Free At LastWhen a reader first reads The Yellow Wallpaper it appears to be a story of a young woman suffering from post pardum depression that slowly ends in the total loss of reality.
However, understanding that Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an early feminist, and her writings share a common theme that women do not have an equal human status in society, the story takes on a whole new meaning. The authors creative use of symbolism in The Yellow Wallpaper allows the reader an inside look of a young womans struggle to free herself from societys norm. The authors use of setting and symbolism perfectly represents the male dominant society in the Victorian era that believed a womens place was in the home. The author carefully constructed her sentences and symbols to produce a picture of arrogant and creepy male oppression.
The story opens with the young woman describing the house as a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicitybut that would be asking too much of fate! (168). The author uses this symbolism to describe the different roles a woman played. The colonial mansion describes her as a wife and a hereditary estate that of a mother. The haunted house alludes to the fact that a woman during this time had to hide any signs of intelligence or creativity. When the young woman talks about the height of romantic felicity and that it would be to much to ask, the reader understands the young womans desire to show her creativity through writing but that her husband and society would perceive this as a woman trying to over step her bounds would treat her as a outcast, therefore, she must hide this side of herself away.
It is the wallpaper, though, that is the focal point of the story, and it holds within it many descriptive symbols for the creepy discrimination and oppression of women. Women were thought to be property and treated like children. The author slowly releases clues that allow the reader to see the wallpaper as a symbol of male authority. The young womans fascination with the ugly paper begins as an innocent annoyance, builds to a pastime, and turns into an obsession.
The young woman states that the color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turn sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others (170). The young woman feels tramped in a marriage, dominated by her husband and dictated by society, that wont allow her to openly express herself.Although she felt no animosity toward her husband, the marriage itself was more like a prison. It trapped a woman in a role of being submissive and dominated. No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long (170).
In other words, no wonder most women hated marriage and even though she loved her husband, she herself would come to hate it if she continued to allow her husband to suppress her creativity.Another symbol is the papers odor, which is a metaphor for the foul effects of male domination. The young woman tells the reader it creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair. Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise itthere is that smell! (177). In every aspect of her duties as a wife and mother her husband and society dominate and oppress her.
Even outside her home she cant escape the effects of male dominance, its all around her.The young woman also states that there is a kind of sub-pattern and in the places where it isnt faded and where the sun is just soI can see a strange, provoking formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about that silly and conspicuous front design (173).By daylight she is subdued, quiet.
I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still (176). The formless figure represents women who are forced to the background, a mere shadow of men, by male dominance. It was not deemed proper for a woman to be openly individualistic and to do so they had to skulk or lurk among men. The strangled heads in the paper symbolize women whose careers and goals have been choked by male dominance.The young woman comes to the realization that If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little (179). She slowly gains the courage to tear way from male dominance and live the kind of life she wants by pulling of the paper.She begins to tear away at the paper piece by piece gaining confidence with each piece removed.
The young woman peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it (222). It would not be easy to break through the barrier since men would not so easy give in to equality. Bits of paper still remained and although she made great strides in freeing herself from the dominance of her husband there was still work to be done in terms of true social and economic equality and that it will not be easy to break the dominance that men have enjoyed for so long.