The Three Stages Towards Feminine Freedom in The Yellow Wallpaper

In the well-known work Females and Economics, Charlotte Perkins Gilman stresses her belief that “dependence on men not just doom [s] females to live stifled lives but likewise slow down [s] the advancement of the human types” (Kirszner 449). Those words support the ideas conveyed in her short story, “A Yellow Wallpaper”. In this piece, the storyteller undergoes 3 phases: first, she develops a mental illness resulting from the constraints of a male-dominated society; second, she weakens due to a worsening environment; and lastly, she reaches a state of insanity. Ironically, it is this last that signifies her liberty.

In the beginning, Gilman exposes how the confinements of a restrictive society induce the narrator’s disease. In the opening lines, she instantly explains the imbalance in her marital relationship: “there is something queer about [this home] … John laughs at me, naturally, but one anticipates that in marital relationship” (Gilman 450). The storyteller implicitly accepts that her opinions are “unimportant”, attempting to justify her sense that her ideas are not deserving of her hubby’s regard. She goes on to show her husband’s supremacy in their relationship: “There comes John, and I need to put this away– he dislikes to have me compose a word” (451 ). His domination and her implicit submission emphasize the confinement of her environment. In these 2 distinct locations, Gilman uses two crucial assumptions about a patriarchal society: the value of the male mind over the “apparently weak and foolish” frame of mind of the female, and the derivation of power in males, who direct the lives of women.

Gilman likewise stresses the nature of female docility and its strong existence within the conventions of society. Additionally, her illness comes from her limiting environment. Critic Ann Lane writes that “imaginative ladies who found themselves with no outlets for their capabilities, while in the bigger culture opportunities multiplied for ambitious and imaginative males, suffered especially” (467 ). Lane’s analysis implies that the storyteller’s restricted writing and her disregard for her own issues are the primary causes for her illness. In this very first stage, Gilman shows the detrimental effects that male supremacy can have on female health.

The storyteller’s stifling environment enhances the progress of her incapacitating disease. In the first phase, we see how damaging she discovers her confining surroundings. It is rational to presume that continued confinement will just damage her additional. However, John fails to follow this logic. The storyteller repeatedly tries to convey her issues, however is continually discouraged: “Initially he meant to repaper the space, however later on he stated that I was letting it overcome me, and that nothing was even worse for a worried client than to give way to such fancies … Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose” (Gilman 452). The hubby dissuades the storyteller from letting the wallpaper “overcome her”– rather of attempting to see deeper into her fears, he only neglects them. He forces his viewpoints and judgments on her while neglecting her requirements. John’s neglect is more exhibited by his treatment of the storyteller: he calls her a “little goose”, indicating that her fears are insignificant. Nevertheless, this does not solve the issue, however only requires the storyteller to bottle up her feelings. As Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write, the story is “a paradigmatic tale which appears to tell the story that all literary females would tell if they could speak their ‘speechless woe'” (464 ). Literary females are suppressed in much the same method as the narrator, and the anxiety she suffers only makes her situation worse. Later, the narrator confesses, “So naturally I stated no more on that score … and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern actually did move together” (Gilman 456). Bottling up her sensations and ideas only increases her problems, and her mind grows a lot more unstable. Gilbert and Gubar affirm this idea, composing that “As time passes, this figure concealed behind what represents the faade of the patriarchal text ends up being clearer … the wallpaper ‘becomes bars!’… [and] the narrator sinks more deeply into what the world calls madness” (465 ). In this manner, Gilman demonstrates how the storyteller’s environment quickens her deterioration.

The eventual breakdown of the storyteller’s mental state into overall madness enables her ultimate release. Her madness changes the conventions of male domination with a brand-new type of reality. The hallucinations produced by the narrator’s illness foreshadow a sense of liberty. The lady behind the wallpaper possesses even more liberty than the author: “I have seen her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as quickly as a cloud shadow in a high wind” (Gilman 459). The female has the liberty to travel outdoors, “in the open country”– a space with no constraints. She consists of sky imagery such as a “cloud in a high wind”, images that are usually connected with freedom. In a perverse way, the narrator glorifies her hallucinations and, more importantly, her extremely insanity. Gilbert and Gubar concur: “More significant are the madwoman’s won imaginings and creations, mirages of health and flexibility with which her author enhances her like a fairy godmother showering fold on a sleeping heroine” (466 ). Additionally, the shift in John’s behavior at the end of the story, when he passes out in reaction to the narrator’s habits, exposes a function turnaround. The male has become weaker and is divested of power, while the woman is set free. The narrator even scoffs at her partner’s womanly reaction to her power, remembering John’s mindset at the beginning of the story. Gilbert and Gubar include, “Doctor John … has actually been defeated … [in] John’s unmasculine swoon of surprise” (465 ). Gilbert and Gubar see this moment as a defeat not just for John, but for all guys. The storyteller’s insanity not just shows the inefficacy of the “Rest Treatment”, however shows how the disease can, paradoxically, have a special result.

The shifts throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper” illustrate the harmful results of womanly subordination. Additionally, they reveal the repercussions of male dominance, which might in many cases modify the standards of a patriarchal society. In reality, the narrator in Gilman’s story achieves just this: she is able to effect change in her own society. She has the most success in the case of her former doctor, Silas Dam Mitchell, effectively altering “his treatment of nervous prostration” (Gilbert 466). In reaction to this, the narrator famously declares, “If that is a fact, then I have not lived in vain” (466 ).


Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Author and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Kirszner and Mandell 464-66.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Kirszner and Mandell 450-61.

Lane, Ann. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Functions of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Kirszner and Mandell 466-70.

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Fifth ed. Boston: Heinle, 2004.

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