The Yellow Wallpaper

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For centuries men and women have been taught from an early age how to behave. Boys are taught to play war, hunt, and other skills deemed “Manly”. Women are also taught how young ladies are to behave. Women are to tend to housework and rear children. Over the last 150 years women have fought to fight these stereotypes and break away from traditional gender roles. Forcing traditional gender roles upon women (or men), instead of allowing them to forge their own identity can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of a woman and her family.
In 1898 “Declaration of Sentiments” was published by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The second paragraph begins with “We hold these truths to be self evident” (Stanton 287). This mirrors the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. It continues to say that “all men and women are created equal” (Stanton 287) whereas the Declaration of Independence only mentions men. This was a way for women to be heard in a calm and rational way. Stanton goes on to describe how men have an “absolute tyranny” (Stanton 287) over women. They have no right to vote, however are subjected to the laws, and have “withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men- both natives and foreigners” (Stanton 288). It clearly outlines the way women were treated (and in some societies still treated). While women have as many rights under the law as men do, they still struggle to be viewed as equals.
In the “Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman shows how a woman is treated as property and frail, it follows her decline into a mental breakdown. She appears to be suffering from Post Partum Depression, and is treated by her physician husband John for “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency” (Gillman 130). She isn’t allowed any say in her care or treatment and is treated as a prisoner. The speaker describes her surroundings saying “It was a nursery first and then a playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children and there are rings in the walls” (possibly for keeping patients restrained) (Gillman 131). She talks about the large room and how the wallpaper is ripped and the floor is gouged (Gillman 134), the “great immovable bed – it’s nailed down” (Gillman 135).

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"The Yellow Wallpaper." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Jun 2018
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She strives for human interaction, activity, to see her child and to be a part of her treatment. However, her husband and her brother are both physicians (Gillman 130) and being married “in the eye of the law, civilly dead.” (Stanton 288), her husband has the power to “deprive her of her liberty” (Stanton 288) and has “usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action” (Stanton 288) . It’s even suggested that the speakers husband John is unfaithful, it is mentioned several times that he is “kept in town very often by serious cases” and even stays out on their final night in the house (Gilman 141). At this time, his infidelity would not be frowned upon as it currently is, “giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women,…not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man” (Stanton 288)
A more recent work, “Barbie Doll” by Margie Piercy (171) illustrates how much importance is placed on a woman’s appearance. The child was presented with all the things that a modern girl grows up with. “Dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (Piercy 171, 2-4). However once she became of age a classmate pointed out “You have a great big nose and fat legs” (Piercy 171, 6). Although the girl was healthy and intelligent, this wasn’t enough. She was obsessed with her imperfections, “Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs” (Piercy 171, 11). She played the game that every girl is taught to play, however “Her good nature wore out”(Piercy 171, 15) “So she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up” (Piercy 171, 17-18). The girl wasn’t able to live up to the standards placed on her and was unable to handle the pressure to be perfect. Her answer to this was to commit suicide. It was only in death did she achieve fulfillment and perfection.


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