Feminist Reading of The Yellow Wallpaper

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A Feminist Reading of The Yellow Wallpaper

In the late nineteenth century, after the American social and economic shift commonly referred to as the "Industrial Revolution" had changed the very fabric of American society, increased attention was paid to the psychological disorders that apparently had steamed up out of the new smokestacks and skyscrapers in urban populations (Bauer, 131). These disorders were presumed to have been born out of the exhaustion and "wear and tear" of industrial society (Bauer, 131-132). An obvious effect of these new disorders was a slew of physicians and psychiatrists advocating one sort of cure or another, although the "rest cure" popularized by the physician S. Weir Mitchell was the most
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As a result, the illness of the woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" ceased to represent an account of Gilman's own illness and became a representation of the illness that afflicted all women at the time: the illness of oppression.

Before beginning to analyze "The Yellow Wallpaper" from a feminist viewpoint, one must consider first how women were perceived in late-nineteenth century America. A common knowledge of history reveals that they were legally and socially second class citizens, not even earning the right to vote until 1920. One of Gilman's chief complaints was that "...women had long been competing over men in a system of oppression that had its roots in a precapitalist culture. Only men could promise economic security in a world which would not employ women" (Bauer, 132). In a world where men forced women to depend upon them in order to keep women in an inferior and powerless role, it is not surprising that so many women developed "neurasthenia." In his short story "Old Doc Rivers," William C. Williams explains neurasthenia as a label that arose where "...they never did discover what was the matter with the patient," perhaps because nothing really was "the matter," only what happens to any person deprived of exercise, freedom, and the ability to think for one's self (Williams,
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