Usurpation of Identity in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Decent Essays
Usurpation of Identity in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story of a woman who goes mad while fixating on a bizarre wall-covering has been used as an early example of post-partum depression. In the latter part of the 1800’s women were seen as inferior subordinates to men who could not be trusted due to the effect of the female organs on their brains. The narrator is almost certainly a victim of the lack of medical knowledge of the day, while the prevailing attitudes in the medical field of women as childlike and the social pressure of male domination contribute to the narrator’s illness. The husband’s role as spouse and physician enable his benevolent manipulation of the narrator by isolating her and removing her…show more content…
At the time Gilman wrote the story, another main role that a married woman played was that of wife as caretaker of the home. As the narrator is not allowed to do any work, John has brought his sister Jennie along on their summer retreat. The narrator says of this character “She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession” (795) and “Jennie sees to everything now” (796). During the one visit with outsiders that she is allowed, the main character does nothing to help in the household to take care of the visitors, and this lack of contribution leaves her tired, an indication of a depressed mental state. The narrator has been displaced in her role as caretaker of the home, which removes another aspect of her identity and contributes to the internal void. American society in the late nineteenth century erroneously entertained the idea that women were incapable of rational thought and needed to be taken care of as if they were children. The narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper”, suffering from post-partum depression and left to ruminate on her own supposed deficiencies, is forced by these ideas into a situation that intensifies her mental illness and creates the opposite of the effect intended by the treatment. The combination of her husband’s dominance as spouse and physician, and the presence of the nanny and sister-in-law, creates a situation in which the narrator is stripped of her roles as mother and wife
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