Foreshadowing in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Foreshadowing In The Yellow Wallpaper

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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a first-person story that follows a young woman’s descent into madness as she slowly loses her surrounded sense of reality. Throughout the entire tale not only is she misunderstood, but she is also misdiagnosed by her husband, a doctor who seems completely incapable of understanding the female psyche. He believes the best treatment for her is to rest and remain confined to the comfort of her bedroom. The narrator says, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?” CITE. He then prescribes her the “rest cure,” for what we conclude to actually be postpartum depression, not a case of minute female hysteria. The narrator spends most of her summer indoors, bedridden inside of their rented country home writing in a secret diary. Within the bedroom, the nursery is an almost run-down display of yellow wallpaper, which she describes as “repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulfur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.” CITE. Interestingly enough she grows increasingly obsessed with the room's yellow wallpaper, imagining a woman trapped in it and yearning to set her free by peeling off the paper. Finally, her husband finds her creeping around the room, certain she has freed HERself from the torn-off paper. The Yellow Wallpaper” reinforces a theme on domestic life and gender roles while depicting a marriage in which both the narrator and her husband are doomed by their entrapment inside their respective roles. This is seen in the narrator's frequent submission within her marriage, the constant dismissal of her suggestions and opinions at the hands of her husband John, and the ironic use of the wallpaper as a feminine frivolity.

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The reason for the narrator's confinement is undoubtedly her gender. There are rarely explicit references to each gender in the text, however, there is most definitely a gendered subtext. The time period in which Gilman wrote this intimate medium is no help for the fact, with it being the late 1800’s. During the Victorian period, men's and women’s roles were more sharply defined than they’d ever been at any point in time. Men commuted to their places of work, and mothers, sisters, and wives were expected to carry out domestic duties at the home. There was an overall belief in the ideology that men and women occupied separated spheres, known as the domestic sphere and the public sphere. It rested on the definition of the ‘natural’ characteristics of women and men, only to come together at breakfast and again, later on at dinner. Women were considered physically weaker than men, while simultaneously remaining morally superior. Because of this, they were believed to be best suited for the domestic sphere. The men on the other hand subjected themselves to all-day labor, and held high-ranking positions such as physicians, in their public sphere. The women in this tale are meant to find fulfillment in the home, and the simple fact that the narrator doesn’t have a name could enforce the notion that she speaks for a collective of women, rather than as an individual. Gilman unknowingly wrote what is now to be considered a classic in feminist literature, and can easily be seen as an early feminine indictment of Victorian patriarchy.

Through and through the tale there is a clear indication of the narrator's submission to her husband in their marriage. Gilman touches on the rigid distinction between what is the domestic functions of a woman and the active work of a man that oversees a typical 19th-century middle-class marriage. Women remained second-class citizens to that of men and their husbands. The story goes on to reveal that that gender division has the ability to keep a woman in a sort of childish state of ignorance, preventing them from their full development. When the woman tells John that she feels there is “something strange” about the house, he dismisses her and goes on to insist that they share the nursery on the top floor of the same house she just expressed her dismay for. In her diary, she writes “Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it. Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted? John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.” CITE. She blatantly professes that that is to be expected in a marriage. To not be taken seriously—to have your opinion completely disregarded. As I mentioned previously that’s directly in tune with what it was like in that time period, and not far off from the dynamic tone between men and women today. It’s typical throughout the story for John to ignore her whenever she asks or tries to tell him anything. His responses to her plea to include names like “blessed little goose” and “little girl. These are obviously names for children. This reduces the narrator to acting like a petulant child who is unable to stand up for herself without being seen as being unreasonable or disloyal to her significant other. These illustrations uphold the theme of domestic life in the day-to-day Victorian era, where women tended to begin married life in a subordinate position—whose place is inferior to that of men and drenched in patriarchal oppression.

It is also important to note how at no point does John take the narrator's judgments and proposals into account, and fortifies her role by dismissing a majority of her comments. When the woman confides in her husband that she doesn’t feel she’s getting better in their current setting and wishes to leave the house, he objects to the notion, viewing it as silly. He responds by saying “‘—I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.’” This goes to show Johns's controlling nature toward the narrator. Because he believes himself to be the more rational and intelligent partner in the marriage, he asserts his authority as both doctor and husband, assuming that he knows more than his wife about her own condition. He makes recurrent excuses instead of submitting to her requests or at the least conSIDERING her ideas. John even goes as far as to traditionally undermine her mental health and anxiety as “foolish fancies” that is not to even be considered in thought. In turn, her desperate attempt at making herself understood fails, and once again her husband cannot construe between his wife’s outward appearance and her clear inner suffering. The assumption of his own superior wisdom and maturity leads him to misjudge, patronize, and dominate his wife, all in the name of “helping” her and pushes her back down into the disadvantage of playing the role of a woman that struggles to have her voice heard.

I should note though that John is also trapped by traditional gender roles. He ends up carrying the narrator upstairs to her bed when she feels she’s too tired in the 4th entry of the story. He goes on to tell her she really should assert more self-control and not allow her silly fancies to take over, mentioning that he loves her too much to see her so unwell. John appears to be more sympathetic and loving here, yet still guarded by his gender role, leaving him unable to depict the woman’s inner life.

Significantly, the story is centered around the yellow wallpaper for many reasons, but one because it is considered to be a feminine gaiety. The Victorian wife had such little control over her life that it was through certain frivolities that such as clothing or house decor like wallpaper that they would exercise a small amount of autonomy. A useful story to recount that I’ve come across is the birth of none other than Emily Dickinson. In the fall of 1830, while she was pregnant, Dickinson's mother demanded that the wallpaper in her room be replaced. Her husband was apparently a bit stern-tempered and refused, dismayed by such an outburst of feminine whimsy. Dickinson's mother proceeded to go behind her husband's back and secretly asked a paperhanger to paper her bedroom. He did while she was in birth. It’s mentioned that Mrs. Dickinson was a self-abnegating, rather submissive 26-year old woman, however, the wallpaper situation could be seen as a desperate grab at autonomy and self-assertion through what would otherwise come off as minor defiance of house decorum. CITE. It seems significant that the narrator's sanity is tested and expressed through the chiefly womanly symbol of wallpaper. The power that john has to compel the woman to remain inside a situation that clearly horrifies her—which is the power of patriarchy in itself— is the impetus for her strange attempt at freeing herself from the wallpaper. Beneath the conventional facade is tales of freedom and repression told from the views of a mad narrator. The use of the wallpaper in this way portrays the relationship between women and how they are characterized in a male-dominated culture, underlying their role in that time.

Overall, “The Yellow Wallpaper” through its frightening gothic medium will continue to be thought of in feminist a light. Women have for long been forced to lean on their husbands and children of the home as their sole identity in what is historically a constructed oppressive paradigm. It’s not an “intrinsic” predisposition like some seem to believe. And we can see examples of this throughout the text with the theme of gender roles and domestic life when displaying the dynamic between the narrator and John in those respective roles. It could. help for modern women to even get a perspective on women’s present situations today. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story is an outstanding early feminist work. 

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