Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper follows the deterioration of Jane, a nineteenth century middle-class woman. Many take Gilman’s story as a gripping thriller, purely for entertainment. But, as literary critics delved into the story, something much deeper and haunting was revealed. Gilman bravely shed a light on something not often discussed: the docile and domestic role of women during her era. By showing the dangers of the submission of women, and how it essentially leads to madness, Gilman was able to point out the issues in gender roles almost seamlessly. So, why did this all happen to Jane?
There are various instances in the story that push Jane’s mental deterioration further and further, but the one occurrence that stood out the most was her husband, John’s, complete and utter infantilization of her. An example of his treatment of her follows: “I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake. ‘What is it, little girl?’ he said. ‘Don't go walking about like that--you'll get cold’” (Gilman 4). Through many quotes just like this, calling his wife “little girl” and more, John completely disregarded Jane’s intellectual capacity as an adult (which we knew was present as she demonstrated knowledge of advanced architecture various times throughout the story) and dumbed her down to the level of a child. Gilman represented the woman during this time as nothing but a baby, placing Jane in a nursery and giving her no control whatsoever. By doing this, Gilman was able to emphasize the absolute lack of independence and power women had, pushing on the obvious fact of the underestimation of women, perhaps her goal in writing The Yellow Wallpaper.
This story fits right in to the context of the nineteenth century. With women as nothing more than a tool, a domestic slave used for elementary tasks, Gilman does a fantastic job in emphasizing not only the reality of life for women during her time, but the unbelievable dangers of their treatment. The Yellow Wallpaper is an amazing story that was years beyond its time in regards to gender roles. Gilman touched on the issues relating to women in a subtle yet thrilling way that causes the reader to contemplate the larger issues and assumptions of men’s superiority in our society. Technically, this story could be extrapolated to society today. Although we are amazingly close to gender equality, women continue to fight for their rights to equal pay and more each day. Gilman’s lesson on the dangers of gender roles not only applicable today, but encourage women to continue their fight against their age-old assumptions of domestication.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. N.p., n.d. United States Library of
Medicine. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.