Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a story of a woman (she could be named as Jane) who falls into total insanity mainly because of the ‘inequality’ she experiences with her husband, John, and the ‘suppression’ in self-freedom and expression she is forced with. This short story presents a picture of two crucial issues: the disparity and unfairness experienced by women in the institution of marriage and the suppression among women who long desire for self-expression. The story also forwards that there is an absence of equal freedom between men and women (between the woman and John) and favor to what really women need.
The focal point of the story is seen in the woman falling into madness or postpartum depression and, at the same time, having her fate being controlled over the power and paternalistic rule of John. John, a physician of high standing, attempts to cure the nervous disorder of his wife through complete rest and isolation. But ironically John fails and it only becomes worse and completely untreated. The woman’s madness is a result of the complete rest and isolation John puts in her life. Relating it to the reality in the society, the ‘madness’ in the story primarily brings out the essence of women’s desire and revolutionary move to be able to reach their own rights. The presence of social protocols sets the guidelines and standards as to how women should live and act – the women should stay only in their home or their private sphere, they should work only as the family’s servant and they should live a life of passivity and docility as a whole – a set of standards which also hinders women to break free and live a life that they actually want. The woman, representing the women of society as a whole, has lived a life struggling against the domination of John, representing the men and society and their norms towards women and womanhood.
The story also uses significant metaphors in the story which generally refer to the clear and disturbing male oppression and domination over women. The wallpaper represents the patriarchal power of men; thus, in the story, tearing it means demolition of the ruling power of men, and women breaking free. The woman’s ‘creeping over John’ refers to women’s triumph as they move to achieve their own freedom. Also, the women being trapped behind the wallpaper, as what the woman imagines and sees in the story, refers to the women of the society who are being trapped and abused by the negative norms and standards of being a woman. The odor of the wallpaper symbolizes the foul effects of male domination towards the female society. Lastly, the hobby of writing which the woman loves to do serves as a means to express her objections towards John. Yet as what the narrator said, she doesn’t want her to be seen writing and John doesn’t want her to write, thus referring to women being obstructed to voice out themselves.
It is very clear that the story attempts to change the roles and images of women in the society. Apparently, it presents an idea of giving the women the opportunity to become equal to men and to have the same position in the public arena as what men do have.