Feminism and The Yellow Wall-Paper

Charlotte Perkins Stetson is certainly releasing a feminist argument within The Yellow Wall-Paper.  Stetson begins her text by giving the reader a glimpse into what is happening to the narrator.  The narrator is obviously sick, or believed to be so by her physician husband.  She asks the reader several times, “what can one do?” (Stetson, 647-648).  This verbally displays the helplessness that the narrator feels as a woman who is being oppressed.  Her husband denies her of her passion to write and of her autonomy from the very start of the text.  She is powerless and helpless in challenging his male authority.

Prior to women leading public lives, a common belief that men held was that by limiting women to the confinements of a home, they were protecting them from moral corruption and thus doing them a favor (Harman).  It was in their best interest to allow their husband to decide what was good for them.  Unfortunately, many women at first accepted such limitations, but after repeatedly being exposed to aspects of public life, women began to demand autonomy. Essentially, this patriarchal system that allows men to confine women is the very issue being addressed within The Yellow Wall-Paper. “At first her meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient that to give way to such fancies.” (Stetson, 649).  This passage shows the male authority that the narrator’s husband has over her.  It also shows perfectly the idea that confinement is better for her, and that as a man in authority, he knows inherently what is better for the narrator than she does.

I would like to discuss one feminist theory, referred to as “images of women” (Parker, 151).  This theory suggests that if a woman is shown to be good, then the work is a good work.  In the same way, if the woman is not given a positive representation, then the work is not good (Parker, 152).  This idea that a woman must remain “good” is limiting and arguably the reason why the narrator is brought away to this house to begin with.  At first the narrator is repulsed by the appearance of the yellow paper; however, as she continues on with her story she admits that “I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper.” (Stetson, 650).  This goes back to the initial idea that men confined women in order to help them and that at first, women passively accepted this.  Here we have the narrator embracing the wallpaper that confines her, beginning to think that maybe it is good for her.

There’s a tendency among men to talk down on women, to try to teach them and insist that they know more about her than she could possibly understand herself.  This issue is seen in John constantly trying to convince the narrator that she is sick.  This behavior on his part is arguably what makes her sick.   The narrator is not acting how a “good” woman should, and consequentially she is brought to this home as an opportunity to recover.  John is the only one who sees the sickness at first; however, the longer she remains captive within the house and stripped of her voice, the more insane she becomes.  There is a constant fight between what she knows to be true to herself and what John tells her is true.  This fight against patriarchy for her autonomy is what drives her to the point of insanity.  By the end of the text, we see that she is the woman within the wallpaper.  When she finds her voice and frees herself, it is John who passes out; however, she is now shown to be more like an animal than a woman.

The confinements placed on women is what leads to the narrators decline in health.  She now has her freedom, but she has gone insane trying to achieve it.

Harman, Barbara Leah. “In Promiscuous Company: Female Public Appearance in Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”.” Victorian Studies 31, no. 3. Indiana University Press, Spring 1988: 351-374.

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.  Print.

Stetson, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wall-Paper. 647-656.

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