Discuss the role of male power in Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” How is it shaped by patriarchy and what effect does this have on its female characters and how the reader perceives them?
The short story “ The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was written, centered and geared towards the effects of male power and it’s shaping due to patriarchy. The reader has the opportunity to watch the protagonist’s insanity develop and unveil throughout the story, the reader can also watch the skepticism develop within her marriage. Pieces of her story were included to display the “the pattern” of social and economic dependence which reduces women to domestic slavery” (Treichler, 64). In this time period, it was not common for women to aspire to have a career or have hobbies, women were just expected to get married, have children, and complete housework. According to Professor Kathryn Hughes of The British Library, “The ideology of Separate Spheres rested on a definition of the ‘natural’ characteristics of women and men. Women were considered physically weaker yet morally superior to men, which meant that they were best suited to the domestic sphere.” (Hughes). In 19th century literature, women and their identities were in fact destabilized by the “male power”, the constant enforcement of gender roles by society drained the life from many women. The constant pressure of women to remain, took a toll on many of their mental, emotional and physical health.
In the short story, the female protagonist was married to a physician, John, who contributed greatly to her mental instabilities. The story displays common gender standards for the 19th century, John was the protagonist’s husband and everything he says goes, because men supposedly knew best. He was seen as practical, knowledgeable, and protective. She notified him of these anxious feeling she has and that she is mentally unstable,” John is a physician..You see he does not believe I am sick!”(Gilman, 171). John does not understand his wife’s mental instability, “John does not know how much I really suffer” (Gilman 229). She tries to explain her condition and he insists, “the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition” (Gilman 226).
To combat his wife’s complaint of illness, John locks her in a room with wretched wallpaper, he prescribed this treatment, along with no reading and writing of any sort.The protagonist/narrator, become infatuated with the wallpaper believing its a woman trapped inside, which embodies her struggle for mental, emotional and physical freedom as a woman.She tries to read and write, explaining to John the benefits of this coping mechanism, and he dismisses her attempts. When the protagonist initially attempts to tell her husband she saw the wallpaper shift, he demeans her, “I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake. “What is it, little girl?” he said.” (Gilman, )
Conclusion: Due to extensive research on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the idea of her being a feminist and loathing gender role and societal norms in the 19th century Victorian Age.
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