The Feminist Perspective of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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The Feminist Perspective of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman essay
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“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a story with many messages, but it contains a rather valuable feminist perspective. There are various underlying details that protest the “Resting Cure,” a method in which a patient was restricted from doing anything but lay in bed, leading to emotional suppression and distress. The text also confronted the subjection of women in marriages during the nineteenth century. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s subtle attributes pertaining to female liberation, are partly why her writing is still relevant today. Although readers will dive beneath the surface to notice some of Gilman’s suggestions about society, she provided a profound feminist view in a very creative way throughout “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

During the late 1800’s, when this story was written, a female’s role in the home was to be inferior to their dominating husbands. Jane, the unnamed narrator, says, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage,” as saying her feelings are silly, and it is typical for her husband to belittle her (Gilman 526). Women’s only real contribution to the household, besides cooking and cleaning, was to produce children. As the readers are introduced to the house where Jane and John would be staying, the bottom half of the house is open and airy, while the top-half where John insists Jane stay in is dismal and bleak. The bedroom, itself, was once a child’s nursery, and is described with “barred windows… [and with a] gate at the head of the stairs,” similar to a prison. The bed in the Jane’s room is nailed to floor, symbolizing Victorian sexuality (Lone Star College). Some may say the jail-like atmosphere of the bedroom, was a representation of Jane’s opinion of her marriage (Gilman 528). She wasn’t able to express herself in her marriage, nor could she in the room; her only outlet was her writing. At the end of the story, as Jane “creep[s] smoothly on the floor,” it is as if she converted to a toddler crawling around the room, the child John treats like (Gilman 537). Gilman uses the whole idea of a woman being trapped behind the wallpaper, as a way to describe women’s lack of power (Esposito).

Gilman does not just bring light to the societal problems with gender, but she dismantles the Silas Weir Mitchell’s “Resting Cure.” The narrator of the story explains, “[she is] absolutely forbidden to do ‘work’… and [she] disagree[s] with their ideas” (Gilman 526). Jane watches the physicians in her life downplay her postpartum depression to a “slight hysterical tendency,” while she notices that it is much more than that, however because men with degrees tell her otherwise, she struggles (Gilman 526). Men could not understand postpartum depression, let alone mental illness in general, so their treatments failed. Gilman, having experienced postpartum depression herself, felt the need to “[challenge] male-created rest cures that deprive women of autonomy and creative outlets” through her writing (Snodgrass). “The Yellow Wallpaper” protests the physician’s belief that preventing self- expression and brain stimulation was a cure to mental illness.

As the story concludes with John fainting, in a melodramatic fashion, similarly to the way women would during the era in which the story was written; it is a reversal of power and roles (Esposito). Jane “had to creep over him,” and as she crawls overs John’s body, it signifies that she has control over him finally, but at the expense of her mental health (Gilman 537). Despite Jane’s lack of sanity, the reader gains a sense of liberation from the way she crawls over John, a symbol of superiority and domination. However, Gilman didn’t give Jane complete power, because women during the nineteenth century were not being treated as equals, and if they finally did succeed, it was costly. In the end, her fantasy is the only place where she has complete control.

The subtexts within “The Yellow Wallpaper” were not just influential, but crucial. Women’s dissatisfaction with society and gender roles were acknowledged, as well as “Resting Cure’s” negative impacts. Gilman’s writing hurt Dr. Mitchell’s reputation after the 1970s, and set the scene for postpartum depression to be taken more seriously by physicians. But most importantly, she brought many of her own experiences into her story, and made her opinions known to multiple audiences. Gilman was a pioneer in feminist literature, and her writing remains pertinent because of her perspective and originality. Our society has grown in many ways since the 1800s, and authors such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, are partially responsible.


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The Feminist Perspective of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (2022, Dec 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-feminist-perspective-of-the-yellow-wallpaper-by-charlotte-perkins-gilman/

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