The Effect of Major Symbolic Elements Women in literature are often portrayed in a position that is dominated by men, especially in the nineteenth century, women were repressed and controlled by their husbands as well as other male influences. In “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator is oppressed and represents the major theme of the effect of oppression of women in society. This effect is created by the use of complex symbols such as the window, the house, and the wall-paper which all promote her oppression as well as her self expression.
One distinctive part of the house that symbolizes not only her potential but also her trapped feeling is the window. In literature, traditionally this would symbolize a prospect of possibilities, but now it becomes a view to a world she may not want to take part in. Through it she sees all that she could be and everything that she could have. But she says near the end, “I don’t like to look out of the windows even – there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.
She knows that she has to hide and lie low; that she would have to creep in order to be accepted in society and she does not want to see all the other women who have to do the same because she realizes they are a reflection of herself. She expresses how women have to move without being seen in society. The window does not represent a gateway for her. She can not enter what she can see outside of the window, literally, because John will not let her, (there are bars holding her in), but also because that world will not belong to her, she will be oppressed like all other women.
She will be controlled, and be forced to suffocate her self-expression. The only prospect of possibilities that this window shows are all negative. It shows a world in where she will be oppressed and forced to creep like all the other women. It is common to find the symbol of the house as representing a secure place for a woman’s transformation and her release of self expression. However, in this story, the house is not her own and she does not want to be in it. She declares that it is “haunted,” and that “there is something queer about it.
Although she recognizes the beauty of the house and what surrounds it, she constantly goes back to her feeling that “there is something strange about the house. ” Her impression is like a forewarning for the transformation that takes place within her while she is there. In this way the house still is the cocoon for her major change that will take place. The house does not take the form of the conventional symbol of security for day to day activities of a woman, but it does allow for and contain her transformation. The house also facilitates her release, accommodating her, her writing, and her thoughts.
These two activities evolve because of the fact that she is kept in the house. The house symbolizes her confinement, where she will be transformed and changed due to her near imprisonment in the house. Impacting her metamorphosis even more than the house itself, is the room she is in and the characteristics of that room. The most important characteristic being the yellow wall-paper, which also plays a double role: it has the ability to trap her in with its complexity of pattern that leads her to no satisfying end and bars that hold in and separate the woman in the wall-paper from her.
However, the wallpaper also sets her free. She describes the wall-paper as being repellent, revolting, a smoldering unclean yellow. She is stuck in this room and her only escape is the wall-paper. She is so confined, because her husband has taken such control over her activities, that she is forced to sit and watch this paper. She also says in her first reference to it that, “I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long. ” The patterns of the paper absorb her as she tries to follow them to an end.
This is the beginning of her transformation. She allows herself to be completely drawn in to her fantasies and not being afraid of what is happening to her. She tell her husband of what is occurring and how she sees a figure in the wallpaper. He tells her to resist them, but she does not. Her comprehension of the changes that are occurring and her efforts to cultivate them and see the changes through to an end, illustrate a bravery that is not often recognized in women.
After all of this she finally realizes that the image in the wall-paper is not another woman as she originally thought; but it is of herself as well as all women in general and hence the woman behind the wallpaper represent all the women trapped and oppressed by society. The story has significant meaning to it. The story candidly shows what society can do to women, or better, what society can to do any person or group that is oppressed. The effects on the mind pattern and thought process and their transformations are shown. The window, the house, and the wallpaper all complement this important lesson.
The window normally would represent the endless opportunities available in life. However, here it represented the view of a world full of injustices to women and a sort of imprisonment. It is absurd to call a place “home” unless it is the place in which their is security and shelter. But the home the narrator lives in represents the place where she will transform and express her self even though she is only there due to her confinement. All of these symbols show how she is oppressed and how this all affects her thought process and mind pattern.
The complex symbols used in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” create Gilman’s portrayal of the oppression of women in the nineteenth century. Gilman’s twist on traditional symbols that usually provide a sense of security and safety adds to this woman’s own oppression and contribute to the trapped feeling. Gilman pushes this to the limit by taking those characteristics closely associated with women and uses them against the narrator, to assist in her oppression. These symbols all effect the theme and complement the meaning of the story, both which deal with the unjust oppression of women.