In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gilman uses many different techniques in order to cogently critique the gender roles of nineteenth- century America. One example of this would be her use of diction in the story, Gilman strategically uses language that displays the intensity of the gender roles. She also very strategically uses setting in order to symbolize the complete isolation and deprivation that women were forced into during this time.
More specifically Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper as a way to implicitly show the readers the trauma that women had to go through.
She uses different techniques to allude to the horrid impact of what it was like being a woman living in a patriarchal society with no agency. Which essentially stripped them of their identity and true sense of self. Being trapped in this situation ultimately drove the protagonist insane, which led to a mental liberation.
From the beginning the readers gets a sense of the type of gender roles that exist.
This is because just a few sentences in the narrator describes how her husband chose the house they would be staying at for the summer even though she did not like it essentially making the decisions for both of them very much like in a patriarchal society. Once they get there, there is an immense emphasis on the setting, the narrator describes the fact that the house “is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village” (Gilman pg 42).
This the narrator describes right after her husband tells her that “more society and stimulus” (pg 42) would only make her condition worse. By placing these two paragraphs right after each other Gilman is implicitly demonstrating how John, the narrator’s husband is keeping her isolated not only geographically, renting a place far from actual society. But also physically and mentally by not really allowing her to socialize with others.
The description of the setting not only lets the readers in to the fact that her husband is keeping her isolated but it also the bigger picture, as the narrator describes that the house has “hedges and walls and gates that lock” (pg 42) and that even the “gardeners” (pg 42) live in a separate place from her the readers gets an even deeper understanding that the narrator has absolutely no agency at all because that quite frankly was just normal.
Gilman uses the yellow wallpaper in the story in order to illustrate how women were not at all satisfied with the gender roles during this period but lacked the agency they needed in order to change things. She uses the yellow wallpaper as a kind of a mysterious reflection of not only the narrator herself but also the rest of the women population’s experience during this time. Throughout most of the story the narrator is utterly obsessed with figuring out what was behind the wallpaper. As the story goes progressing she figures out that there is actually a women behind bars in wallpaper but she does not fully understand why. Then towards the end of the story she states how “the front pattern [of the wallpaper] does move and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it” (pg 55).
This alludes to the readers that the women during this time period were not at all satisfied with the gender roles and the fact that they did not really have a say in anything. This is because the women in the wallpaper was not only stuck there but she was also behind bars which represent the rigid oppression of women during this period. The narrator first describes how the women behind the wallpaper was shaking it and then she says “but nobody could climb through that pattern” (pg 55) which suggest that the pattern of the wallpaper is indeed the rigid gender roles of this time period and that is why she is not able to climb out of it even though she attempts and wishes too.
Gilman goes even farther to demonstrate what living in a patriarchal society and having no agency actually looked like for these women. She displays how truly normalized the men having all the say was as well as to the extreme that they deprived grown women of any choice over anything. In the story the narrator is explaining how she can “get unreasonably angry with John sometimes” (pg 43) and that when that happens John tells her “she shall neglect proper self- control” (pg 43). A command that the narrator does not even question but instead listens to and takes “pains to control” (pg 43) herself. This demonstrates the absolute irrationality of the extent that women lacked agency.
Their husbands even controlled one of the most personal intimate aspects of a persona; their feelings. The narrator was again stripped of her choice to allow herself to feel any different emotions then what her husband wanted her too. Then again this lack of agency goes even farther without any type of remorse on the parts of her husband and this is because the type of behavior in which controlling every aspect of your wife’s life was indeed completely natural. Just like in a patriarchal society, John believed that he had the right to tell the narrator what to do because he simply knew best.
The same situations in which the narrator is stripped from any type of true sense of self in order to please John comes up again. Throughout the story the narrator tells the reader how much she genuinely enjoys writing and that truly is the only thing that makes her feel alive, but even then she is not allowed to do it because John “hates to have [her] write a word” (pg 44).
Being completely oppressed and striped of her agency by her husband led the narrator to progress farther into both insanity and lucidity. What this actually means is that by the end of the story the narrator is able to strip away the yellow wallpaper and this she describes as how she had “got[ten] out at last” (pg 58). Here, the narrator demonstrates her journey towards lucidity as she tells the readers how she went against all norms of society and opposition of her husband as she ripped the wallpaper down.
At the end of the story the narrator tells her husband how she has “pulled off most of the paper, so [he] can’t put [her] back” (pg 58). As the narrator stops caring about pleasing her husband and obeying the social norms she enters the world of mental liberalism in which she was the only one in charge of her decisions. While she also reaches lucidity in the enclosure of her own mind she also becomes insane. The narrator talks over and over again about how she “creeps” (pg 58) and does not have one single care for the wellbeing of John. This is simply because after years of oppression the narrator had simply had enough and gaining her liberty came with one price; loosing her sanity.
The ambiguous ending of the story allows woman to follow the narrator’s footsteps and also find ways to liberate themselves. This is because the readers can interpret the ending of the story in whatever way they think would be best. This serves as a motivation to the women who are stuck in the same situation that they too can escape the cruelties of isolation and deprivation caused by living in a patriarchal society.
Overall in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman displays the realities of the rigid gender roles that existed within the nineteenth-century. Gilman effectively uses diction and setting as a way to implicitly tell the reader about the situation that the narrator is in. She creates a mysterious and intriguing connection with the narrator and the yellow wallpaper in which the one reflects the other.
Throughout this story the readers are exposed to the the fact that women during the nineteenth-century were completely isolated and deprived in a patriarchal society. The complete oppression in which the narrator in the story was in led her to stop caring about things like social norms and pleasing her husband and start making her own decisions. Throughout this process of liberating herself the narrator completely loses her sanity and starts imagining things.