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The Protagonist's Physical and Social Conditioning in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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Introduction

The Protagonist's Physical and Social Conditioning in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" Submitted by: Moira Cameron English 100, Assignment 2 May 26, 2005 The wife, protagonist, in "The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is trapped. Suffering from a "slight hysterical tendency" (p 676), an affliction no one really understands, her husband, a physician, prescribes a treatment, which offers her little support to be well again. Her condition is further aggravated by limitations of her social role as his wife. She is confined, controlled and devalued by her husband. She is powerless to renegotiate her situation. She is trapped by her treatment, her environment and her social role as a wife, with no hope of change. Given the hopelessness of her situation, she chooses to overpower what she can defeat, a figment of her imagination. ...read more.

Middle

Her husband has prescribed a version of the "rest cure"1. His "rest cure" amounts to being idle. The wife is a writer with artistic sensibility. She is deeply offended by the yellow wallpaper and its "sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin" (p 677). She needs an outlet to express herself, through writing, but is prevented from doing so, as part of her "rest". However, she still writes, covertly. John is a physician, an expert on physical illness. Being practical, he is not predisposed to be an expert on the artistic temperament. She disagrees with her treatment, but remains silent on that issue, displaying appropriate wifely behaviours. To be appropriate, to exhibit "proper self-control" (p 676) is required as his wife in the nineteenth century. She is the property of her husband and must appear to submit to his will. ...read more.

Conclusion

and she "must take care of herself for his sake" (p 681). Instead she is a source of worry and distress. She knows she has failed on all three counts and thus has less value to her husband. This poor woman likely suffers from post partum depression. Her treatment offers little to help her be well again. In fact, the treatment, together with her social and environmental conditions restrict her and thus increase her obsession with the wallpaper to the point that she starts to hallucinate and imagines a "woman stooping down and creeping about behind the pattern" (p 681). Sadly, the wife is motivated to be "well", but has given up on negotiating a different scenario for herself - "what is one to do?" (p 676), she repeats. Instead, she chooses to defeat the only opponent she can fight, an imaginary one - the woman behind the wallpaper. ...read more.

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