Imagery in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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As a female, I experience society’s views toward women, which is why stories of discrimination and unjust views toward women are comprehensible to me in a personal level. In her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman utilizes her experiences of being a mentally-abnormal social castaway to narrate in the perspective of a women with “nervous depression” (1). By exhibiting the thoughts of the mentally unstable women, she calls attention to the judgement and understanding of insane people and females during the publication era, late 1800s. Gilman successfully incorporates imagery in her writing, such as the pattern of the wallpaper, the woman in the wallpaper, and the house, to illustrate society’s view of women at the time.

To begin, the pattern of the wallpaper represents the inner turmoil of the narrator. The narrator, who has a strong inclination for writing, internally struggles between the need to express herself and the restriction she constantly receives from her husband: “He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency” (3). This tension between herself and her husband shows the relationship of women and men — women were frequently and numerously repressed by their counterpart. Thus the pattern of the wallpaper represents the repression she receives from her husband, as the narrator interprets it as an obstacle that the woman trapped tries to become free from: “But nobody could climb through that pattern– it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads” (7). The chaotic nature of the pattern depicts the struggle of women trying to express themselves and live as they choose, but also wanting to be accepted. The narrator’s description of the pattern as having no ends implies and foresees the long tension women and men during the 1800s and today. The way the pattern is described as locking the woman inside and its appearance of being long winded, chaotic, and confusing, demonstrate men’s views toward women. The pattern shows how men viewed women as their inferior, and tried to control and suppress them, as the narrator’s husband was to his wife, eventually driving her into insanity.

Furthermore, the woman inside the pattern embodies most women in the 1800s, because the wallpaper is a visual representation of the narrator’s emotions and wellbeing. The narrator often describes her situation through the woman. She recounts herself seeing the woman creeping, then says “I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight” (6). This shows that the narrator saw herself through the woman in the pattern. She also describes the woman as held down and strangled by the patterns. These clues allow readerrs to interpret that the woman is symbolic of the narrator, and thus a view of the narrator in another perspective. Through this, readers encounter women’s feelings of oppression and their need to be secretive and guarded against men. Furthermore, the woman is also an object of fantasy for the narrator because she can imagine things she wants to do in place of the woman inside the pattern: “I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in  a high wind” (6). When the narrator describes the woman running away secretly in the open country, she highlights the desire for women to break free from control. By using the woman in the pattern to reflect on her true feelings, the narrator reveals hardship women face and their true desires — running away — to illustrate emotions of women in response to the treatment and subjection they received from society.

Finally, the house the narrator lived in demonstrates the attitudes of society toward women. The solitude of the house, which is evident from the narrator’s description of the house: “well back from the road, quite three miles from the village”, describes females in that women in society were generally cast away and secluded from activity (1). This emphasizes the harsh attitudes and how society treated women as insignificant than men, which is why women were secluded and uninvited. Additionally, the way the house is described as “The most beautiful place … [with] a delicious garden … [and broken] greenhouses” even if it stood in solitude indicates that women were merely seen as an object of beauty (1). Readers can interpret that women in the era were casted away from society and viewed as unconventional and that their mere purpose was beauty and thus were treated as displays no matter how “broken” they truly were (1). Furthermore, the barred windows in the room that the narrator stays in underscores the emotions and treatment women felt and received. The bars underscore the lack of freedom and society’s actions of barring itself from women. The solid barrier standing between the narrator and the rest of society that notably separates the two implies that there was little opportunity for women in 1800s to liberate themselves from society’s harsh, divisive views of women. The solitude, beauty, and barred windows of the house indicate the neglect and use as subjects of beauty of women.

The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses the pattern and women in the wallpaper as well as her own house to underscore the oppression, lack of freedom, solitude, and objectifying of women in the 1800s. She illustrates society’s association with women in 1800s as irrelevant and nondescript by describing the true feelings and oppression the narrator feels. Gilman opens up a new perspective of the harsh lives of women, thus causing readers to be mindful of treatment toward women. She teaches that one should be cautious of others’ thoughts and true will before judging and acting too quickly.

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