Characterization and Theme of Patriarchy in Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper

Introduction

Charlotte Gilman Perkins is one of the celebrated prolific writers who showed immense interest in fiction and non-fiction stories about women’s suffrage. In her works, Perkins attempts to show that women are responsible for empowering each other to gain freedom and an equal ground to access various opportunities in society. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Perkins successfully portrays the impact of patriarchy in the community through the conflicts of interest between man and wife. She chose the character of John, a qualified doctor who shows immense interest in attaining positive health outcomes for his patients but ignores the wellbeing of his wife. The family life at John’s home symbolizes the society and the constructs that result in the oppression of women. The essay analyzes Perkins’s The Yellow Wallpaper through conflicts that display the influence of patriarchy in this society.

Analysis

The conflicts of interest in The Yellow Wallpaper depict the struggle of women to challenge the status quo. Aman et al. explain the impact of John’s behavior of ignoring the needs of her wife after birth, which symbolizes the suffering of women under the dominance of men (154). Perkins demonstrates that the society in The Yellow Wallpaper had standardized the role of women as remaining at home to perform care roles. At the same time, men went to school and accessed opportunities in high-profile job positions. Perkins shows that men ignore even the health aspects of women because they view them as lesser beings. The narrator says, “My brother is also a physician, and also high standing, and he says the same thing,” to show that even her blood sibling is oblivious to her depressive state (Perkins 648). The author needed to show that a man was the enemy of women’s progress. Gregušová refutes this perspective in a claim that during the period Perkins published the text, the society focused on the empowerment of the boy child and ignored the girl’s wellbeing (16). In this sense, the characters’ conflicts equally symbolize the tension in setting societal goals. Qabaha et al. use the term manufacture of consent to explain that women are already aware of the patriarchy in The Yellow Wallpaper, and they use existing conflicts to free from this bondage (527). The conflicts in the interest of man and wife resulted in the realization of the real patriarchal nature of man.

Patriarchy forced John’s wife to seek empowerment. Perkins, through the character of John, who is a qualified doctor, showcased the conflict in institutions of society in constructing the roles of men and women (Green 1). The fact that men served in paid jobs while women remained at home to perform care roles depicts an aspect of male dominance. Raouf et al. describe the narrator as a depressed woman in need of help from a person who should protect her and add that the society oppresses women, praising Perkins for her attempts to walk in their shoes and expose the aspects of a dystopian society (130). The narrator’s surroundings could no longer sustain her, even the tiny spaces she initially treasured. Perkins writes, Out of the window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes, and gnarly trees” to show the mystery of living in a male-dominated society that ignores the effort of females at home. The narrator realizes the events around her and chooses to free herself because her husband made no effort to comprehend her needs (Jamil 248). The narrator hoped that her flower garden could help her ease the tension and consistent depressive thoughts. Despite her helplessness, Raouf et al. consider the flowers a world of possibilities, but she still feels isolated and imprisoned because of the walls and gates (131). In a male-dominated society, women have rare chances of enjoying freedom because society sets rules that females are there to be seen and not heard.

The conflict of thoughts in the mind of the narrator enables her to develop an exit plan out of bondage successfully. Perkins shows that the husband and wife are conflicted about her state of mind. Truncyte posits that the narrator overcame mental health and chose freedom (3). John and her brother dismissed her possibility of being depressed, and she almost doubted her thoughts as well. However, after journaling her experiences, she established a clear picture of her situation. Ghandeharion et al. argue that the stereotypical diagnosis of her condition made the narrator realize that the narrator needed to liberate herself (115). She realized that the rooted patriarchy in society could not allow women to participate in voicing concerns about their health. The male-dominated community in The Yellow Wallpaper ignored the wellbeing of women, and this construct made women consider fighting for freedom. The wallpaper pattern resonated with the narrator’s viewpoint of breaking free. Perkins writes, “This paper looks to me as it knew vicious influence it had!” to show the female entrapped on the wallpaper (649). The narrator realized that gender oppression highly contributed to the conflict in her mind but remained resilient in bringing the change she wanted for herself and the woman entrapped in the wallpaper. The narrator had enough of conflicting ideas with her husband and found solace in writing a journal and the wallpaper. Yogapriya notes that John’s corrupted attitude is attributed to the mistreatment of his wife, making her lose trust (18). Though the narrator remained submissive, she focused on liberation. Murthy asserts that The Yellow Wallpaper is symbolic of the conflicted subjectivity of conforming to patriarchy and liberating women from gender oppression (47). Özsert agrees that Perkins painted the tension in male dominance that formulated the reason for freedom (97). The intensity of freedom influenced the narrator’s decision to consider liberation. Jumana asserts that Perkins captured mental illness during the Victorian era amidst a male authoritative nature. John represents the imposing figure who denies his wife a chance to explore her potential, resulting in conflicts and tension that shape patriarchy.

Conclusion

The Yellow Wallpaper is a fascinating fictional story that shows elements of fiction. Perkins successfully demonstrates that the conflict between John, the antagonist, and the narrator portrays the impact of patriarchy. John mistreats his wife, who needs her attention and care. The irony is that the community sees him as a great doctor, but his wife battles depression at home. The narrator’s self-liberation shows that she was aware of the oppressive nature of her husband and saw the significance of breaking free even though she was sick. Perkins’s story is that of resilience to change the place and perception of women in society.

Works Cited

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Aman, Maria, Safia Siddiqui, and Anum Hafeez. “Analyzing the Theme of Loneliness and Oppression in The Yellow Wallpaper through Feminist Perspective.” Pakistan Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 11.1 (2023): 153-159. https://journals.internationalrasd.org/index.php/pjhss/article/view/1095/668. Accessed 20 November 2023.

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Author: Ian Morris
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