Feminist Ctiticism in "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Charlotte Perkins Gilmans "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Modernist critics have applied depth psychology to the story and written about the symbolism of sexual repression in the nursery bars, the chained-down bed, and the wallpaper. Genre critics have discussed the story as an example of supernatural gothic fiction, in which a ghost actually haunts the narrator. But most importantly, feminist critics discovered the story in the 1970s and interpreted it as a critique of a society that subjugated women into the role of wife and mother and repressed them so much that all they could ever hope to be was an "angel in the house." Women have been treated as a second class of citizens with neither the legal rights nor the respect of their male counterparts. Culture has contributed to these gender roles by conditioning to these gender roles by conditioning women to accept their subordinate status while encouraging young men to lead and control. Feminist criticism contends that literature either supports societys patriarchal structure or provides social criticism in order to change this hierarchy. The Yellow Wallpaper depicts one womens struggle against the traditional female role into which society attempts to force her and the societal reaction to this act.
From the beginning of this work, the woman is shown to have gone mad. We are given no insight into the past, and we do not know why she has been driven to the brink of insanity. The beautiful English place that the woman sees in her minds eye is the way men have traditionally wanted women to see their role in society. As the woman says, "It is quite alone standing well back from the road It makes me think of English places for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them." This lovely English countryside picture that this woman paints to the reader is a shallow view at the real likeness of her prison. The reality of things is that this lovely place is her small living space, and in it she is to function as every other good housewife should. The description of her cell, versus the reality of it, is a very good example of the restriction women had in those days. They were free to see things as they wanted.