In The Yellow Wallpaper and other stories, Gilman portrays a world in which women cannot escape their oppression owing to the multiple forces stacked against them. Charlotte Perkins Gilman Stories portrays a strong relationship between women and the propaganda the society creates for them. This is embodied through Charlotte Perkins Gilman Stories: “The Yellow Wallpaper”, “Turned”, and the “if I were a man”. The narrator Gilman vividly presents the world of burden and how women are established as a strain to men in the larger society.
Gilman particularly focusses “on the struggles women face in society and the ways these struggles are reflected and questioned (or not reflected and not questioned)” (Critical anthology). These three stories of Gilman portray the patriarchy in different ways; how the value held by women during this time was based on outward appearance (If I were a man), treatment available for women suffering from mental illnesses in the late 19th century (The Yellow Wallpaper) and the possibility of women being entered into undesirable marriages (turned).
Gilman adopts a first-person narrative in her famous story of the yellow wallpaper set in the 19th century. It is set on the idea of how the male has restricted the wife to communicate with the outside world as she is on an “rest cure” and shows a strong dystopian setting by which women are portrayed as vulnerable to the great misery and unfairness. The narrator is a woman who suffers from a mental illness after giving birth, that hugely disturbs the autonomy of the woman’s life. This narrator is restrained in a room with blocked windows. It is possible that she is in an asylum, but the physical setting is less important compared to another concept- the instability of her mind; “postpartum depression” (Gilman herself was diagnosed with this disease after the birth of her daughter.
Hence this story is an inspiration from her life). The husband of the victim john is a main antagonist behind the mental health that worsens within the narrator being the reason behind her restricted, imprisoned life. This shows patriarchy in a different light whereby the male has dominance over the mental health of his so-called wife. The vulnerable narrator states “ I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me” showing how the limitations placed upon the woman has led her to be psychologically overwhelmed as she is unable to use her imaginations freely.
There’s a strange odour coming from the wallpaper and it gets stronger with rain and fog. John the physician/ the husband of the woman, explains it as the glue and mould deepened by moisture which is causing the weird odour. However, I think the narrators fascination towards the smell could be the impression of “the return of the repressed” (critical anthology) which Freud says “represents the return of her true self’s desires without rebirth of her former powers” Which chiefly means that the blocked thoughts of the narrator are preserved in the unconscious (kept in her thoughts) as she is unable to express her imaginations out freely. Hence, she is seeing them thoughts through the wallpaper as that’s the only option left due to her oppression.
Perhaps that’s why the storyteller starts to think why nobody has discovered the wallpapers interpretation except herself. But the substantial reason behind this is that no one knows how she feels internally except herself. The wallpaper can also symbolise her isolated mental health which she “cannot escape due to the multiple forces stacked against her” as said in the main title. Gilman creates suspense towards the end of the text whereby the reader doesn’t see a resolved ending, yet the reader is filled with ambiguous thoughts on whether or not the narrator has achieved freedom. Maybe Gilman wants to leave the message on how “women struggles are not questioned” (critical anthology) and how they are left loitering in the presence of the male oppression.
The other story written by charlotte Perkins Gilman is the turned. This is a feminist utopian text where Mrs Marroner experiences a world without oppression of the male and in this concept where the woman (Mrs Marroner) goes against the traditional stereotypes of women being independent and has gained independence by exerting power over her husband even after being cheated on. Gilman mainly adopts an internal heterodiegetic narrative, allowing the ‘narrator’ to step into the consciousness of two particular characters, Mrs Marroner and Gerta Petersen. The author Gilman uses Mrs Marroner to portray the emotions of vulnerable women who get divorced or are mistreated and how that situation should be handled.
This heavily links in with her own life whereby she left her husband Charles Walter and went away with her daughter Katherine to Pasadena CA. she started writing stories and much of her work focussed on women unequal power in marriage and their need of financial independence (she achieved both of these in her second marriage). This mirrors the story of the turned whereby Mrs Morroner achieved the authority in her marriage and did what she thought was best and leave her husband behind. At first, I assumed that the story would be set with the idea of the “male-centred nature of civilisation” (critical anthology) by which Mr Morroner would have great dominance, exhibiting the authority in their relationship. However, this particular text criticises this idea and assumptions of the wealthy middle class during the 20th century, as it was Mrs Marroner who went against that male centred nature and demonstrated the most power through her independent and clever decisions, she made for herself and Gerta.
Just like the yellow wallpaper, “If I were a man” is another story written by Gilman which share a frequent theme of repression of females by males. This is a feminist utopia story that focusses on the subconscious mentality of women who eagerly want to live a life like a man. This is a story of a young woman Mollie Mathewson who turns into her husband Gerald. Mollie truly wishes she were a man so that she could have power and control over her life. Overnight when she transforms into her husband, she sees the world in a new way. She explains that the world opens up before her as it never has before because it is a man’s world.
Gilman through this text is perhaps portraying how women have not seen the real world as they are not exposed to society as much which easily ties in with the “rest cure” that women had to take in order to feel better when in reality it kept them isolated from socialising with the world and oppressed their inner mentality. Moreover, as molly turns into Gerald, she is considering the small things such as his body figure and “weight”, his clothing which symbolizes the freedom he had held has a man. This was really symbolic in the 19th century and the time when Gilman was writing this, as Women were obliged to dress in suitable clothing which was a dress or skirt. This shows how women were judged based on appearance and clothing in order to be accepted by the opposite gender.
Mollie in this text listens to the men talk about how women have limitations due to physiological weaknesses. She also hears them criticise their wives for spending money. She struggles to stabilise her masculine consciousness with her feminine background. She overcomes the struggle and expresses to the men that they cannot blame their spouses for spending a lot since the men are too prideful to let their wives work. The reason they’re spending all the money is to look attractive and be acknowledged by men. By speaking up and explaining their prejudice molly gave the men a new perspective from a women’s point of view that they’ve never experienced before. This is quite ambiguous as we are not told whether or not molly is actually speaking up or if she’s dreaming and if all this is happening in her subconscious mind.
These texts are political in a wide sense which hugely zooms into how women voices are not heard so they either have to handle the oppression themselves (just like Mrs Morroner in the turned who goes through a lot of difficulty yet she handles herself and Gerta by becoming self-reliant ) or become alienated inside their own home as many women were let voiceless in regards to the males authority and couldn’t “escape their oppression”.