Feminism in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman
How does this story reflect the challenges put forward by the first wave of feminists?
The first wave of feminism refers to the women’s movement against the societal expectations on the role of women in the middle-class and upper-class women in the 18th century to the 20th century. It was against the domestic role that was expected of the women. They were not to venture towards professional fields. It was a movement against the male dominated society. The challenges faced by the feminists were the men or husbands in the society. The second challenge was the societal expectations. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is expected to be the perfect wife by the husband and not get involved in a writing career.
Gilman seems to critique the role and place of women in western cultures at the turn of the century (1900). How does she seem to view the role of women of this period?
The women in the nineteenth century were expected to be wives and mothers. That was their role. In the society, the men were involved in the public sphere, as leaders, businessmen and in the entertainment industry. The women at this time who ventured into the public domain were looked down on. They were even considered as prostitutes. Gilman saw the women at this time as trapped in cages by the societal norms and the men.
However, the women would after a while struggle and come out of these man-made cages. John in the novel represents the males in the society. While the narrator of the story represents the women in the society. When the narrator tells her husband that she wants to write, her husband forbids her from writing. He expects her to perform her wifely duties and not venture into the public domain. She is forced to write secretly in her journal. The writer herself had a passion for writing. She left her first husband and moved to California where she started writing.
Who is the woman behind the yellow-wallpaper trying to get out? Why does she creep around at night? there is also mention of creeping at the end of the story. what does the creeping seem to signify?
The woman behind the yellow wallpaper presents the narrator and all the women in the society trapped by the societal expectations. The woman’s creeping presents the uprising of the women’s feminist movement. Feminism fights for women to have the same opportunities as the men in the every role in the society be it in the professional or political environment. It goes against the societal and patriarchal power structure in the society. Where there is a deficiency in the societal treatment of the women verses the men, the feminists point it out.
The way John treated his wife was considered normal in the 19th century. However as we read the story in the 20th century, John’s treatment is repressive and controlling. John believes he is helping his wife however what he is doing is destroying her. With no outlet for her imaginative and creative self, she is driven to madness. She starts imagining things and women in the house creeping all over. The feminists saw the danger of the repression of the women and spoke out for the women’s rights.
The yellow wallpaper represents the male authority in the society. Due to his repressive nature, the woman in the society is struggling to come out. The wallpaper is used symbolically. First of all its stench fills the house showing the injustice against the women that exists at that time. The yellow paper stains the woman’s clothes and other things in the house. This symbolizes the way the discrimination against women is continued in every generation through the passing of the society’s expectations from the father to the son.
The ending is ambiguous. It is difficult to say whether the heroine is empowered at the end, or if she’s just plain nuts. What do you think happened in the end? Who holds the final power in the final situation, the husband or the wife?
The narrator goes mad at the end of the story. This means at the end if male domination is left to continue in the society, they will be terrible repercussions. The women will indeed become depressed due to repressed talents and gifts. The narrator sees women being choked. This shows the women’s careers and goals being crushed by the society. The woman creeping symbolizes a woman who cannot yet be an individual.
She operated behind the women. However it is the first step in gaining victory over the societal expectations. When the main character tears the yellow paper, it shows the woman realizes the importance of her freedom. When the story started, the yellow wallpaper was something she was interested in. After a while she senses the danger of the paper. At the end she tears the paper and creeps above her husband signifying the triumph of the woman over the male authority. However, even though she tears the paper, some remains on the wall. It shows that the feminist movement has begun however there is still a lot to be done to ensure equality in social and economic sectors in the society.
The solution in ending the discrimination against the women lies in the woman. She has to stop conforming to the societal expectations and break free. She has to take bold steps and break free. The woman describes the house as an old house, having a gothic appearance. This symbolizes that the people should leave the out-dated practices and treatment of women.