Symbolism in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'

Symbolism in 'The Yellow Wallpaper'
For centuries women in literature have been depicted as weak, subservient, and unthinking characters. Before the 19th century, they usually were not given interesting personalities and were always the proper, perfect and supportive character to the main manly characters. However, one person, in order to defy and mock the norm of woman characterization and the demeaning mindsets about women, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote ?The Yellow Wallpaper.? This story, through well crafted symbolisms, brought to surface the troubles that real women face. Her character deals with the feeling of being trapped by the expectations of her husband, with the need to do something creative or constructive, and to have a mind and will of her own. These feelings are represented through various symbols in the story which include the wallpaper, the woman in the wallpaper, the mental sickness that progressed throughout the story, male presence/influence, moonlight/daylight, and the crazy pattern on the wallpaper.
The wallpaper in Gilman?s story represents the unnamed narrator?s repressed and trapped self. The side that is not liberated by insanity. It represents everything that she detests about her life; not being allowed to write, having to be a mother, and needing to be someone who John expects her to be. In this way, her immediate hatred of the wallpaper is fitting. The old saying that says a person always hates others for the things they hate about themselves applies to her hatred of the wallpaper. The yellowness of the wallpaper reminds her of her sickness because yellow is the color of jaundice and generally symbolizes inferiority, strangeness, cowardice, ugliness, and backwardness. Therefore, because she sees these things in herself, she hates the wallpaper.

As her mind continues to get sicker, or freer as some people might say, the narrator begins to see a creeping woman moving underneath the wallpaper which she so vehemently loathes. The two are alike in the fact that they are the only two characters in the story who are unnamed. This woman embodies the narrator and her feeling of being trapped under all of the things that the wallpaper represents. She also symbolizes a person who the narrator would like to be. This creeping woman does what she wants- she creeps around the room, in the moonlight, freely. She has no husband, or if she does, she is defying him by skulking around the room alone at night. I think that the narrator?s mind realizes this significance because it eventually takes on the creeping woman?s identity in the end.

The actual state of the narrator?s sickness throughout the story is also symbolic of the narrator and more generally, women breaking free from society?s stereotypes and expectations. Although she may only be breaking free through hallucinations and craziness, it is important because she is making a stand against the norms and expectations put upon her. Her insanity, for Gilman, represents feminist anger at society?s rules and restraints for women. She is saying that women during the late 19th century were expected to be domestic housewives and that was it. That was their identity. But through this woman, Gilman began the idea that even if insanity was the only escape from the dumb, doting, docile domestic that women were supposed to be, she would rather take that than be subjected to a life of disappointment and boredom.

The men in the story ironically symbolize another symbol in the story. They symbolize the wallpaper and society. All of the men also happen to be doctors (so therefore doctors can be categorized as men and represent the same things). They are the power over the woman and they tell her what she can and cannot do. They treat her as a child and as if she cannot make and decisions for herself or do anything alone. As she gets up from the bed at night, John says, ?What is it little girl? (Gilman)? They will not even recognize that she has mental problems but they tell her that she is nervous and must rest. ?If a physician of high standing, and one?s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression?a slight hysterical tendency?what is one to do?(Gilman)? They represent everything that holds her down and are perhaps even the reason she is sick and does not get better. ?John is?.. one reason I do not get well faster?(Gilman).

Another symbol of the narrator?s two different personalities are the moonlight and sunlight. In the moonlight, the narrator is secretive, active and thinking. This is the time when she comes alive and can express herself through writing and studying the patterns. She can do whatever she feels and has no restraints of men or society or anything. So in keeping consistent the idea that the narrator identifies with the creeping woman and eventually becomes her, the narrator goes as far as she can to be free at night and defies her husband by doing all of the things he forbid her to do such as write, obsess over the wallpaper and let her fantasies run away with her. The daylight on the other hand represents the side that she shows to everyone during the day. It represents her struggle to stay sane as well as the boredom that the sanity brings. She finds herself sleeping during the day and avoiding the people of the house. She also eventually sees the creeping woman during the daytime. This signifies her desire to be able to be herself at all times of the day, especially during the daytime because that?s when she is forced to be a certain way. The light that affects her so much also affects the way she perceives the pattern of the wallpaper which also happens to be another symbol in the story.

The pattern of the wallpaper in the room signifies the expression of her imagination and creativity, and if those are the only things she focuses on, they might lead her to ?all manner of excited fancies? (Gilman) which her husband can have no power over. The wallpaper displays designs and patterns that are unruly and aggressive. ?I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of? (Gilman). This suggests her own personality that she so desperately wants to be able to show but is not able to.

The narrator?s world is a world where men control everything she does. She cannot go as she pleases or be the creative person she is and wants to be, so she does it in secret and eventually drives herself insane. All of the symbolisms in her story combine together to enforce the idea of a duality of the narrator?s life. She is forced to be two people because of the pressures of society. They emphasize the idea and major point of Gilman?s story that women need to be able to be themselves and express themselves and have rights and their own lives. I would categorize this story as an existential in nature because it was up to the narrator to decide to do the things she did. She could have forced herself to stop looking at the wallpaper and ignored her fantasies but she wanted to be her own person and therefore decided to let herself go insane.

Symbolism in 'The Yellow Wallpaper' 7.4 of 10 on the basis of 2210 Review.