The Independence of Women "The Yellow Wallpaper," written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story of a woman, her psychological difficulties, and her husband's so called therapeutic treatment of her ailments during the late 1800 s. The story begins with a young woman and her husband traveling to the country for the summer to help heal the young woman's psychological condition. Upon reading thins intense description of an almost prison like prescription for overcoming "temporary nervous depression," the reader is permeated with the idea that men are the wardens in the lives of women. Gilman shows throughout the story just how easily and effectively the man seemingly wields his dominance to control his wife.
Many symbols throughout the story portray the central theme of "The Yellow Wallpaper." The woman trapped inside the wallpaper, the yellow wallpaper, and the final passage of the story all serve as symbols to the central theme of male dominance and the societal oppression of women during this time period. The narrator sets up the story to convey a certain opinion on the repercussions that a woman faces in the care of a man. The wife loves her husband, but she has an underlying feeling that maybe his prescription of total bed rest is not working for her. The story mentions that she has an older brother who is also a physician and concurs with her husband's theory, thus leaving her no choice but to subject herself to the torment of being alone in the room with the yellow wallpaper. The young woman stares at this wallpaper for hours on end and thinks she sees a woman behind the paper. "I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman" (432).
She becomes obsessed with discovering what is behind the pattern and what it is doing. "I don't want to leave now until I hav found it out" (433). The narrator is reduced to staring endlessly at the pattern in the wallpaper. She creates an image of a woman whom she feels is necessary to find out.
Once the narrator determines the image is a woman struggling to become free, she aligns herself with the woman. In the story, she often sees the woman creeping outside. "I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping around the garden" (434). This woman creeping around serves as a symbol for the oppression of the narrator. The narrator does not creep at night because "John would suspect something at once" (434).
Because the narrator is not allowed out at night, she visualizes her freedom through the woman. The narrator always "[locks] the door when [she creeps] by daylight" (434). She is afraid her husband will take away the only comfort she had known before this "rest cure." Therefore, the woman in the wallpaper serves as a symbol for the freedom the narrator wishes to have. The narrator continues to pursue this obsessive project of freeing the woman from the wallpaper. The narrator wants the woman to be free of the paper. The woman in the paper represents the sanity of the narrator, while the paper symbolizes her oppression.
The narrator wants to tear all the paper off and free the woman just as she wishes to break from her oppressed state and be set free. With less control from her husband, the narrator's "yellow wallpaper" will be torn off and she would be free. She would be stripped of both her oppression and sickness just as the woman in the wallpaper would be stripped of her limits. The wallpaper and the woman in the wallpaper symbolize the oppression of the woman and her desire for freedom. Lastly, the final passage of the story successfully manifests a display of power and the possible regain of self-governance for the young woman. The narrator stands up to her husband by locking him out of the room in which he has imprisoned her.
For the first time in the story, the husband must listen to her entreaties to discover where the key is hidden. An assessment of the final moments of the story successfully symbolizes the need of a woman to stand up for her rights even in the face of a man's believed superiority. The ability to lock the door restores the narrator's powers over her environment, and possibly her inner domains as well. The husband must now pay attention to his wife so that he may once again be with her.
He may now release the freedom of his wife so he can listen to her and understand her. When the narrator creeps over her husband, her soul is being set free just as she may now creep openly. The woman in the wallpaper, the yellow wallpaper, and the final passage of the story symbolize the societal outlook on women during the late 1800 s. Men controlled their wives and women were not to be free of mind.
Gilman adequately utilizes these symbols to portray this social deviance. The end of the story predicates itself on portraying the ultimate theme clearly. Women can only gain their independence by refusing to be submissive and by exercising their own minds.