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As the narrator is denied access to the world and the normal expression of her individuality, so she becomes a true prisoner of the room with the yellow wallpaper. Her life and consciousness becomes more restricted until the wallpaper becomes an animated world to her. There is also the implied suggestion in this process of a conflict between the rational and logical world, determined and controlled by male consciousness, and the more imaginative female consciousness and sensibility.
On a psychological level the structure of the rational male world interweaves with the mental domination of the women. The women states that she is sick and her husband, who is a physician, declares that there is essentially nothing wrong with her. This contradiction between what she feels and his views leaves her in a confused state.
A as she puts it, "If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency -- what is one to do?"... She is "absolutely forbidden to 'work' until [she is] well again"... even though she is told she is not sick and even though she disagrees with the prescription.
It is clear from the above that the process of dominance, and the subsequent decline of the woman's sense of self-confidence, is subtlety but strongly related to the male oriented social milieu and the prejudices and norms that society impresses on her.
Her husband plays a real and insistent part in enforcing these social norms and views at the expense of her own feelings and perceptions. "Throughout the story, her doctor-husband contradicts her representations of reality and imposes his representations on her. She tells him she feels something strange and ghostly in the house, and he says it is a draught and closes the window..."(Herndl 129). The husband continually erodes her sense of identity by denying the veracity of her views and opinions.
In spite of the assault on her sense of her own identity, she attempts to maintain a sense of self by writing in her journal. This is a last resort and an effort to maintain some sense of personal freedom and equilibrium. "Her writing of the journal we read is one indication of this attempt to continue representing, even though it is the very work she has been told not to do. She is, at least initially, trying to somehow maintain her subjectivity despite male interdiction." (Herndl 130)
Writing in her journal therefore becomes her way of rebelling; of asserting herself against a world that refuses to listen to her innermost feelings and perceptions. However as a result of the continued onslaught against her sense of identity she begins to deny her own sense of self and in fact questions her own subjectivity. This can be seen in remarks such as the following.
A did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal -- having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition. I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus -- but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad
The Yellow Wallpaper)
Her sense of her own worth and value begins to fade. She states that;" I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind." (the Yellow Wallpaper) the fact that she now refers to her writing as "dead paper" is an indication that at deep level she is letting go of the fight for her social and personal subjective reality. She has in a sense consciously accepted the social view of herself that is projected through her husband as being essentially "useless." At a deeper level her consciousness and sense of reality begins to break down. "In writing only for "dead paper" -- writing only to death -- her language use becomes less governed by existence in the world outside her. She ceases to function as a "speaking-subject" in the world" (Herndl 130)
3.1. The wallpaper
As has already been noted, the wallpaper acts as a metaphor for the psychotic decline in the women. There are a number of studies which focus in the various aspects of this metaphor, such as the significance of design and color in terms of the story as a whole. One of the central aspects of the wallpaper is the intense dislike that the woman has for its color and design. She finds them "revolting" and; by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind. [...] the color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream
The Yellow Wallpaper)
One view is that the woman's disgust and revulsion at the arabesques and "eastern" designs on the wallpaper is that it presents a sense of disorder and lack of centre or control that mirrors her own feelings and experience. As Roth (2001) states it.".. resonated with a faint sense of that disturbance so prevalent in Gilman's tale because arabesque is an uncentred and indeterminate style of decoration. "(Roth) in other words the wallpaper becomes a physical expression of her own dislocation of self and loss of identity.
In essence the metaphor of the yellow wallpaper projects a feeling of entrapment and isolation of the creative and artistic impulses in the individual. An important aspect to consider in terms of the theme of social and psychological oppression is the following. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the focus is on the female character,"... trapped in an ugly and uncomfortable world that does not allow...viable alternatives to the traditional world of wifehood and motherhood." (Herndl 129) Furthermore these artistic and creative urges within the women are repressed so that they become self - destructive instead of liberating.
4. Theoretical perspectives
The Yellow Wallpaper has been interpreted and analyzed from many points-of-view but mainly from a more feminist perspective. Literary criticism in this regard has been essentially focused in the way that women are treated in a modern patriarchal society. In order to fully understand and appreciate the novella in its correct context we should also consider it in terms of the gender divide in the time period in which it was written. As one study states,
Gilman lived in a time when women were routinely oppressed by society and she represented this in her story, both literally in the husband's treatment of the narrator, and figuratively, in the pattern in the wallpaper being a prison for the woman (or women) behind it. The story, at least on some level, was meant to be a warning to society that this type of treatment could only lead to disastrous results. Gilman illustrates this through the narrator's descent into madness.
Metaphor in "The Yellow Wallpaper")
The story as social critique is fairly obvious from the above discussion. This leads to the psychological view and the exploration of the women's decline as a result of the denial of the validity of her one subjective world. In a broader context this implies that women are treated as inferior in society and that this has psychological and negative consequences for society in general. This can be seen in the fact that the woman in the wallpaper is described in a demeaning way as "creeping about" in the daylight.
Another perspective that has been a focus of psychological interpretations is the apparent the lack of awareness that the woman in the narrative has of her real predicament. "The woman who speaks to us only obscurely recognizes that conforming to the stereotype of ideal womanhood of the time is the very cause of her "nervous depression." She is faced with the terrible dilemma of being good and mad, or bad and sane." (Thomson)
This adds to the significance of the story as it relates to the fact that women are often largely unaware of the manipulative societal forces that influence them. This is also therefore a story that not only critiques societal norms and values but is also intended to make women more aware of the nature of the forces that create their suffering and loss of individuality on a personal level.
There have also been theoretical views that have compared the central themes of the Yellow Wallpaper to well-known literary works with similar thematic trajectories. For example, a study by Delashmit and Long (1991) suggests that there are marked similarities between the Yellow Wallpaper and…[continue]
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I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still... It keep me quiet by the hour" (Hunt, 179). With this, it is clear that Gilman sees herself as trapped in a very disruptive and confined world, one which ultimately drives her insane; also, this mysterious woman is a symbol of her physical self caught within a maze of confusion and despair, all because of the "yellow wallpaper"
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