11 November 2017
The Subordination of Women in The Yellow Wallpaper
For centuries, women have been viewed as helpless and simple minded by the controlling patriarchal society. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator is being confined in her bedroom by her husband, John, who is a physician and believes she is suffering from temporary nervous depression. He prescribes the rest cure and isolates her from any stimulus that may excite her condition. John’s belief in his own imperious wisdom leads him to patronize, misjudge, and control his wife, with the intention of helping her. Because of his condescending behavior, the narrator becomes secretive and begins acting like a petulant child who is unable to defend herself without cultivating distrust with her John. She has no control over the tiniest details of her life and as a result, she retreats into the obsessive fantasy of releasing the woman stuck in the dreadful, yellow wallpaper. The only way the narrator has any semblance of control over her life and a way to exercise her mind is by delving into the illusory world that she perceives in the wallpaper. Gilman uses the narrator’s descent into insanity to show the subordination of women in society and how the evils of the rest cure, lack of self-expression, and oppression by the patriarchy propel the institution of female subservience.
First of all, the rest cure is a cruel and unsuccessful treatment for hysteria and other nervous illnesses that nineteenth century doctors believe affect women in particular. John imposes the rest cure on the narrator, which he believes will have positive effects. He makes her “lie down ever so much…[and] says it is good for [her]…to sleep all [she] can” (Gilman 311). However, the rest cure has the opposite effect on the narrator. Rula Quawas writes “it is true that John offers tender love, but he enforces the inactivity which deepens her despair and desolation” (43). The narrator’s mind is deteriorating because of the dormancy of her treatment, which only worsens her depression and forces her brain to find unhealthy stimulus in the pattern of the wallpaper. Women are “[expecting] to be cured by a treatment that essentially [exaggerates] the qualities of helplessness, intellectual weakness, and passivity…” (Quawas 45). The rest cure is one of many ways to force women into the submissive roles that the male-dominate society expects of them.
Secondly, because her treatment promotes idleness and compulsory silence, the narrator is forbidden from exercising her mind through any forms of self-expression, such as writing. She surreptitiously writes in a journal throughout the story and admits that writing is “a great relief to [her] mind” (Gilman 305). She acknowledges that writing is a valuable way to express her frustrations, but she fears the repercussions if John finds out about her secret. The narrator expresses that John...