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Consider the relationship between the two characters, John and the female speaker in the passage from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper.' Why do you suppose the speaker feels that she 'must' write what she thinks and feels?

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Introduction

Consider the relationship between the two characters, John and the female speaker in the passage from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper.' Why do you suppose the speaker feels that she 'must' write what she thinks and feels? What does writing mean to her? Why would John think her writing 'absurd'? Is this merely an account of a woman going crazy or is Gilman offering us 'social protest' here? What evidence do we have that the speaker is unstable? What aspects of life in late 19th Century America might the author be protesting against? The very fact that the speaker feels the need to write down and not articulate her feelings of unease arouses the reader's suspicion that the relationship between her husband and herself is not as sound as it should be. Even on first reading there appears to be a distinct lack of understanding between the couple, for the speaker states, "I know John would think it absurd," implying that he would not be able to see the situation from her perspective. The speaker's declaration that she 'must' write further enforces the idea that she is not understand, for her need reveals the true extent of her entrapment and desperation, exposed through her strong choice of language. Although he does not directly speak, through the speaker's portrayal of him, the reader can assume that he had undertaken a very patronising attitude in dealing with his wife's illness. ...read more.

Middle

In this respect, the colour of the wallpaper could be seen to reflect her mood. Her statement, "It is such a relief," is considered by John to be absurd, portraying the complete lack of communication the couple share. The idea that the narrator feels repressed continues when she states, "of course I never mention it to them anymore," revealing her inability to share her thoughts with someone that is supposedly dear to her. Therefore, John's inability to listen to her thoughts further adds to his overall governing of her, for she feels belittled by his disapproval and lack of understanding. Treated like this, it is no wonder that the narrator finds it difficult to stand alone as an independent woman, for her husband treats her as though she her opinions and perceptions are of little importance. The reader can assume that this occurred even before her illness. The way in which the speaker is being denied her basic human rights and secured in her room, causes the reader to wonder whether she is being forced into such a state by her husband or her frustration provoked by her lack of freedom. The passage appears to contain various contradictions, primarily in the narrator's opinions towards her husband John. She initially begins by calling "dear John" and placing her up-most faith is his advice. ...read more.

Conclusion

Set in the late 19th century, when women had not yet acquired the vote, the feminist movement had just begun its quest to force people to acknowledge women as first class citizens. It can be seen however, that in some respects, the speaker's deterioration into her poor mental state does provider her with some form of release, and therefore ironically, she is ultimately victorious in escaping her husband's control by giving in to her illness. The piece contains a vast amount of punctuation marks, and consists of fairly short sentences providing the reader with the impression that it is a stream of consciousness she is writing down and not a planned series of thoughts. If this is so, then these may be her feelings at that present moment, and not as earnest as the reader assumes, a consequence of what her husband says is an illness. The sentences flow more fluently when she talks about seeing her cousin, her thoughts become more organised when the subject moves onto something unrelated for in one moment she can forget her current situation and focus on a more positive issue. Despite this, John takes pains to remove her optimism, making almost cruelly sure that the speaker understands there is little point imagining such a outing, for she will not be able. His brutal reality serves only to enforce the former idea that he is fulfilling his traditional masculine role in dictating what his wife can and cannot do. ...read more.

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