Male IgnoranceIsn’t BlissMale Power in”The Yellow Wallpaper”History has always contained variousissues of gender inequality.
Charlotte Stetson’s short story “The YellowWallpaper” makes it eminently clear throughout her story that the men are theones in charge, and always think they know what’s best. John’s lack of abilityto recognize his own wife’s illness as legitimate causes her to not only beunable to improve her health, but to gradually become even more sick than shewas at the start. He doesn’t take her seriously, demands total control over her,down to her thoughts, and all the while he attempts to persuade her that she’sfine. He does not tend to the real problem.
In this paper, I will discuss howmale power and female submission caused John’s wife to fall into madness.At one point in “The Yellow Wallpaper” the wife asks herhusband, John, to take her back to their home as she did not feel she wasimproving where she was. Her husband refuses listing his justifications asreasonable and disparaging her ideas as naïve.
The main character’s concernsand ideas were belittled and dismissed by her husband, John, forcing her to acontinued life of inaction which led to her inevitable descent into madness.This was a call for help, a desire for change that could lead to the maincharacter to mental wellness and it was summarily dismissed. Shecontinued to live as her husband dictated and it was after this point in thestory that her journey to insanity could not be halted.John shows the lack of importance he attributes to hiswife’s thoughts by using phrases like “little girl” and “Bless her littleheart”, indicating he disregards anything she has to say as childish ramblings.The main character is a woman expressing her thoughts, emotions and belief thatshe is not getting better and the listener, her husband, treats her concerns asunworthy of serious consideration. He lists his reasonings as proof that hisbelief that she is improving is valid and her belief that she is not recoveringis childish. His justifications to not do as his wife desires include; thelease not being up for another three weeks, the repairs to their house notbeing completed, she has gained flesh and color, her appetite improving andmost importantly, the fact that he is a doctor who knows about these things andwould leave if she was in any danger.
When his wife refutes his logic; hetrivializes her opinions by stating “she shall be as sick as she pleases” andtelling her to go to sleep.At the beginning of the story, John isexplained to be a doctor that is supposedly trying to cure his wife’s sickness.It is also emphasized that he is the head of the household and the one withauthority, a medical expert. However, throughout the story, medicine andfinding a cure has nothing to do with the illness. In his wife’s diary, shestates that “John is a physician, and perhaps – (I would not say it to a livingsoul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind -)perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does notbelieve I am sick!” (1). John minimizes things about not only about his wife’sillness, but he trivializes her. He tends to cut Jane off when she speaks. Henever takes her seriously, as, in his view, he’s more practical. The way hebelittles and undermines her sickness is causing his wife to feel even worse.As the story continues and John’s wifedivulges more about how she’s feeling. Her mental state seems to be goingdownhill.
John laughs at her and thinks she’s silly and her ideas childish. Hedoes not pay attention to the fact that she isn’t getting any better, insistingthat she’s fine and improving each day. He convinces his wife he is right as John’swife explains “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I neverused to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
” (2). Herjournal is freedom of thought and John worries about not having total controlover her and how she thinks as he can’t control what she writes in it. The moreshe writes, the more she’ll have her own thoughts and the more control overherself she will gain. John wants total control over his wife which isunhealthy and suffocating, and it causes Jane to start seeing things in thewallpaper. Her hallucinations are caused by being so secluded and shelteredfrom everything. “Really dear you are better! “” Better in body perhaps – ” I began, and stopped short, for he satup straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I couldnot say another word” (6).
– indicating he views illness as solely a physicalthing and mental illness as just a foolish weakness. It is hard for John’s wifeto talk to John about her case as he talks to her like a child, refers to herin 3rd person, distancing himself from her and her concerns. John is trying toconvince her she’s fine but is ignoring the fact that her mental health is verysick.
Not tending to this issue, rejecting her concerns causes Jane to gocompletely mad.All these points clearly explain howJohn’s mentally abusive behaviour led to his wife’s impending doom of becominginsane. The disregard for the fact that she was ill in a different way thatJohn couldn’t comprehend, treating it as if it was all made up and in her head,only proceeded to make things worse.
Gillman used her writing to illustrate the subjugation ofwomen during this period and it is a good example of the disregard in whichwomen were held. Male doctors and husbands of this age were believed to beacting in the best interests of their ‘mentally weak and fragile’ femalepatients. The lack of a woman’s life outside the home and the repressive forcesfemales faced in the male dominated world of this era often led to a mentalillness diagnosis. Charlotte Gillman was one such woman diagnosed and confinedfor her own good.
She did not start on her road to recovery until she tookmatters into her own hands and did as she deemed fit. She wrote this story toprotest the medical and professional oppression against women of this time.