Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

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Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Modernist critics have applied depth psychology to the story and written about the symbolism of sexual repression in the nursery bars, the chained-down bed, and the wallpaper. Genre critics have discussed the story as an example of supernatural gothic fiction, in which a ghost actually haunts the narrator. But most importantly, feminist critics (re)discovered the story in the 1970s and interpreted it as a critique of a society that subjugated women into the role of wife and mother and repressed them so much that all they could ever hope to be was an "angel in the house."
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It is significant however, that the narrator herself had absolutely no say in this matter. She was never asked if she thought that it would be of help to spend time in the country. She was never consulted about whether or not it could be her writing that is causing her emotional difficulties. Instead, the men who have power over her decided these things for her, locking her in a nursery and forbidding her to write. Whereas before she was figuratively locked into the role of wife and mother, she is now physically locked into the uppermost room of the summerhouse. Just as she has never been able to leave her prescribed social role, now she cannot leave her wallpapered prison. The narrator's imprisonment echoes all the way back to the female Gothic's classic beginnings in Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Instead of being locked away "in a foreign land... surrounded by vice and violence," the narrator is locked away by the man who should be closest to her and is surrounded by the oppressive patriarchal power structure of her time (Delamotte 206).

Within a few pages of the story, it becomes quite clear that Gilman is concealing something; the narrator has a secret that she is not sharing with anyone. This secret is her own identity. Her namelessness fits both within the Gothic tradition of concealed objects and is also quite a telling clue that points to the loss of personal identity in women that occurs when they are locked into the unfortunate