Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

05 Oct 2012

(Short Story) The Yellow Wallpaper by: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(Reaction) A Prison of One's Own by: Antonio Conejos

The Yellow Wallpaper is an exploration of a woman's frustrations with the people around her and how trapped she feels by her situation. At first this feeling of enclosure is internal, a concept of her mind. Yet this mental isolation eventually takes the form of physical confinement where she believes that she is indeed trapped (and thus needs to escape) from behind the wallpaper.

A large part of this isolation stems from the woman's inferior status in her society. She is constantly being put down as not knowing what is good for her. These paternalistic impulses originate mostly from her husband but are echoed by all the other characters. She constantly notes how her husband treats her and describes her, ie. her conception of self is bound and defined by how her husbands sees her.

Her husband is constantly patronizing her, John laughs at me, of course. Her brother is the same. Note too how the men emphasize how learned they are in order to justify their prescriptions for her.

Moreover, the woman's insignificance stems even as far as her very identity - she has no name. Instead, she is just referred to by the men in her life with the usual trite phrases men used to described women, my darling, etc. Thus she has no identity of her own, we identify her merely as how men identify her.

This constant treatment of inferiority begins to take its toll on the woman. At first the wallpaper is merely a nuisance, a distraction to worry on but nothing life threatening, I never saw a worse paper in my life... No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

As time goes on though the women begins to see images in the wall paper - specifically that of a woman trying to get out, to escape, from the paper, it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. The gradual emergence of the woman in the wall paper parallels the main character's deepening frustrations with her condition as well as the useless advice she is getting from her husband.

Clearly the learned husband is dismissive of his wife's condition; so much so that he blames the whole thing on her, He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and my self-control and not let any silly fancies run away from me.

Eventually, as the main character's mental state deteriorates, the woman in the wallpaper becomes real to her, perhaps more real and more substantial than her companions in the house. I think that woman gets out in the daytime... I wish he [John, the husband] would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.

In the end, the main character's feelings of frustration and isolation culminate in her becoming the woman in the wallpaper, the figure trying to escape a prison of bars and prohibitions. 'I've got out at last' said I, in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper so you can't put me back!

As the woman is unable to escape her husband and his many prohibitions she projects her need for escape, for freedom, onto some amorphous image found in the decaying wallpaper of an old house.


Tedious story to get through. I'm not fond of using psycho-analysis for looking at texts but The Yellow Wallpaper just seemed to be crying out for this kind of reading. Still, it (the story as well the approach to the reaction) isn't my cup of tea.

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