The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is an account of a repressed woman in the late eighteen hundreds. This story allows the reader to confront the issues that plagued nineteenth century society in which women suffered because of their mental weaknesses. It is this mental weakness which ultimately leads to her downfall. The narrator is afflicted with temporary nervous depression. She makes it evident that this affliction is due to her repression by her husband, John. He has total control over her thoughts and feelings, her health, and over her life.
He does not take her seriously and laughs at her but, in this society, one expects that. (Gilman 1) He controls every aspect of her life. He forces her to stay in a room which she despises, and consequently, drives her insane. Gilman builds up the story to convey her feelings of the repercussions a woman faces in total supervision and domination by a man. She follows her husbands counsel of total bed rest, but deep within her, she knows this will be her destruction. However, as characteristic of a woman of this time period, she obediently accommodates the demands of the man.
This leaves her no choice, but to subject herself to the anguish of being totally alone in a room with ghastly yellow wallpaper. She stares at the wallpaper all day and all night because of her insomnia, and she ultimately determines that Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. (Gilman 11) In time, the image appears clearer to the narrator.
The wallpaper becomes more understandable to her, and she finally determines, … d worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars. (Gilman 13) The woman in the wallpaper is trapped by bars, just as there are bars on the narrators windows. This is the first similarity she shares with the lady in the wallpaper. The narrator, with nothing else to do, is left to stare infinitely at a pattern in the wallpaper and forces herself to make meaning of what she sees. Perhaps this is to save her sanity, or perhaps her sanity is too far gone. She determines that the image is a woman trying to free herself from behind bars and begins to relate to the woman in the wallpaper.
She continues to attempt to liberate this woman. The narrator wants to free the woman but the wallpaper holds her back. Similarly, the narrator wants to be free, and her husband holds her back. The woman in the wallpaper has become her sanity. I dont want to go out, and I dont want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him. Ive got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her! (Gilman, 17-18) She wants to harness the woman, just as she wants to harness her sanity.
The narrator makes reference to all the women she sees creeping outside, I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? (Gilman 18) This is when the narrator fully becomes the woman she sees in the wallpaper. The woman in the paper only creeps during the day because John is not around. Similarly, the narrator shares this same behavior and consequently she can not creep at night because John is there and may diagnosis her as insane, putting even more restrictions on her. Again, her actions are determined and shaped by the restrictions a man has instilled upon her.
Several times early in the story the narrator refers to her husband as dear John. This can be used as a means of foreshadowing. Dear John carries with it the implication of leaving a man. Eventually, the narrator allows herself to leave her husband and thus free herself from the constraints of the wallpaper. The narrator finally triumphs, Ive got out at last, said I, in spite of you and Jane. And Ive pulled off most of the paper, so you cant put me back! (Gilman 19) The final statement of the narrator is profound and mysterious. The author launched Jane into the plot without the reader knowing, making it easily missed.
Idealistically, Jane has the possibility to be anyone, but clearly Jane is the narrator. She has defeated her husband as well as her suffocated soul. She had been repressed for so long, and finally she has been able to free her soul from the male dominated society in which she lives. When John faints at the end, she has to creep over him… (Gilman 19), but at least she can creep freely. One may think that creeping has a certain negative connotation of hiding or not wanting to be seen. This may be the case, but the narrator does not know any other way to be.
She has been conditioned to creep everywhere indirectly by the man, so that is all she knows. Again, the man dictates the womans behavior. Understanding the relationship between the narrator and her husband requires understanding of this time period. In the late eighteen hundreds, a woman suffering from depression was most likely not fully understood, so isolation was the easiest and most effective method of treatment. John feels the only way to deal with the narrators problem is isolation. This has the potential to drive anyone insane, irregardless if they have a condition or not, and apparently this is the effect on the narrator.
The narrator in this story battles a continuous struggle between her desires versus the desires of society. John epitomizes the men of this societys time period and their quest of domination over women. The narrator manifests the subservient woman of a society struggling against male domination. The struggle is finally over. By trying to ignore and repress her imagination, in short, John eventually brings about the very circumstance he wants to prevent. (Shumaker 589) The author leaves the ending subject to interpretation by the reader.
My interpretation of the ending is that the narrator hangs herself at the end of the story when John finds her. This is one of the things John wanted to prevent from happening. It is possible that John faints and she leaves him, but I do not think that is possible. The narrator is not a strong enough woman to do that. Her character has been built up to show that she is the subservient woman whose options are limited by the dominance of a man. Consequently, her only outlet is to commit suicide by hanging herself. It was her destiny because of her limited options which being a woman of the eighteen hundreds entails.