Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Domination of Men in "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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The Domination of Men Shown Through Characterization

Did you ever notice how all of women’s problems begin with men? There’s Menstruation, Menopause, and then Mental Anguish… Women have gone through hell and back to be where they are now…and they have plenty to show for it they’ve got a vote, they’ve got respect, and they can do any job a man can (even though they don’t get paid as much). However, there was a time when a man’s superiority and authority wasn’t a question, but an accepted truth. In the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins, women are portrayed as weak creatures of vanity with shallow or absent personalities, who are dependent on men for their livelihood, and even their sanity. In this story, characterization plays a major role in conveying the sexist and generally inferior manner in which women were treated and perceived.

Characterization is the “art, craft, method of presentation, or creation of fictional personages”. It can be shown through the plot, point of view, setting, symbols, and themes. The setting of the story reinforces the notion of women’s dependence on men. The late 1800’s were a turbulent time for women’s roles. In this era, during which the short story was published, members of the weaker sex were disregarded as individuals, who had minds that could think, reason, and form valid opinions. Also, the narrator is removed from society. She tells us, “Out of one window I can see a garden… out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf”. They are out in the country, where modern city can’t touch them, or begin to mold their sexist ways and old fashioned ideals. This seclusion also ensures that no outside forces threaten the John’s absolute and total control of his wife. In addition to their surroundings, the house itself is ominous and forbidding, reflective of the oppressive male character John. John’s wife describes their summer retreat as a “Colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house…the windows are barred”. In fact, the narrator eventually perceives the very room she is in a prison.

John treats his wife as if she were incapable of rational thought. When she expressed her desire to visit her cousins, “He said I wasn’t able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there. I did not make a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished”. What kind of a marriage does a woman have to make a case for herself in? And when she tries to tell him that her condition is only worsening, he replies “Bless her little heart, she shall be as sick as she pleases”. She is never taken seriously, only dismissed with an affectionate pat on the head. This pat on the head, along with being put in a nursery symbolizes that she is seen as a child. There are many symbols in this story. Another symbol is the fact that the bed is nailed down. This shows how she is restrained by her marriage and by her husband. And at the end, she creeps over him to keep going on her path, trying to overcome him. And in the disturbing conclusion, this lost women exclaims “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you…and you can’t put me back!”. He can’t put her back because she’s nuts, and the only place she’s getting put is a nice, padded room. Once the man is missing, the woman loses it…thus reinforcing the notion that without a man by her side, a woman has no worth.

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This and all of the other methods of characterization in “The Yellow Wallpaper” play a major role in conveying the sexist and generally inferior manner in which women were treated and perceived. It’s very sad to think that a woman and a man could have ever thought this way. However, it’s even sadder to think that some still do. Women everywhere suffer abuse, mental or otherwise, at the hands of their men every day. They must find the strength in themselves and the confidence to know that THEY are the ones who determine their own fate…and to realize that no one has the right to put them down. Our foremothers worked hard to make sure that we had choices- not obligations. And when we let someone else take those choices from us, they are really taking our freedom, and our life.

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