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Analysis of Symbols in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Throughout most works of literature, women have always been portrayed to be submissive and weaker than men. During the 19th it was normal to see women being controlled by the character of their husbands, fathers, or any male figure in their life. The “Yellow Wallpaper” a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman as a fictional autobiography showcases the mistreatments of women back in the days. The principle of liberty and freedom of speech wasn’t giving to women, and because of the oppression towards them, it was hard for them to fight back. The Narrator of the story suffering from “nervous” illness, now known as anxiety, is giving “rest” and isolation as a treatment to cure her anxiety. The story takes place in a male-dominated era and because the narrator was a woman, she had no say in what was being done to her.

To fully analyze the story, we must focus on the main character’s perspective which they laid out through their dialogue throughout the story. We must also look at the different symbols that are hidden within the story itself. Gilman makes a powerful statement about the males of society during the period of time she lived in. It seems as if the men are all brought up to see and treat women as if they are nothing more than children who relies on them constantly. Because the differences of treatment between males and females were showcased, it made sense when the narrator says “If a physician of high standing, and one’s husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression- – -” (Gilman). The author shows the male perspective through the dialogue because, through narration, it was explained that no matter what the narrator says, the husband will push aside her illness as if it means nothing and she’s just imagining things.

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The husband in the story, firmly believes that his wife is just being dramatic and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. He treats his wife as a kid he needs to enforce all his beliefs on. Because he believes there’s nothing wrong with his wife, he ignores her sickness which adds more to her state of “nervousness”. The narrator is also a victim of cruelty because the husband uses names that degrade her values. The husband interacts with the narrator “Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little girl and say he will go down to the seller if I wished and it was whitewashed into the bargain” (Gilman). The keyword of the sentence is “little goose”, the husband speaks to her as if she’s a child and treats her as if. The sentence also shows how smart the husband thinks his wife is.

Another element that should be highlighted in the short story is the usage of hidden symbolism. In the Narrator’s room, this wallpaper represents her “imprisonment” and it was made clear when the Narrator says, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (Gilman). The sense of imprisonment comes from the yellow wallpaper because the Narrator had asked multiple times to remove the wallpaper but she’s not allowed to do it herself and she’s basically stuck in the room that she strongly hates due to the ego of her husband. The quotes above show that the Narrator is finally becoming aware of how her husband treats her and the fact that she now wants to escape her imprisonment. The more the Narrator describes the wallpaper, the less hidden the symbol becomes. The Narrator developed an obsession with the wallpaper which elevated her level of stress because the more she looks at it the more trapped she feels because she can’t take it down. In a way, it’s as if she became the woman that’s trapped in the wallpaper. With time, she begins to see how little to no say she had when it comes to making decisions about her own life. The realization was possible because of the wallpaper which increases its significance as a symbol throughout the story.

The last sentence of the story highlights the state of mind of many women in that time period. The woman is stuck with the idea that her opinion doesn’t matter, she doesn’t have a say in what goes on with her life, she is unable to go against the norms of society no matter how unhappy it might make her. The Narrator has given birth to a baby and instead of feeling good, she is feeling sick like there’s something wrong with her. In today’s world, we could diagnose her with postpartum depression, which is very common. It’s when a mother feels sad and empty after birth. While everyone around her, including her husband, thinks that resting is the best thing for her, which is why they placed her in the room, to begin with.


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