The systems of masculine oppression represent a common thematic thread that unites many works of literature. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is just one of the many examples of feminist writing. At the center of Gilman’s story is a young lady, who experiences all kinds of obvious and hidden discrimination based on her gender. Yet, it is not the woman who draws major attention but the yellow wallpaper that eventually saves her from her marriage prison. In Gilman’s story, the yellow wallpaper fulfills several literary functions, the most pertinent being an allegorical representation of masculine oppression. The allegory of the wallpaper in “The Yellow Wallpaper” represents the main features of masculine oppression that are more or less visible in the life of a married woman: dramatic stability bordering on stagnation, loneliness, disguise and omnipresence create a sense of constant emotional pressure on the woman, who eventually uses the yellow wallpaper as the door into the world of freedom.
The allegory of the yellow wallpaper represents one of the basic features of masculine oppression – its inevitability and stability across time. In other words, women who are oppressed have few chances to overthrow the systems of masculine oppression that have been in existence for centuries. “He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on” (Gilman 649). Apparently, John is not delighted at his wife’s decision to remove the wallpaper. It is an allegorical description of how men are not willing to change their oppressive position in relation to women, even if these women are their wives. Here, the yellow wallpaper also symbolizes a masculine fear of change. Men would prefer seeing women in isolation and loneliness rather than grant them at least some space for self-reflection and growth.
Actually, loneliness is another aspect of masculine systems of oppression depicted by the yellow wallpaper. It isolates the woman from the rest of the world, as well as reminds her of how poorly she matches the atmosphere, which her husband has been thoroughly creating for her: ” There is one place where two breaths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other” (Gilman 650). The yellow wallpaper in the woman’s room stands out as brightly as her desire to be better integrated into a world full of people. Also, it does not seem to fit in the room’s interior, being lonely and isolated as the woman, who spends most of her time in a closed room. Unfortunately, the biggest danger of the yellow wallpaper is that it tends to change its colors, depending on the time of the day. In a similar vein, the colors of masculine oppression change, thus empowering men to present it as a benefit available to women rather than a form of discrimination they should try to escape.
The yellow wallpaper changes its shades and colors, as much as masculine oppression changes its face and look to keep women confused about its nature and consequences. “This wallpaper has a kind of subpattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then” (Gilman 650). The yellow wallpaper is always different, even though its basic color remains unchanged. The nature and complexity of masculine oppression also does not change, but it often looks like a unique advantage that is available to few women. It is difficult to imagine that a woman could be unhappy with her husband, as he is trying his best to cure her disease and keep her in relative safety. The barred windows, the overwhelming presence of another woman, and the lack of opportunities for writing wane against the background of the astonishing amount of care poured on the woman on an everyday basis. Only a woman who sees the wallpaper every minute can understand its hidden nature. Only a woman who experiences the daily pressure of masculine oppression can gradually realize its hidden meaning. Unfortunately, it takes time for a woman to get rid of the overwhelming presence of the wallpaper in the room, as well as it requires time, effort, and courage to deal with the overwhelming presence of masculine “care”.
Even when the systems of masculine oppression manage to guise themselves under the veil of care and support, women have enough intuition to discover the true nature of their intentions. It is the smell that reminds the woman of the yellow wallpaper in her room, as it is the smell of caution and dislike that reminds women of the hideous nature of total control. “…the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad” (Gilman 654). What the wallpaper suggests is that, with so much care and understanding delivered by a man, the systems of masculine oppression do not seem to be so bad. Women need perseverance and strength to differentiate between its true colors. Once the realization becomes obvious, the need for escape becomes urgent. To a large extent, the yellow wallpaper allegory symbolizes a long and painful journey towards self-awareness.
The yellow wallpaper is an allegory of a woman’s journey towards self-awareness and escape. The woman on the yellow wallpaper definitely escapes the wall during the daytime (Gilman 654). The same happens to the real woman, who can no longer survive behind the barred windows of her cold and lonely room. It is queer and confusing, but not as much as the insanity facing a woman, who has no single chance to run away from her prison. The wallpaper becomes as yellow as insanity – the insanity that opens the door into a world of freedom.
To conclude, the yellow wallpaper is the central symbol and the principal allegory in Gilman’s story. It represents the most important elements of masculine oppression, such as the stability bordering on stagnation, loneliness, disguise and omnipresence. It is the yellow wallpaper that drives the emotional tensions to the point of insanity. Unfortunately, insanity remains the only possible way for a woman to escape the power of masculine oppression, opening the door into a world of freedom.
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Literature of Prescription, n.d. Web. 21 Nov 2014. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf.