Monday, March 1, 2010

Yellow Bars

The Yellow Wallpaper is a story of a woman who is diagnosed with a temporary nervous depression, which was common in the 19th century. The story is told in a series of journal entries written by the woman whose husband has locked her away.

John, her husband, is a man that gives a bad name to all John's. He laughs at her, does not take her seriously, tells her constantly that she is not sick, only temporarily nervous with depression, and that she needs to do nothing. He continues to assure her that she simply needs to eat and sleep and that she is ok. When our main character is first placed in the summer home, which they are renting for three months, he has plans to renovate the room, but when she complains about the terrible yellow wallpaper, he decides that she needs to not "give away to such fancies" and that he will keep the wallpaper. He continually mocks her and reminds her what a burden she is.

This is terrible! I do not believe I could live with a person like this, constantly telling her what to do, how to do it, and never believing what she has to say. When she comes up with ideas to help her condition or to make things nicer he holds her and tells her she is his blessed little goose, and then makes a mockery of her idea. Women in those days really had it hard. Her husband does not even wish her to write. The inability to do what she loves, and to have to do it so secretly wears on her. Any person who must hide the things they enjoy doing will have a difficult time continuing. As human beings we like critiques. She says that "it is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about [her] work."

Companionship. This is a word that should be able to describe a married couple, and yet, she is unable to use it. A marriage in our modern society is a two way relationship, but in those days it was one not the same. The husband was in charge and told the woman how to behave, and a good wife obeyed and served her husband as best she could. This was the way of things, but this was not the right way of things.

As she continues to lie in the room day after day and week after week, our main character seems to find more and more in the terrible wallpaper. At first, it is simply appalling; but by analyzing the pattern day in and day out, she begins to find a shape behind the wallpaper, and finally she identifies it as a woman. She continues to watch it, staying awake at night when John is not aware, trying to find the woman. She becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and begins worrying that her husband and his sister may be trying to find the pattern, but she is insistant that she will find it out first. She overhears a conversation with John and his sister Jennie about the wallpaper, she is complaining that they are getting the yellow from the wallpaper all over their clothes. This leads us to believe that our writer may be doing more than simply looking at the wallpaper, but we may never know.

As she begins to get "healthier" and livelier because she is so entertained by the wallpaper, she begins to see the woman more and more. At this point, she has been in the room confined for three months. She begins seeing the woman creeping all around the house and in the garden. I believe she is seeing herself sneaking around the house and has been doing so for a time now, but it is possible that she simple believes she is seeing many women who are trapped within the pattern and moving around. By the end of our story, our narrator has come to believe that she is or at least is one of the women trapped within the wallpaper. At the end she exclaims "I've got out at last ... in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" The implication is that Jane is the name of our narrator, but we are not certain. In this case, the woman who has escaped is not Jane, our narrator, but a free woman who is no longer under the captivity of marriage and John.

This story is very strange because of the way it is presented. We are given all of the information from a journal by the presumed Jane. We are not sure how the last entry was made, and we are not sure of the accuracy of such journal entries, as we are reading the writings of a woman gone mad. In spite of this, the story carries a powerful message on the mistreating of women and the ridiculous medical practices of the time. The yellow wallpaper was a prison for Jane, and in a sense, the same for many other women who went through such an emotional beating.