21.1.12

Seemingly Separate Parts of a Whole: Dualistic Elements in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

“The Yellow Wallpaper”, originally published in 1892, is a semi-autobiographical short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story starts off with a description of “a colonial mansion, […] a haunted house” where the protagonist is taken away to by her husband in order to cure her from a “slight hysterical tendency” (41). The narrator, herself, never believes she is ill but is still locked up in a room in the mansion where she is left alone and imprisoned to bed-rest; she is not to get up, walk around or even write. There is something about this room that the narrator does not like at all and that is the yellow wallpaper which she describes in her journal as the worst wallpaper she has ever seen (42). The narrators’ unsatisfaction with the wallpaper grows as days pass and her condition worsens increasingly. She eventually recovers after tearing down the wallpaper, her only threshold that is in the way of reaching her conscious self. Throughout this melodramatic story, contrary elements have been used forming a sense of dualism between them, emphasizing a perfect whole if only equally treated.

Upon reading the story, one can notice how there is a continuous presentment of the two well known contradictory aspects: moonlight and sunlight. Most gods which are associated with the moon from the ancient times to today are actually goddesses; whereas the gods of the sun are associated with masculinity, order and law. Let us take Apollo for example. He stands forth with his representation of light and truth (rationality). Daytime is Apollo’s time, as is the time of John’s in the story. During the day, the narrator is forced to take her routinized prescriptions for example which emphasize order and rationality that are among the speciality of men. Her actions seem to be limited during this time of day as is the actions of the women in the wallpaper are limited. We can sense how there is no room for women during the daylight giving us the subtext of how women have no room and rights in the world dominated mostly by masculinity. The night time though is the spotlight for Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister. This goddess is represented with being the goddess of the moon, showing femininity, chaos and the power of the unconscious. Correlating this with the story we have, we can see how throughout it the women that is in the wallpaper escapes from her state of being motionless and gains self control and freedom only when the moonlight strikes. She is only herself and can freely be when she is away from the rational world dominated by men. This pattern of events also mirrors the narrator’s own daily activities. During the day time, she does nothing but sleep and it is only at night when she lies awake alert. She carries out all her daily routines which she obligingly suppresses during the day while her husband’s attention is mostly on her.

Extending the presentments of the two contradictory aspects of the moonlight ad sunlight, we can see two other contradictory points presented to us throughout the story which are the private sphere and the public one. The writings of Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Women can further help explain this very situation. In these writings, she points out how women cannot be drawn out of their sphere and how it takes time for them to be regarded to have part in the public sphere rather than the private one. The women of the time are obliged to stay home and serve their husbands and families while the husbands are somewhat free, out spending time in the public. In the story also, we see this nameless narrator (which also reinforces the notion of her being unimportant and having no identity) trapped at home; yet more forming a mise en abyme of traps. She is actually imprisoned in a nursery room which is also imprisoned in a mansion which is further somewhat imprisoned on a land with no other houses anywhere near. She can never get out of her private sphere and neither can the woman in the yellow wallpaper. She is too trapped behind the patterns of this wallpaper which signify the stereotypic thoughts of the time. These patterns are, too, the very formations of societal norms that restrict the actions of individuals. Her private sphere is that very place behind the wallpaper that she is obliged to lead a life in.

"The Yellow Wallpaper", though intentionally not written to point out the differences between men and women of the time, is actually a brilliant story dealing mostly with the topic.of separations of rights among people during the 19th century. It definitely touches upon the “undeveloped” culture, secretly suggesting “modern” thoughts in order to change those undeveloped ones.

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