wasn’t until the end when she finally realized that the woman behind those bars is her trapped, not able to escape. Gilman proficiently uses this technique to show the relationship between the woman behind the pattern and Jane. Jane’s journal is also another important part of symbolism. It’s her treasure chest that holds all her thoughts and feelings together. No one is supposed to know she is writing. Gilman wrote, “There comes John, and I must put this away, –he hates to have me write a word,”(Gilman 2). The narrator follows her husband’s rules and that’s where feminism comes into play. Jane is brainwashed into thinking she’s ill and every time she writes her feelings down on a piece of paper, John gets real mad because back in those days women weren’t allowed to think like that. Although after ripping the wallpaper off the walls, she finally told herself she was done listening to her husband.
To sum this up, people can realize the meaning of feminist criticism after reading “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The true meaning behind it is clearly evident. Symbolism was used a lot throughout the story and the setting and characters made it realistic. Women were treated much unfairly and this story shows how a man can overpower a woman, like John influencing Jane. It’s not right and luckily things took a major turn throughout history, giving women equal rights.