“There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish John would take me away from here!” (Gilman). “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is a feminist story, published during the nineteenth century. Gilman was born in 1860, a time when women were being oppressed by and inferior to men. She started joining feminist and social reform groups, and for a while was even instituted in a sanatorium due to depression and nervous breakdowns; she incorporated her beliefs and life experiences throughout her story (online-literature). Using the aspects of feminist criticism, “The Yellow Wallpaper” can be analyzed by using character, dialogue, and symbols.
First off, a reader can analyze the story by using character. Analyzing characters helps a reader develop an understanding for why they do, say, and think certain things. The main character in this story is Jane, she is “happily married” and on the road to becoming a conformist female. At the beginning of the story, a reader can see that she accepts that males are superior, and believes that his wants and needs are more important than her own. For example, in the story she thinks things such as: “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already” (Gilman). During this time, women were supposed to be the housewives; their “jobs” were to please the men, which is why the men were so controlling and took advantage of them. For example, when Jane wrote: “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction” (Gilman), she is proving that he is in control. Jane is the typical conformist female, where as her husband is the typical male. Her husband, John, believes that men are superior over women, not unusual for a man of that time. It is described in the story that John is basically stubborn and doesn’t truly care about Jane, for example, “He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well” (Gilman). He can talk the talk and pretend to be caring, but in the end it’s truly all for “his sake”.
Next, dialogue can be used to analyze the way men and women communicated during the time of the story. The way John talks to his wife shows how typical men treated women; he is shown making comments such as: “What is it, little girl?” (Gilman). The fact that he refers to her as “little girl” just shows his level of respect for his wife by comparing her and talking to her as if she was a child. Throughout the story, the dialogue that is being used really shows who is superior. An example that goes along with this is: “My darling, I beg of you, for my sake and our child’s sake, as well as 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). What John is saying makes it so that what Jane is saying/thinking is just foolish and that as a Physician, and also as a man, she shouldn’t dare doubt him. Towards the end of the story you can sense that the role of superiority is beginning to change. For example, “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Jane has broken the barrier and become the superior one leaving her husband in utter shock.
Lastly, the symbols in the story can describe how women are mistreated. Throughout the story Jane becomes obsessive with this yellow wallpaper. It’s disgusting, and an “artistic sin”. Jane’s mind goes crazy over the wallpaper; it becomes apparent that the wallpaper represents her husband and herself. For example, “I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. 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). The quote represents how her and her husband are on two different levels, which comes from the “two breaths didn’t match”, and also how her husband is superior to her, which comes from one of the eyes being “a little higher than the other”. Jane starts to see the figure of a woman in the wallpaper, which the reader eventually understands that it represents herself. One night while examining the wallpaper she notices that: “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, 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” (Gilman). What is being said here is that, the wallpaper becomes bars that are trapping the woman. The woman is Jane, and the wallpaper is of course, her husband.
In conclusion, a reader can analyze “The Yellow Wallpaper” by looking into character, dialogue, and symbols. In the story Jane went from being a conforming female into a strong, independent female. Tired of her husband trapping her and oppressing her, she comes to a mental breakdown that allows her to have the power to speak up to him. Thanks to the wallpaper, she could then stop her husband from talking down to her, treating her unequally, and a whole lot of other oppressing elements; she was a hero for herself and just possibly for millions of other women.
Gilman, C. P. (1892). The Yellow Wallpaper . The New England Magazine.
Merriman, C. (2006). Retrieved April 1, 2011, from Online Literature: http://www.online-literature.com/charlotte-perkins-gilman/