Yellow Wallpaper: Commentary on 19th Century Gender Ideology

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Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a work that criticizes the limitations, status, and ability of 19th century women as effective second-class citizens through the narration of a woman’s psychological deterioration. Through the literal and metaphorical narration carried through the work, Gilman cries for a change in gender ideologies prevalent in the late 1800s and greater female empowerment beyond the domestic sphere of society. The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffers irreparable mental damage arguably because of her gender and established gender roles and ideologies in the late 19th century. It is important to note that the narrator is not a woman who is struggling to make ends meet. Rather, she is depicted as a troubled middle class woman who is in an established, acceptable marriage with a respectable physician. This implies that the psychological trauma and events that occur to the narrator are not caused by her lack of resources, but rather from the implications of being a woman and their societal divide with men in the 19th century. In this work, Gilman argues that the separate spheres ideology of man and woman create a barrier of communication even after the consummation of marriage. In this way, the exposition illustrates this divide by John’s dismissal of his wife’s mental instability. John is described as a man who is extremely practical, logical, and perhaps the epitome of what it is to be a man in the 19th century. On the other hand, the narrator is primarily emotionally invested, almost to a fault. Both physicians are male in this narrative, and neither is able to understand or identify with the logic of the narrator’s illness. From their perspective, the narrator is in an ideal station in society and has no reason for discontentment. In prescribing the rest cure, the narrator’s voice is effectively silenced and her psychological
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