The Confining Role of Women In the context of late nineteenth century marriage, men played the dominant role and exercised control, which placed women at the mercy of their husbands. If a woman’s husband was kind and compassionate, she was likely to be content and happy, but often that was not the case. Husbands often had a habit of being overprotective and harsh which clearly made their wives feel trapped in marriages that completely compromised their freedom and happiness. Women were expected to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers and be content with Just that.
They were noon as helpers and viewed as inferior to man. Women may have felt as if they had no rights, and they were correct. There was definitely an ongoing tension between women and men; women strives to be free of all restraints, but were confined to what their husbands decided was best. In the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the theme of the confining role of women in the 19th century is developed through Charlotte Perkins Sailing’s use of symbolism and characterization. The story is about Jane, a woman whose husband confines to a room as a result of symptoms of postpartum depression.
She begins to go mad when she is denied the privilege of communicating with others or expressing herself through writing or reading. She spends her days secretly writing her progressively disturbing thoughts in a Journal, describing a woman trapped behind the dingy wallpaper that surrounds her room. Eventually, on the last day of summer, Jane rips the paper from the walls, in an attempt to free the woman from her prison. However, when her husband finds her circling the room on her hands and knees, her actions only serve to prove her madness. The yellow wallpaper is a symbol of Cane’s imprisonment within the nursery here she is confined.
Just like a prison, the room has iron bars on the windows, and just like a prisoner, Jane is not allowed to be intellectually stimulated. Jane is trapped in a nursery, but her own baby is not around because she is deemed an unfit mother. The yellow wallpaper starts out as a distraction but ultimately becomes the object of obsession in which the narrator exercises her imagination and identifies with her own sense of entrapment, because it is the only thing with which she may focus on in the empty room. When her husband restricts her creativity and writing, Jane takes it upon herself to figure out the wallpaper.
Although she initially feels like she is being watched by the wallpaper, she now aggressively studies its meaning. She discovers a woman struggling to break free from the wallpaper. As she becomes more insane, she believes that she is the woman trapped inside the wallpaper. Jane eventually tears down the wallpaper, and believes that she has finally broken out of the wallpaper within which John has confined her. The wallpaper’s yellow color is faded, ugly, soiled, and gross, and by tearing it down, Jane emerges from the wallpaper and proclaims her own identity.
Jane is a wife and mother who begins to suffer symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety. John, her doctor husband, agrees with her doctor’s diagnosis of fatigue and prescribes a rest cure. The rest cure was a lying in bed all day and having only two hours a day of intellectual activity. This, in return, makes her more unstable rather than stable. In addition to being confined to the nursery in their summer home, Jane is specifically prohibited to write or take part in anything creative. She is unable to balance her husband’s commands with her craving to express her creativity.
While attempting to follow John’s demands, the narrator secretly writes in her Journal, seeking an escape from her loneliness and boredom. The narrator sees herself trapped behind the wallpaper and realizes that she is being dominated and confined. Jane becomes completely engaged with the wallpaper and can now only think of a way to release herself from the wallpaper. The narrator slowly descends into madness more and more with each passing day. By the end of the story, the narrator has lost all sense of reality, and John discovers her creeping around the edge of the nursery, following the pattern of the wallpaper.
While she throws out her sanity, she ultimately does release the woman in the wallpaper; herself. Jane declares her freedom from the wallpaper by stating, “I’ve got out at last” (169). She may be free from the prison of her husband’s choosing, but she is now caught in her own madness as she climbs right over him to continue in her continuous circling of the room. All people, including women should be offered the opportunity to express themselves, otherwise they will go mad. Cane’s love of writing and expression of creativity differentiates her from the ideal woman she is supposed to be.
Gillian portrays the nursery as a prison for the narrator. The nursery itself is a constant reminder of the narrator’s duty to clean the house and take care of her child. The iron barred windows and permanently fixed bed also symbolize a prison like room. John’s treatment of Jane continues the sense of a prison. John demeans his wife. He views her writing as unimportant, and rarely takes her seriously. John, “scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in fugues” (1 54), and “hardly lets (her) stir without special direction” (155).
Jane has no character left to her cause even the ones provided by society have been taken from her. Jane is a stereotype of female domination. The narrator’s freedom from sanity and the wallpaper also represents an escape from her own self. Since the publication of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” there have been many social changes. Women have the same opportunities as men in their personal choices regarding careers, politics and expression, the incompetence of the medical profession in treating women’s mental health has since changed their ways of treatment for depression, and society now has equal opportunities for both men and women.