This paper will involve concentrated analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in light of the critical theory Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship written by Gilbert and Gubar. The theory provided in Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship will be briefly discussed in relation to The Yellow Wallpaper’s main heroine character and functionality of a madwoman in the fiction. This critical theory provides a perfect background for the analysis of a madwoman, thus proving that The Yellow Wallpaper deserves acclaim on several levels of consciousness.
Gilbert and Gubar develop their theory around the meaning “infection in sentence”, which implies an emotional battle caused through the course of obedience with a patriarchal regime, yet recognition of the need of women authorship; the authorship that later on will reveal the most sacred and personal secrets of women writers and serve to alter the manner in which women’s writings are comprehended and interpreted. A point not lost on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who feels vindicated after The Yellow Wallpaper was published and the reason why Weir Mitchell changed his methods of curing psychosis. If that is a fact”, she declared, “I have not lived in vain” (Gilman 1374). However, the literary women of the nineteenth century had to endure a wounded battle before gaining their liberty and social acceptance of their work. The image of the madwoman is often utilized by women writers in order to portray an internal conflict against social norms and structures. Undoubtedly, the poignant story of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of the brightest examples of a madwoman’s behavior and conflict.
According to Gilbert and Gubar, Gilman herself called the story “a description of a case of nervous breakdown” (1372). The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper is socially recognized as a madwoman and the constant theme is her subjugation as wife to her husband. Due to her dangerous health condition, the narrator is strictly kept in a room which makes her feel more depressed. Naturally, this course of events resonates strongly with the reader as the room itself represents a very strong image of imprisonment.
According to Gilbert and Gubar, […] paintings, statues, locked cabinets […] appear and reappear in female novels and poems throughout the nineteenth century and on in twentieth century to signify a sense […] of confinement (1370). It now becomes evident that the room’s appearance, including the yellow wallpaper sends a strong message to the reader about the dynamics of the relationship between the narrator and her husband. The marital bed is nailed down to the floor and I interpret this to mean that she has little or no choice but to perform sexual relations with her husband.
She is to remain mentally and physically passive and dominated by the male; her husband John. Since the beginning of the stay in a newly rented summer mansion, the narrator establishes a strong negativity towards the wallpaper. “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight” (Gilman 361). Gilbert and Gubar suggest that the colors of the wallpaper reflect ancient, smoldering, “unclean” as the oppressive structures of the society in which she finds herself (1373).
I deduce that this is how the narrator sees her husband, husband’s sister and a society that forbids writing due to her health condition. However, as her relationship with the wallpaper alters; the narrator recognizes the changes in the paper’s pattern and a figure behind the pattern. I envision this marked mental reverse as the beginning of an emotional and mental breakthrough towards liberation and independency. The narrator still experiences a fear and strong desire to move out of the room and the house, however with time, she develops a deeper understanding and becomes even more intimate with the wallpaper.
A yellow smell plays a significant role in the narrator’s relationships with the wallpaper. The yellow smell symbolizes a conscious reminder of the battle the main heroine faces with the pressure of conformity and her husband. “In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me” (Gilman 368). Eventually, the moonlight reveals bars behind the wallpaper as well as a clear contour of a woman. This may be interpreted as the intense struggle enhanced at night time, the time when the narrator has to spend with her husband.
Night time may also serve to symbolize a forceful necessity to perform sexual relations with her husband. Ultimately I think the narrator starts recognizing herself behind that pattern. Gilbert and Gubar argue that the literary woman frequently finds herself starring with horror at a fearful image of herself that has been mysteriously inscribed on the surface of the glass, and she tries to guess the truth that cannot be uttered by the wounded or bleeding mouth […], and secretly seeks to unify herself by coming to terms with her fragmentation (1365).
I interpret this passage to mean that the narrator recognizes her own reflection in the woman’s figure behind the bars of the wallpaper and will seek ways to reunite with her double. It is mentioned in the text that the pattern is not easy to overcome, as it strangles those who are trying to escape from the wallpaper. This suggests the narrator’s inability to revolutionize her life. However, at a later stage, the narrator starts feeling the improvements in her health condition and attempts to retrieve the woman behind the wallpaper, which signifies her own redemption from a life full of control, injustice and emotional deterioration.
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar assert that the woman behind the wallpaper is symbolic of the narrator’s own confinement by the patriarchal society she lives in. Moreover, we see that the wallpaper acts as a metaphor of her fractured mental state. She describes the chaotic pattern that will follow ” […] the lame uncertain curves for a little distance […] suddenly committing suicide–plunging off at outrageous angles, destroying themselves in unheard of contradictions,” alluding to her own, and perhaps society’s eventual destruction in the absence of change.
I conclude from my analysis, though her creativity is curbed, the woman makes the wall paper a means to imagine her freedom and eventually combats a cruel reality, while regaining her liberty. Works Cited Gilbert, Sandra M. , and Susan Gubar. Excerpt from “Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship. ” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998. 1360-1374. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper. ” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Eds. R. V. Cassil and Richard Bausch. New York: Norton, 2000. 359-371.