The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a story about an extremely trapped and imaginative woman who only wishes to be able to be herself, she was a writer who only wanted to continue writing her excellent works. Though her husband wanted her to act like a true woman; who only tended to the child, cleaned the house, and only loved her husband. The narrator then contracted post-partum depression, put her into a very odd room with the most fascinating wallpaper full of patterns, this wallpaper soon became her obsession during her stay in the room and somehow started symbolizing her life. It was through this wallpaper that the theme of her story became apparent, that women should have equal rights as men and be able to have the same opportunities to follow their dreams and goals; the subordination of women was wrong. The wallpaper symbolizes a prison by the pattern the narrator recurrently sees every day of her stay in the room with the yellow wallpaper. The formless pattern keeps the narrator absolutely fascinated, to the point where she becomes obsessed with the want to solve it. “Round and round and round—round and round and round—it makes me dizzy” (7).
The narrator watches the patterns for hours trying to figure out how it works until she is enthralled by the complicated works. Finally after days of watching the patterns, she starts to see a woman behind the pattern, obviously trapped and imprisoned. “And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so…” (7) This woman behind the pattern symbolizes the narrators’ freedom, dreams, and hopes; it represents her imagination. At the moment, she is trapped behind the wallpaper because the narrator is trapped in real life by her husband, who keeps the narrator in the room, forbidding her to write. Furthermore, the wallpaper itself symbolizes a humble and domestic life, which the women behind the pattern is trapped by. Domestic life has always trapped women to the duty of child caring, watching over the well-being of their family, and keeping the distinction between female functions of marriage and male work. This type of life was especially seen in nineteenth century upper class marriages.
“She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick” (3). Woman were looked upon to be the perfect models for domestic life, in this quote the narrator is talking about her sister in law, who only wishes to become a housekeeper and does not seem to want to aim higher in life. During the time this story was written there were very rigid boundaries between the “domestic” functions of the wife and the duties of the husband. Because of these rigid boundaries women were kept ignorant and kept from the full development, as an intellectual. “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be too sly about it, or else met with heavy opposition” (1). This quote by the narrator shows that women were looked down upon for being well educated and positively discouraged if they were to be seen doing what was seen as a man’s job such as writing.
The wallpaper can be connected to this because the wallpaper is the prison of domestic life; what women are forced into, so that they can be seen as feminine and submissive. The women behind the wallpaper that the narrator sees is the freedom she wants and who she wishes to be and what she wishes to do; to write. In conclusion, the wallpaper was the prison of domestic life for the narrator, symbolizing the expectations of society for a woman, to be feminine and submissive and to take care of her family. The woman the behind the wallpaper prison was the narrators’ ideal self, this person was free to do all that she wanted but was kept barred away because of the domestic life thrust upon her. Thus the theme of the story by Charlotte Gilman, that subordination of women is wrong, and everyone should have equal opportunities.