Gender Roles in The Yellow Wallpaper

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Gender Roles in The Yellow Wallpaper

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," the reader is treated to an intimate portrait of developing insanity. At the same time, the story's first person narrator provides insight into the social attitudes of the story's late Victorian time period. The story sets up a sense of gradually increasing distrust between the narrator and her husband, John, a doctor, which suggests that gender roles were strictly defined; however, as the story is just one representation of the time period, the examination of other sources is necessary to better understand the nature of American attitudes in the late 1800s. Specifically, this essay will analyze the representation of
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A glance at a few of the conversations between John and the narrator will help clarify the roles of husband and wife as the story represents them. Rather than see the husband and wife as equals, the story clearly places the wife in the role of inferior. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the use of condescending names when referring to his wife. Early on, when the narrator complains of the unsettling décor in her room, John "called [her] a blessed little goose" (Gilman 2); later, when she cannot sleep, he calls her a "little girl" (Gilman 5). When the narrator protests that she is not improving under her treatment, John patronizingly states: "'Bless her little heart!' said he with a big hug, 'she shall be as sick as she pleases!'" (Gilman 5). Such language use suggests that the narrator is akin to a child, rather than an adult partner of the speaker. Even the narrator herself, within the confines of her own writing, notes that one of her biggest disappointments is that she is unable to fulfill the obligations that come with marriage and motherhood: "It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way! I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!" (Gilman 2).

To summarize, "The Yellow Wallpaper" presents the reader with an understanding of gender roles that places
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