Fighting Oppression


“There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder – I begin to think – I wish John would take me away from here!” (Gilman 90)

            I chose this passage from the “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman because it represents both society at that time, and the narrator’s changing condition. When the narrator stated that the wallpaper contained things that “nobody knows about but (her), or ever will”, it revealed that she was hiding something about her true nature (Gilman 90). Her true nature seemed to be to retaliate against authority and it became “clearer” to her every day. She concealed her writing activities which had been restricted by her husband who controlled almost every aspect of her life. He had said that it was bad for her, but on a deeper level, he was preventing her from gaining freedom from his control. He wanted her to suppress her imagination or anything that was out of the norm. It was unnatural for a woman to disobey her husband at that time, so the narrator had to hide her thoughts and passions.

            At the beginning of the story the room with the disgusting yellow wallpaper seemingly represented a prison. The narrator stated that “the windows (were) barred for little children, and there (were) rings and things in the walls.” (Gilman 84). The barred windows symbolized the bars of a jail cell while the rings most likely represented handcuffs and chains. The only time her husband was not in control of her was when she was in the room with the hideous yellow wallpaper partially described above. As the story progressed the prison-like room seemed to get more comfortable as her husband became stranger to her. She got used to the room with the wallpaper and less familiar with John as room and wallpaper started representing freedom. In the passage above, she saw more than just the confusing pattern on the wallpaper that is shown during the day. By the moonlight, she saw lots of little women “stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern” (Gilman 90). The pattern represented bars like the ones on a jail cell, and also like the bars over the narrator’s windows. The women that she saw represented herself and the many other women in society who were oppressed by their husbands. If the women did anything other than what they were told, they had to “creep” or keep it hidden. When she finally tore the paper down, she felt like she is freeing herself and the women as she disobeyed John’s orders not to pay attention to such impulses as concentrating on the wallpaper.

            The next part of the passage described the narrator wishing that “John would take (her) away from here” (Gilman 90). She had expressed this to him, and been ignored. Many other requests had been ignored too. At the beginning of the story and well into the middle, the narrator had stated that she was trying to do as she was told, and seemed to feel guilty for not appreciating all of John’s kindness. As her requests for comfort (such as asking to leave, remove the wallpaper, and have company over) were ignored she started realizing that he was causing most of her stress and only “pretended to be very loving and kind” (Gilman 95). Once she understood this, she suddenly did not care about pleasing John anymore. She did not care about her sanity. She had only been taking remedies and doing what she was told in order to make him happy. He and his opinions no longer seemed to matter to her, and so when he fainted in front of her, she was not even phased.

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3 comments

  1. I really love your interpretations, especially your analysis that the narrator saw many women in society that were being oppressed by their husbands. The fact that she says “sometimes I think there are great many women behind [the pattern]” on page 94 supports that statement. However, I also think that it goes beyond the oppression of husbands. It seems the author critiques the oppression of society’s expectations of both men and women, also known as the social norm. For example in the end the narrator exclaims “I’ve got out at last in spite you [John] and Jane.” The fact that she separates herself from both John and Jane show that not all the blame should be placed on men, but rather that women are at fault as well because they do not question their “established” role in society. It is almost as if the narrator looks at society’s women in pity. In this way, Gilman not only critiques the male-dominated society but also tries to encourage women to break out of the shell of being the perfect housewife and to strive for something more in their lives.

  2. Like Danny, I think you present a great interpretation for “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and I too feel like there is room for an expansion on your points. For example, I too believe that our narrator shifted her focus from pleasing her husband, and the text represents a form of suppression. However, I think the conclusion of the text has a greater meaning, especially John’s collapse.

    With the possibility of an axe in the vicinity and the narrator routinely stepping over John’s body, “I had to creep over him every time!”, it is possible that the narrator killed John (97). However, I find this possibility to be unlikely; instead, I propose that John represented men of the time, and he was startled at the narrator’s (women’s) progress. Like any sort of political or social movement, with the opposition stunned, progress continued and pushed forward. In the text, readers observe repeated demands in order for change such as the removal of the wallpaper and visitation rights of friends just as many social movements begin by the denial of small requests within the current framework. Like any social revolutionary, our narrator obsessed about different complicated decisions, and she tore through the status quo, the ugly yellow wallpaper, which caused a paralyzing fear from those favoring the current situation.

    1. I’m really glad you chose this quote! I, personally, liked the interpretation. When I was initially reading the story, the first section of the quote in particular stood out to me, and I like how you mentioned that you interpreted the line, “There are things in the wallpaper that nobody knows about but me, or ever will” to mean that she was hiding something from her husband (her writing, for example). In addition, I really liked how you mentioned that the room was a prison for the main character – I completely hadn’t made that connection with prison bars and handcuffs! As I was reading the story, I more thought along the lines of, “Oh, that’s a little strange, this weirdly haunted room being a children’s play room,” I like your interpretation much better! I also really liked how throughout your post you made the connection with the story and the narrator’s feelings to the time period and society in which the story was written – I thought this added so much more depth to the blog post. Great interpretation!

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