Analyzing the Context, Tone, and Symbolism In The Yellow Wallpaper

“Live as domestic a life as possible … And never ever touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live” (“The Literature of Prescription”). Such was the idea bestowed upon Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by her physician, the famous Silas Weir Mitchell, when she started to show signs now known to define post-partum anxiety. The “rest remedy,” as it happened known, was a common prescription in the 19th century for all good manners of mental disorders, varying from depression to hysteria (polar revers, it should be noted). It included forgoing nearly all physical and psychological activity, pulling out of social contact, investing heavy quantities of time in bed, being fed a consistent diet of high-calorie foods, and sometimes, even going through electrotherapy (“Bed Rest”). From this short description, it could be presumed that, in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Gilman was attempting to take on the inadequacies of the rest remedy, exposing them to the general public eye. Nevertheless, that alone is not entirely real. According to a recent evaluation of the rest remedy in The American Journal of Psychiatry, said treatment “was recommended nearly exclusively for ladies,” the unstated presumption of the day being that males had far too important matters to which to attend to be bedridden (Martin). By the grace of that quote, we exist with the root style of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” While Gilman indeed intended to sully the image of the rest cure, in a bigger context she was attending to a lot more important problem, the subjugation of females throughout the Late Victorian period. The manner in which she does so, nevertheless, is quite unique. Certainly, Gilman is stating that there is a mostly unintentional, though no less suffocating, subjugation of ladies occurring during the Late Victorian era, and it is through the wondrous combination of tone, symbolism, social context, and mental context, 4 aspects of fiction swirling together like the paisley of the titular wallpaper, that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is made remarkable and its above-mentioned message is made coherent.

It is through making use of tone that the real feelings of both Gilman and the story’s characters can start to be understood, and furthermore, tone, in such a way, installs the framework for understanding the other literary gadgets and the larger theme of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Think about the preliminary description of the wallpaper upon its intro: “The color is repellent, nearly revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow, oddly faded by the slow-turning sunshine” (Gilman 674). In checking out this excerpt, one can almost hear the foreboding tint of hatred with which the storyteller describes the wallpaper. Until this point in the story, our protagonist’s words are marked with an occasional air of unhappiness or some minor lament, such as when the she keeps in mind, “You see he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do?” (673 ). However, it is only with the introduction of the wallpaper that a new, intensely effective feeling is stirred within the narrator’s words: disgust. Like a shrieking siren, even a worn out reader will be awakened at this point, informed by tone to the reality that the wallpaper will be of significance.

Tone, however, is capable of doing far more than preparing one for upcoming symbolism; it can likewise reveal an admirable amount about a story’s characters. Throughout the story, the reader is presented with numerous variations upon the following passage: “There comes John, and I need to put this away– he dislikes to have me write a word” (674 ). The tone included herein speaks miles; the passage does not sport a resentful tone nor does it sport a sorrowful one. Instead, a calm, dutiful tone is presented; the woman, with nary a doubt, adheres to her husband’s desires. Just the same as tone supplies insights about the narrator, it also sheds light on John’s character. “What is it, little girl? Don’t go walking about like that,” John cautions, “you’ll get cold” (678 ). One can almost hear John speaking to the primary character as if she was a 7 year-old lady with little sense of her own. Through this passage, we begin to comprehend the limitations placed on the main character and the devoted way with which she accepts them. The most striking little bit of the preceding excerpt though, is that John is no tyrant. He really takes care of his spouse, as the tone confirms, albeit in a perhaps misdirected, overly-paternalistic manner. This, again, triggers an alarm in the reader’s mind, building up suspense as tone prepares us for a different bit of the juicy core that is story’s underlying argument. In this way, tone provides a durable, well-calibrated structure for its fellow literary gadgets. A story can not, nevertheless, be constructed on framework alone; it requires some wood and bricks to morph it into something substantial.

If the tone of “The Yellow Wallpaper” addresses the “how,” its importance answers the “why,” providing reasoning behind the tone and enabling the reader to start to understand how the wallpaper, and nearly whatever associating with it, represents female subjugation. The most prominent theme of the story is, obviously, the titular yellow wallpaper. As such, it ought to come as not a surprise that the most meaningful, prominent symbols of the story relate to said yellow wallpaper. As tone alerted us, the wallpaper is not simply the unsightly, decaying wallpaper that could be discovered in so many aging houses, and this becomes overtly evident when the main character states, “In the evening in any kind of light … [the wallpaper] becomes bars! … The lady behind it is as plain as can be” (679 ). The woman within the wallpaper is being held in captivity by the wallpaper, itself. At this point, it could certainly be conjectured that the wallpaper represents some sort of jail, a prison holding a lady back, making her a captive. Nevertheless, with just one passage under its belt, this claim is not totally established, and it can not be certainly said what the prison, itself, represents. Right after, though, the primary character composes, “By daylight she is subdued, peaceful. I expensive it is the pattern that keeps her so still” (679 ). Immense weight and type has now been added to our guesswork; the wallpaper, it appears, is by the light of day a swirling mix of lots of stylish, many designs; by night, however, it is clearly merely bars. Simply the same, for real-life Victorian females, restrictive social roles would have, in the daytime of public, appeared “pretty” or “fine-tuned,” but upon nightfall, when the females were alone with their spouses, such roles would truly have been no better than jail, resigning the women to their other halves’ wills, whatever they may be. Thus, taking all aspects of the story into factor to consider, including the character behind the wallpaper being a woman, our female main character’s lamentable situation, and Gilman’s experiences before writing the story, it seems beyond doubt that the wallpaper represents the oppressive social roles of Victorian society. Like the wallpaper, the various devices of Victorian society by which ladies must abide (obedience, a forced lack of education, a particular manner of acting and speaking, etc.) appear classy on the outside, however by night, when individuals have actually gone and the dust has faded, they are simply gadgets of repression.

While the preceding symbolism relating straight to the wallpaper is the directing light of the story, there definitely are numerous other pieces of symbolism, in specific throughout the final few pages, which build on the primary piece and add to its intrigue. A lot of interestingly, note the primary character’s observations when she initially notices a female creeping beyond your house. “Many women,” she starts, “do not sneak by daylight” (681 ). In sneaking outside of the wallpaper and outside of your house, the woman is revealing her freedom from the social injustices of the wallpaper, something most ladies do not strive to make obvious. “When a carriage comes,” the main character continues, “she hides under the blackberry vines. I don’t blame her a bit. It should be really humiliating to be caught sneaking by daylight” (681 ). Here, the narrator refuses the female for creeping in broad daylight; that is, she refuses her for exercising her freedom in broad daylight. In its symbolic meaning, this passage exposes a contradiction underlying Victorian society. Ladies who have attained flexibility, Gilman laments, are scorned for this by their fellow women, becoming ironically complicit in their own subjugation. As if this flurry of symbolism was inadequate to drive home Gilman’s argument, the story reaches its crowning moment in the final few lines. “‘I have actually got out [of the wallpaper] at last,’ stated I,’ … And I have actually pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my course by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (683 ). Having actually been liberated, the primary character refuses to relegate herself back into the confines of the unnecessarily-complex wallpaper, and as John faints, she victoriously sneaks over him, symbolically (and beyond doubt) expressing her newly found freedom from societal restrictions. Delivering a deadly blow to both the rest remedy and Victorian social functions at the same time, it would appear that we have now completely understood Gilman’s argument, but this is a false vacuum, for let us not forget the guy who only just fainted.

Having taken into consideration the extravagant tone and meaning in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” we now understand that Gilman is representing the subjugation of females in Victorian times, but to comprehend that she means to represent unintentional subjugation, we must first begin examine the social and psychological context of the character John. Superficially, John appears to be the villain of the story. However, John is no autocrat. John is not a wicked reactionary set on shackling all females. Vice versa, John is actually a kind, caring male. “Dear John!” she states on one occasion, “He enjoys me really a lot, and dislikes to have me sick” (677 ). In fact, every time that the narrator speaks of John, a minimum of before she has come down into complete insanity, one can identify a change of tone toward a minor slant of joy, no matter the context. That John is a good person is not merely made up in the primary character’s mind, either, for it is supported by his actions: “Dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just brought me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and check out to me till it tired my head. He stated I was his darling and his convenience and all he had” (677 ). While John does undoubtedly relegate the narrator to the home and, as previously acknowledged, treat her a bit like a kid, should his intended benevolence in doing so be harmful to Gilman’s argument that females of the story’s age were being subjugated? Not always, however what it does do is require the reader to look somewhere else for a main villain, and this leads us directly into social context of the man that is John.

A man of the Victorian period, particularly one of John’s status, would have been anticipated to offer everything for his other half while relegating her to the house; it was an all-inclusive philosophy and would have been seen, at the time, as the only choice. Discussing ladies of the late Victorian era, Dustin Harp notes, “The growth of the middle class … influenced the ideological constructions of females … The outcome was a fortifying of the idea that males were naturally implied to occupy the public arena while ladies tended to the private/domestic sphere” (21 ). This social context, the promotion of keeping women in the house, brings the reader face-to-face with the core ethos of the rest treatment and ties in straight to John’s mental context; that is to state, it clarifies his inspiration for the prescription he bestowed upon his spouse. You see, John stops working to effectively identify the narrator’s health problem. This is due to the fact that her illness is, as evidenced by a couple of references to the fact that she recently gave birth, Postpartum Psychosis. There were no female physicians during the 19th century since of the above-mentioned social roles, and the male doctors were simply not able to comprehend what a woman has to go through (or possibly needs to go through) after childbirth. Essentially, both John and the main character, male and female, have fallen victim to society’s subjugation of women. It is uncertain whether she can ever be properly dealt with at this phase, and John, being an excellent individual, will surely make himself suffer for his misdiagnosis. In the end, what makes Gilman’s commentary so disastrous is that John isn’t a tyrant. If he was, this would simply be the story of a woman who had the incorrect spouse. John tries to be an essentially good person, and as such, what took place to the main character of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman is stating, took place due to the fact that of vicious social functions, not the people involved therein, and therefore, it could occur to anyone.

With the help of tone, significance, social context, and mental context, Gilman crafts an effective argument that women of her age are oppressed unintentionally by both men and women who feel they have to abide by the stringent, restricting social roles of their time. Gilman starts by supplying an intro to the aspects of the story that will be highlighted through brilliant usage of tone. If tone is the marker that highlights, importance is the pencil with which notes are composed in the margins, and through poignant use of meaning, the reader marvels as Gilman reveals, with gradually higher force, that the wallpaper represents oppressive societal conventions putting behind bars women. Gilman could have walked away at that point, currently having penned a spectacular story, however she chooses to place another component, craftily painting John as male with an excellent heart who, sadly, abides by the oppressive conventions. In the end, you see, it was not John who was the villain, it was the social context of late Victorian era. Lastly, as Gilman apparently pertains to terms with the reality that the rest cure was a result, not a reason for said social context, our 2 primary characters, male and female, are left in that room, surrounded by what remains of that horrendous wallpaper jail, both totally wiped out at the hand of the female subjugation which wound up ruling over all.

Functions Pointed out

“Bed Rest.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia., 30 December 2009. Web. 15 February 2010.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Legacies. Fourth edition. Ed. Jan

Zlotnik Schmidt, Lynne Crockett, and Carley Rees Bogarad. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage, 2009. 672-683. Print.

Harp, Dustin. Desperately looking for females readers. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. Print.

Martin, Diana. “The Rest Cure Revisited.” The American Journal of Psychiatry. 164.5 (2007 ): 737-738. Web. 15 February 2010.

“The Literature of Prescription.” United States National Library of Medication., 30 September 2009. Web. 15 February 2010.

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