Vintage short stories are meant to entertain their readers. However, many passive readers miss the true entertainment that lies within the story in the hidden context. Most short stories have, embedded in the writing, a lesson or theme attached to them. In the short story “The ,” Gilman demonstrates a woman who has suffered from repression and longs for the freedom from her controlling husband.
Gender conflicts play a major role throughout this story. The author portrays these kinds of conflicts through the three main characters, John, Jennie and the narrator. The theme of this story is a woman’s fall into insanity resulting from isolation from treatment of post-partum depression. Gilman is also telling the story of how women were thought of as prisoners by the demands of the society throughout that time period. She also expresses the punishments these women had when they tried to break free. As a reader, we see how much control John had over her and how it ended up affecting her individuality.
The narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” writes about her experience in dealing with depression. As a result her husband, a physician, decided that it would be a good idea for them to take a trip to the country for the summer where she could get the rest and isolation that she needs. In the beginning the woman becomes increasingly unhappy as she is forced to occupy a room that she despises. She describes the wallpaper in the room as being, “one of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.” She disliked everything about it including the color and the patterns. However, as the story continues, the woman’s attitude changes toward the wallpaper. Through given belittling comments, often disguised as cute nick-names, John was able to settle any doubts, yet maintain his suppression over her.
Such examples are “Bless her little heart! She shall be as sick as she pleases! And talk about it in the morning!” Unfortunately, because she was so depressed and vulnerable John was easily able to dominate and suppress her. Also, throughout the story John would commonly mistake her kindness for weakness and in coalition, abuse her trust. Since the narrator is limited to the same room day after day, she starts to study the wallpaper. ‘I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of conclusion.’ She refers to the pattern as the control that men had over women.
During that time, a woman was the property of her father until she was married. She was then under the control of her husband with no rights. Her husband made her decisions and basically took over her life. As time goes on, her mental illness gets worse. She starts to get paranoid about her husband and Jennie. ‘The fact is, I am getting a little afraid of John.
He seems very queer sometimes and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.’ In her mind she starts to actually see the woman from the wallpaper creeping in the garden during the day. She relates this woman to herself. As the story goes on, she becomes worse. Her only concern is helping the women escape from the wallpaper. She waits until John is gone, and completely destroys the wallpaper. She then locks the door and throws the keys out the window.
When John gets back, she is completely out of control. ‘I’ve gout out at last… in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ Although Gilman does not tell us who Jane is, the reader can conclude that the narrator’s name is Jane and she believes she has become the woman from the wallpaper and finally escaped. “There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me or ever will.” She related the paper to her mental illness, and because she spent so much time trying to understand it, she cured herself. “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be.
You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am quieter than I was.” In conclusion, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a classic example of how a short story entertains its audience through themes. This story conveyed the rights of women in today’s society and displayed how a woman suffering from depression overcame these obstacles. Unfortunately, passive readers might have overlooked this important concept and only gained brief entertainment through reading this story. The only way to prevent this from happening is to become an aggressive reader.