During the time that Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper women were expected to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers and spend there lives at home. The story expresses the differences and hardships women went through. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a middle-class wife driven mad by a patriarchy controlling her for her own good(Lanser 415). But this is just a reflection of how society was. Women were trapped in a male-dominated world. In fact the reader never learns the womans name, meaning that this could be any woman at this time. The yellow wallpaper in the room the woman was locked in represents women being held back by men.
The woman is being held in the room by her husband, John. Even though her husband is a physician, she disagrees with his ideas when he says that she needs to be in the room. She believes that change and excitement will be good for her. Even though she disagrees with John she knows that he has her best interest in mind. It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so" (603). John believes that she is suffering from a slight hysterical tendency. At the time this story was written the word hysteria was used to describe a variety of symptoms men seemed to find in women. They believed that this was an emotional disturbance (597). So even though it seems that John has her best interest in mind, by John relaying of his own wisdom it leads him to misjudge, patronize, and dominate his wife.
The relationship between John and the narrator is not necessarily a normal relationship between a husband and his wife. He refers to her as his blessed little goose and little girl. During this time men bossed around women like they were children so its interesting that he refers to her as a little girl. John finds her ideas and thoughts to be silly and foolish. "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage"(597). While she believes that his laughing at her is a normal part of marriage, in reality he is laughing at her silly ideas about the woman behind the wallpaper. The relationship between them is not based on equality. He stops her from writing and being creative and locks her in the room. By closing her in the room it shuts her out from the rest of the world. This drives her crazy with her inability to react with other people.
The yellow wallpaper seems to bug her more and more with the thought of her never leaving that room. John tells her that if she doesnt get better faster that in the fall he would send her to Weir Mitchells in the fall. Weir Mitchell was the person that popularized the rest cure for cases of hysteria. This goes back to mens definition of hysteria at the time. They believed that everything could be cured. John was already clearly using his methods but thought that if he couldnt cure his wife someone else needed to. She didnt want to go even though she did seem to be going insane being in the room alone. But I dont want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so (601). This shows that even though she disagrees with John keeping her in the room she knows that another man wont care as much about her feelings as much as John.
The woman behind the wallpaper represents the narrator and all women at during this time period. The fact that her husband wont let her out is just like how women were always looked as inferior to men. When she rips the wallpaper off at the end its like she thinks she is freeing herself from John. "I've got out at last... in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"(608). This shows that she thinks she is free from him and is free to be herself. This represents women standing up and being freed from men.
Even though this story was written in 1892 it wasnt until 1973 when The Yellow Wallpaper was reprinted in the Feminist Press that people really started looking at this story as a feminist story. When the story was originally written no one read it cause of the way it portrayed men (Lanser 415). In the 1970s feminist critics wanted to expose the mechanisms of patriarchy. This means how people thought at that time and how there thinking affected the inequality between men and women (Barry 117).
During the time Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper women were trapped in a male- dominated world. The story The Yellow Wallpaper shows the process of a woman trying to escape men and be free. At the end the woman rips down the yellow wallpaper and feels free from her husband and society.